NATO chief defiant as Taliban warn of offensive (Afghanistan)
(22.02.2007) A British Royal Marine was killed Wednesday by a landmine while on patrol in the southern province of Helmand, and a female Spanish soldier was killed and two others injured as their vehicle ran over a mine while travelling in convoy in the eastern Farah province.
NATO forces in Afghanistan will repulse any Taliban attempt to launch a spring offensive, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a defiant message in Kabul Thursday, amid militant claims that thousands of fighters are ready to engage the alliance.
"I will be the last one to give the Taliban a ticket to ride," Scheffer said after talks with President Hamid Karzai. "NATO is ready and if there is a need for an offensive it will be ours. "
The secretary general, who arrived on a two-day visit with Supreme Allied Commander General John Craddock, again underscored NATO's commitment to Afghanistan as it likely faces the toughest year since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.
"We have the forces, we have shown that if necessary NATO can fight," Scheffer told a joint briefing with the Afghan leader.
But he declined to give a "spoiler" about exact preparations being made, referring only to operations in the southern Kandahar province last year that killed an estimated 1,000 insurgents: "NATO will do it again," Scheffer said.
Karzai in turn acknowledged the alliance's continued presence in the country.
"Today once again I got assurances that the NATO countries will be here with us," Karzai said as his government's forces prepared alongside international troops for heavy clashes.
Scheffer called Afghanistan as "frontline" of war against terror, and said, "If we don't succeed in Afghanistan, I'm quite sure that the spoiler will come to us- to the Netherlands, to Belgium, to United Kingdom, they came to the United States, they came to Spain, and they came to so many nations to do their terrible work to kill people. "
Last year more than 4,000 people were killed in the violence, about a quarter of them civilians and including 170 foreign troops.
NATO leads the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which together with US-led coalition forces has some 46,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan.
Addressing a security conference in Germany earlier this month, Scheffer predicted the international force and the Afghan army could smash the Taliban insurgency within two years, but foreign troops would need to remain beyond 2009.
Australian officials said Thursday that there were plans to almost double the country's contingent of 550 soldiers in Afghanistan in time for any major escalation of fighting.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has deployed 6,000 fighters in preparation for a spring offensive, the military leader of the Islamic militia that once ruled the country claimed in an interview with al-Jazeera television.
"The attack is imminent," Mullah Dadullah said. "The number of Taliban mujahedin who are ready to launch the spring battle has reached 6,000," he said, adding that they were hiding in places such as tunnels ahead of the fighting.
Dadullah said he was confident that the numbers of Taliban fighters could soon reach 10,000, and predicted that the fundamentalist rebel forces would win more recruits as NATO countries increased troop levels in Afghanistan.
"The more the number of Jewish and Christian soldiers who fight us increases, the more the Afghan people will be encouraged to join us," he said.
Dadullah, a Pashtun known as a vicious fighter, is believed to be one of the closed advisers of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Before a US-led offensive ousted the Taliban from power in 2001, Dadullah belonged to Omar's 10-man leadership council.
ISAF spokesman Colonel Tom Collins also said this week that the Taliban was preparing to ramp up its fighting as the weather warms, and ISAF expected "hard fighting in selected areas," particularly in the south, where the Taliban forces primarily operate.
ISAF's death toll rose this week with three deaths reported in the south, east and west.
One of its soldiers died in eastern Afghanistan from injuries not sustained in combat, the military said Thursday. It did not give details about the incident or release the nationality of the soldier but said an investigation was under way.
A day earlier, the Spanish and British governments said they each lost one soldier deployed with the ISAF.
A British Royal Marine was killed Wednesday by a landmine while on patrol in the southern province of Helmand, and a female Spanish soldier was killed and two others injured as their vehicle ran over a mine while travelling in convoy in the eastern Farah province.
Earlier this month, three police officers were killed and one was wounded while trying to defuse a roadside bomb in the same area of Farah.
Von: 22.02.2007 www.jurnalo.com