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Taliban announces spring offensive

The Taliban has announced the beginning of its spring military offensive against the US-led coalition, a day after a Pentagon report claimed that the militants' morale was low after sustaining heavy losses on the battlefield.

In a two-page statement, the Taliban said that, starting on Sunday, it would launch attacks on military bases, convoys and Afghan officials, including members of the government's peace council, who are working to reconcile with top insurgent leaders.

The leadership council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what the Taliban calls itself, said: "The war in our country will not come to an end unless and until the foreign invading forces pull out of Afghanistan."

Senior officers with the US-led coalition said that the Taliban - aided by the al Qaida-linked Haqqani network - plans to conduct a brief series of high-profile attacks, such as suicide bombings, across the country in a display of power as fighting gears up with the warmer weather.

Coalition spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Dorrian said the Taliban plans to use the spate of violence as a "propaganda ploy" to create the perception of momentum despite recent setbacks.

Hundreds of insurgent leaders have been killed or captured and, since last July, 700 former Taliban members have been officially reintegrated into Afghan society and another 2,000 insurgents are in various stages of the process.

The Taliban, known for its resilience, said insurgents will target "foreign invading forces, members of their spy networks and other spies, high-ranking officials of the Kabul puppet administration... and heads of foreign and local companies working for the enemy and contractors".

The coalition has also released initial findings on Wednesday's attack at Kabul airport when a veteran Afghan military pilot opened fire, killing eight US troops and an American civilian contractor who had been training the nascent Afghan air force.

The shooting was the deadliest attack by a member of the Afghan security forces, or an insurgent impersonating them, on coalition troops or Afghan soldiers or policemen. Seven of the eight US airmen killed were commissioned officers.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the coalition said it has uncovered no evidence to suggest the insurgency was behind it.

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