Afghan Taliban announce start of annual spring offensive

Relatives carry the coffin of one of the victims a day after an attack on an army headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan on April 22, 2017

Anil Usyan

ISLAMABAD -- Afghanistan's Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive Friday, promising to build their political base in the country while focusing military assaults on coalition and Afghan security forces.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the launch of the offensive in an email statement that boasted Taliban control over more than half of the country, referencing a February report issued by Washington's special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction.

That report said that the Afghan government had control or influence over only 52 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts last year, down from 63.4 percent previously.

The Taliban dubbed this year's offensive "Operation Mansouri," named for the Taliban leader killed last year in a U.S. drone strike. The announcement said it will include conventional, guerrilla and

suicide attacks, according to the Reuters news agency.

"Hence, keeping the evolving situation in mind, this year's Mansouri Operations will differ from previous ones in nature and will be conducted with a twin-tracked political and military approach," said Mujahid. He did not make any mention of peace talks with the government.

Attempts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan's protracted war have been relentlessly unsuccessful.

On the political side, Mujahid said the Taliban were going to begin building institutions in areas under their control, establishing what he called "social justice and development" mechanisms. He didn't offer specifics nor did he indicate whether this was an indication that the Taliban would step up their brand of justice that during their rule included public executions and the chopping off of hands for those convicted of theft.

While the Taliban may be officially announcing their spring offensive, recent attacks including one earlier this week on an army base in northern Afghanistan that killed more than 140 Afghan soldiers would seem to warn of a tough fighting season ahead. In the latest attack, the Taliban disguised as Afghan army soldiers slipped into the compound of the 209 Corps in northern Afghanistan's Balkh province. While two militants exploded their suicide vests, the others opened fire on scores of soldiers.

Reuters points out that, "In February, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said he needed a few thousand more international troops to break a 'stalemate' with the Taliban.

In addition to the Taliban, Afghanistan is battling an emerging local Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate known as Islamic State in Khorasan.

The Taliban announcement of the offensive coincides with the anniversary of Afghanistan's so-called Saur Revolution against its pro-Russian rulers, which led to a 10-year uprising by U.S. backed Islamic insurgents, or mujahedeen, against an invading Soviet army. The Soviets withdrew, defeated, in 1989.