An abortive attempt by militants to storm a guesthouse in Kabul popular with foreigners was part of the “spring offensive” launched by the Afghan Taliban, whose annual campaign has usually resulted in significant casualties.
owned by the Rabbani family, including foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani, was foiled and four Taliban militants armed with rocket launchers and assault rifles were gunned down after a firefight that lasted more than six hours.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was directed against “a hotel of foreign invaders”.
There were no civilian or military casualties but the Taliban killed 14 people, including four Indians, in a similar attack on another guesthouse on May 14. Afghan officials said the Indian envoy was the target of that attack as he was expected to attend a concert at the guesthouse.
On May 13, the Taliban had launched a similar attack in the capital city in which gunmen stormed a building in an upmarket area. (Reuters Photo)
Here are five things you need to know about the Afghan Taliban’s “spring offensive”:
The Taliban usually launch the offensive in April as snow recedes from mountains, taking advantage of better weather to launch attacks. The militants led by the one-eyed Mullah Omar, who has not been seen in public since 2001, mark the occasion with a declaration to attack foreign forces and capture power in Kabul.
This year’s spring offensive – named "Azm" (which means perseverance in Dari and Arabic) – began on April 24. In a statement sent to the media, the Taliban said the its main targets “will be the foreign occupiers, especially their permanent military bases... officials of the stooge regime, their military constellations, especially their intelligence, interior ministry and defence ministry officials”.
This year’s spring offensive will be the first fighting season that will see Afghan troops taking on the Taliban without the full support of US-led foreign forces. Last year, more than 50,000 NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan were withdrawn as part of a drawdown and the mission now has about 12,000 troops, including 9,800 US soldiers. Smaller foreign force is mainly focussed on training Afghan security forces.
The current spring offensive has coincided with defections from the Taliban ranks to the Islamic State (IS). Some Taliban commanders have even expressing disaffection with Mullah Omar and the Taliban recently published a biography of the warrior-cleric to counter the growing influence of the IS in Afghanistan. The Taliban have also said they are "determined to prolong the ongoing jihad".
The Taliban have stepped up assaults on government and foreign targets in recent weeks, targeting employees of the justice ministry and the attorney general’s office, guesthouses popular with foreign nationals and diplomats and a convoy of the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan. Last year was the worst for civilian casualties since the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began keeping records in 2009, with more than 10,000 civilians killed or injured in 2014. The UN also said the fighting has resulted in nearly 700 civilian casualties in the first three months of this year.