Afghanistan

Taliban warn civilians of big Afghan offensive

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KABUL, June 3 (Reuters) - The Taliban will stage a "massive" operation against Western troops in Afghanistan and civilians must stay away from them in order to avoid casualties, a spokesman for the group said on Sunday.

After the traditional winter lull, followed by last year's bloodiest fighting since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, the militants have stepped up their attacks in recent months against Afghan and foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military.

Foreign forces have already warned civilians to avoid their military convoys in the face of rising Taliban suicide attacks against them. These attacks have resulted in a series of mistaken killings of non-combatants by the foreign troops.

The Taliban's warning was issued through their military council, a Taliban spokesman told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.

"For the safety of civilians' lives, we ask all the Muslim and Afghan nation to (do) their best to keep (their) distance from occupying forces' convoys, bases and concentration areas," said Zabihullah Mujahid.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in Taliban raids and operations by foreign forces in the past 16 months, more than 1,200 of them civilians.

Most of those killed have been Taliban, say Afghan and foreign commanders. But scores of foreign troops and hundreds of Afghan forces have also been killed.

An Afghan employee of a U.S. security firm became the latest victim of a Taliban attack on Sunday, killed in an ambush in the south of the country.

On Saturday, a NATO soldier and a civilian interpreter were killed when the Taliban ambushed their convoy in an eastern area of Afghanistan, the alliance said on Sunday.

Seven other NATO soldiers were wounded by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, it added.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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