NATO Doubts Major Offensive by Taliban

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 5:49 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban militants are expected to step up their attacks in Afghanistan soon, but the militia has lost strength and does not have the capability to launch a "spring offensive," a NATO spokesman said Wednesday.

That just two days after Maj. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the incoming commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said he expects Taliban militants to launch more suicide attacks this year than in 2006, when it launched a record number of attacks.

Rodriguez, speaking Monday, added that military leaders expect an increase in all kinds of attacks as the weather gets warmer. The onset of spring melts snows on mountain passes used by insurgents and usually heralds more attacks in the south and east of the country.

NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Richard Nugee said Wednesday, however, that it will be NATO troops who will be launching the real offensive, referring to upcoming military operations but giving no details.

"We do not believe that there will be a spring offensive by the Taliban," Nugee said. "There will be an upward surge in violence as the weather gets better ... I don't think it will amount to an offensive. An offensive is a very symbolic phrase, it means a huge upsurge in a very short amount of time. We just don't think that will happen."

Last year, the Taliban launched a record number of attacks, and some 4,000 people, most of them militants, died in insurgency-related violence, according to a tally by The Associated Press based on reports from Afghan, NATO and U.S.-led coalition officials. Militants also launched a record 139 suicide attacks in 2006, according to the U.S. military.

Nugee said military leaders had seen no evidence that the Taliban were preparing for a spring offensive, and he said NATO forces had been "very successful" at removing key Taliban leaders.

"We believe that they have been degraded and are starting to appear in less good condition than they started last year," said Nugee, the lead spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

© 2007 The Associated Press