Afghan insurgents plan to stage a spate of violent attacks across Afghanistan in the next several days in a display of power as spring fighting accelerates, senior officers with the U.S.-led coalition said Friday.
U.S. military officials have long predicted a violent spring, but credible intelligence picked up in the past few days indicates that the Taliban _ aided by the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network _ have plans to conduct a brief series of high-profile attacks, such as suicide bombings, the officers said.
The officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, said most action was expected in the east because the harvest of opium poppies, which bankrolls the insurgency, is still under way in the south and southwest.
They said the coalition made the assessment in the past couple of days after analyzing a wide body of credible and specific human intelligence and intercepted communications, information from interrogations of captured insurgents and in collaboration with Afghan officials.
"They want to demonstrate their relevance to regain momentum," said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition. "We see this as a propaganda ploy. They want to demonstrate that they are relevant despite recent setbacks."
A Pentagon report released Friday said the U.S.-led coalition has made "tangible progress," but that difficult challenges remain, including a shortage of military trainers and border patrols and slow political and governance development, which could threaten the progress made in the past six months.
The report echoed senior military commanders' predictions of a tough spring fighting season and showed spikes in violence in the east and southwest regions where troops have been engaged in fierce battles with insurgents.
"There will be difficult fighting and tough losses as the enemy tries to regain momentum and key areas lost in the past six months," the report said.
At the same time, the report said the insurgents' momentum had been "broadly arrested" and their morale had begun to erode. Hundreds of insurgent leaders have been killed or captured and since last July 700 former Taliban have officially reintegrated into Afghan society and another 2,000 insurgents are in various stages of the process, the report said.
The Taliban, known for their resiliency, have retaliated with high-profile attacks and assassinations.
Just this month: More than 480 Afghan inmates, many of them members of the Taliban, escaped from a large prison in Kandahar in the south. An insurgent managed to sneak past security at the Afghan Defense Ministry in the capital, killing two Afghan soldiers and an officer. An Afghan soldier detonated a vest of explosives at a meeting at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Laghman province, killing six U.S. troops, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter.
Also, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up inside the Kandahar police headquarters complex, killing the top law enforcement officer in the restive southern province. And a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot dead two American military personnel tasked with helping train members of the country's security forces in Faryab province.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.