The Taliban have officially launched their annual spring offensive pledging to launch large-scale military operations, suicide attacks, assassinations, and an overall war of attrition against the Western-backed Afghan government. This year’s offensive has been named in honor of the late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, according to a Taliban statement:
With the advent of spring it is again time for us to renew our Jihadi determination and operations. Hence the Islamic Emirate’s leadership eagerly announces this year’s Jihadi Operation in honor of the movement’s founder and first leader, the late Amir ul Mu’mineen Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid (…).
It can be assumed that the 2016 launch of the fighting season followed intensive months of diplomacy by the Taliban to rally autonomous Taliban factions and other militant groups under Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour’s leadership. The Taliban will likely try to repeat last year’s success in Kunduz and temporally take a major urban population center in the North or South of the country. In order to do so the militants will have to coordinate their attacks. (Last year, in preparation for the Kunduz operation, the Taliban managed to unite elements of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Pakistani Taliban, the Quetta Shura, Lashkar-e Tayyiba and ISIS under one banner before jointly launching their assault in the North.)
“Operation will employ large scale attacks on enemy positions across the country, martyrdom-seeking and tactical attacks against enemy strongholds, and assassination of enemy commanders in urban centers,” the Taliban announced today. “The present Operation will also employ all means at our disposal to bog the enemy down in a war of attrition that lowers the morale of the foreign invaders and their internal armed militias.”
The Taliban are also planning to launch their own psychological operations campaign:
Simultaneously with the present Operation the scholars, elders and leaders of the Islamic Emirate will open a dialogue with our countrymen in the enemy ranks to give up their opposition to the establishment of an Islamic government and join the ranks of the Mujahideen (…).
In addition, the insurgents will also continue to pursue their version of a so-called hearts and minds approach by purportedly trying to protect civilian life and property throughout 2016 (the majority of last year’s civilian casualties can in fact be attributed to the Taliban):
During the planning of this Operation, the Mujahideen have been unequivocally instructed to implement their operations in such a manner that takes pains to protect civilians and civil infrastructure.
There was little to no slowdown in the fighting during the winter months (See: “Afghanistan: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Winter of War”). Last year’s fighting season claimed almost 11,000 civilian casualties. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANSDF) lost around 16,000 members in 2015, a 28 percent increase from 2014. Taliban casualties are difficult to assess. However, it is estimated that the Taliban will be able to field 45,000-65,000 fighters—most of them ‘part-time insurgents—against approximate 320,000 government forces.