Spring will bring heavy fighting to Afghanistan as Taliban militants try to respond to the expansion of government and NATO-led forces, a senior US official forecast. "I do expect there will be some heavy fighting in the spring, both in the south and in the east" of Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said on Monday.
Fighting in Afghanistan typically intensifies in the spring, when warmer weather clears mountain passes of snow and makes it easier for both soldiers and militants to move around.
But Neumann warned that the Taliban could be fighting more fiercely.
"I believe that the Taliban now feels that time is not on their side anymore, that there is an expansion of the army, that there is an expansion of NATO, and expansion of government authority," Neumann said during a visit to northern Parwan province. Neumann also said that the 32,000-strong NATO-led force in Afghanistan is still 20 percent short of the troop strength pledged by the members of the alliance.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested last week that he would ask President George W Bush to send more troops to Afghanistan, an increase that could intensify pressure on a US military already straining to wage the war in Iraq. Afghan and foreign troops, including more than 23,000 US servicemen, are battling a growing Taliban insurgency focused on the country's south and east.
The militant's last year launched a record number of attacks, and some 4,000 people, most of them militants, died in insurgency-related violence in 2006, according to a tally by The Associated Press based on reports from Afghan, NATO and coalition officials.