BRUSSELS: Committed to withdrawal in 2014, Nato’s Afghan strategy faces a serious test in coming months with the Taliban expected to step up attacks on local forces taking over security, a senior Nato officer said yesterday.
US-led Nato forces are handing over more and more duties as the Afghanistan army this year takes the lead role in combat.
But a decline in Taliban activity, which began in 2009, should not be taken as guaranteed to continue, said the officer.
“They have not taken a (time-out),” he said. “We think they are going to come at the Afghan” forces as the fighting season returns with improved weather.
He said it was significant that the Taliban had been pushed out of major population centres, with Afghan police strong enough to act as a holding force on the ground.
The Nato withdrawal means the Taliban will no longer be able to claim they are fighting foreign forces, a major factor in their recruitment drive, the officer said.
“Also, there is no problem recruiting for the Afghan army.”
President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai held tough talks last week over a continued US troop presence, with Washington touting a “zero option” amid sharp differences over their legal status.
There are some 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them American. The Afghan army will comprise 350,000 soldiers by 2014. The Taliban said coalition forces had “completely lost their will to fight and began the process of retreat”.
Meanwhile, a report from Seattle said a US soldier accused of killing 16 villagers in Afghanistan is due to be arraigned on charges of premeditated murder, for which military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Robert Bales, 39, a veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, is accused of gunning down people, women and children, in their homes in two villages in Kandahar province.
The shootings occurred over five hours in March.
During a pre-trial in November at Washington state’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he is held and is being arraigned, witnesses said that he had been angered by a bomb blast near his outpost that severed a fellow soldier’s leg days before the shootings.Agencies