Afghanistan: Taliban told to attack as widely as possible-UK general

LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Taliban fighters, who launched an assault in Kabul on Monday, have been ordered to attack in as many places as possible to try to make it look as though they are everywhere, the head of the British army said.

General David Richards said the Afghan security forces had responded well to the attacks, disproving critics who doubted their ability to withstand such an assault.

Suicide bombers blew themselves up at several locations in the Afghan capital as militants battled security forces from inside a shopping centre engulfed in flames. [nLDE5BK1S9]

"They (the Taliban) have given orders to their people to attack in as many different places as they possibly can -- it doesn't matter if they are successful or not -- in order to reinforce this impression of being everywhere," Richards said.

"It doesn't mean we should draw the deduction that they are ... hugely popular Robin Hoods," he said after giving a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

He said he had contacted friends in Kabul and "their assessment is that actually the Afghans have handled it very well ... Both on a higher level and at the tactical level I think they've handled that well."

"We won't really know till tomorrow how well, but they did not fall apart. They responded in a very professional manner. They encircled those involved," he said.

"They could, if some people who are critical of the Afghan national security forces were right, they could have collapsed, because right in the heart of Kabul this is something that would have been a psychological shock to everybody," he said.

He said the Taliban were deliberately "creating the impression in all our minds that they are everywhere, that they can get in everywhere."

"Actually they might have had six attacks in Kabul in the last six months and that is six more than we would like but it is only six. And if they are quite so omnipotent as some people would tell us they are they could do a lot worse than that."

He said the Taliban were not popular with Afghans and he believed international forces in Afghanistan were "putting in place now the means and the people to ensure that over time we can succeed."

Britain has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, based mainly in the south, as part of a NATO-led force fighting the Taliban. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Myra MacDonald)


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