Afghan Taliban announce spring offensive as U.S. reconsiders strategy

Mattis warned that 2017 would be "another tough year" for Afghan security forces, but would not be drawn on recent calls by the U.S. commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in the country, General John Nicholson for "a few thousand" more troops to break the insurgency.

In areas held by the government, the group will aim for "foreign forces, their military and intelligence infrastructure", while in areas held by the Taliban, the focus would shift to development and building.

Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the former leader of the Afghan Taliban was killed by a U.S. airstrike a year ago.

The operation "will differ from previous ones in nature, and will be conducted with a twin-tracked political and military approach", the Taliban said.

As President Donald Trump's administration drafts an Afghanistan policy, US officials are seeking a way to reverse gains by militant groups without wading deeper into a 15-year-long war that has no end in sight.

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"Is the goal to decisively defeat [the Taliban] and make Afghanistan into a viable state (or) is the goal to continue to prop up the government of Afghanistan?"

Their main focus is to target ISIS and Al-Qaida militants and the latest offensive could prove to be an impetus for deadly wars in future with Taliban on one side and U.S. troops on the other side of the divide.

This week Afghan authorities arrested 35 soldiers who served on an army base in northern Afghanistan where the Taliban staged a deadly attack last week as fears grew they had inside help. While two militants exploded their suicide vests, the others opened fire on scores of soldiers.

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.

Earlier this month, the American military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on Islamic State group hideouts in eastern Afghanistan, killing almost a hundred militants.

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The NATO and USA forces completed their combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, after 13 years of military presence in the country but around 13,000 foreign troops remain in the country to train and assist the Afghan forces. He said dozens of IS fighters were also killed but because of the remoteness of the region it was impossible to independently confirm the deaths.

The United States is sending an additional 1,500 Army soldiers to Afghanistan this summer to support Operation Freedom's Sentinel, the current USA campaign in the country.

"With the so-called fighting season imminent, I appeal to all parties to take every measure possible to prevent unnecessary and unacceptable harm to Afghan civilians", Tadamichi Yamamoto, special UN envoy and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

Meanwhile Friday an Afghan Parliamentarian said the Taliban captured a remote district in the country's northeastern Badakhshan Province. He also said it was hard to determine the number of casualties because of the remoteness of the region.

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 US backed Islamic insurgents, or mujahedeen, against an invading Soviet army. The Soviets withdrew defeated in 1989.

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