Expect more attacks on foreigners in Afghanistan, warns deputy commander

KABUL Sat Jun 15, 2013 4:45am EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - The international community in Afghanistan, recently hit by two high-profile attacks on aid organizations, should brace itself for more Taliban violence in the coming months, the deputy commander of foreign forces said.

"I think we should expect (the Taliban) to attack international forces and internationals more generally," Lt General Nick Carter, Britain's top soldier in Afghanistan, said in an interview late on Friday, referring to the summer months.

Combat troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year, ending a costly and increasingly unpopular war launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets.

"There's definitely a sense that the Taliban would like to appear to compel the international community's withdrawal, and certainly ISAF's withdrawal," said Carter, who leaves Afghanistan next month to become head of the British Army.

"That chimes with an obvious narrative."

British troops in the first Anglo-Afghan war, in 1842, were slaughtered en masse as they withdrew in what is Britain's biggest military defeat in history.

Afghanistan has been beset by violence in recent weeks.

A coordinated attack on the International Organisation of Migration in Kabul killed at least three civilians and injured four foreign aid workers. The Red Cross headquarters in the eastern city of Jalalabad also came under attack, the first such incident in the 26 years it has worked in the country.

Several foreign organizations in the capital have received more targeted threats than usual over the past week, senior officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Violence aimed at non-military foreign organizations, especially those which help Afghans, came as a surprise to the international community.

The Taliban made no mention of such targets in its annual spring offensive announcement, vowing only to start a campaign of suicide attacks on military bases and diplomatic areas.

Insurgents this week besieged Kabul's main airport for four hours before being killed, and a Taliban suicide bomber detonated explosives in front of the Supreme Court, killing at least 17 people.

Plans are still on track to hand over the remaining security responsibilities to the Afghan security forces "within the next week or so", Carter said.

Afghan security forces lead in 89 percent of operations, with foreign forces still in combat along much of the border with Pakistan and in pockets around the country, including Helmand province, a bastion of the Taliban.

Once troops withdraw, NATO's role will move to a support mission to strengthen the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces.

Carter stressed that developing Afghanistan's fledgling air force in the years following the withdrawal was crucial.

"Horizons have to be tangible and I think it's very reasonable to talk about the Afghan air force being fielded by 2018 or 2019," he said.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

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