KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban is gearing up for a massive summer offensive, with more than 2,000 suicide bombers ready for action and even more preparing, a senior commander said on Saturday.
The warning comes a day after a top U.S. diplomat warned Afghanistan was in for a bloody and dangerous spring after the bloodiest year since the hardline Islamist Taliban was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001.
“The Taliban will intensify their guerrilla and suicide strikes this summer,” Mulla Hayat Khan told Reuters from a secret location. “This will be a bloodiest year for foreign troops.”
He said 2,000 suicide bombers were ready — about 40 percent of the total suicide force — adding numbers were so high it was sometimes hard to find enough explosives and targets.
“Our war preparations have been completed to a large extent and we’re waiting for summer to set in,” Khan said.
More than 4,000 people died last year, a quarter of them civilians, as the resurgent Taliban fought back with what NATO generals said was surprising ferocity.
Calling the guerrillas virulent and tough, U.S. assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia Richard Boucher on Friday warned the spring would be bloody and dangerous after the traditional winter lull in fighting.
“I think we will face a strong offensive and will have a difficult and dangerous and bloody spring,” he told BBC radio as NATO foreign ministers discussed Afghanistan’s future at a summit in Brussels called by Washington.
“But we are also better set up to deal with it.”
While urging NATO allies to do more, the United States has extended troop tours of duty — effectively boosting its forces by 2,500 — and announced $10.6 billion in extra aid for Afghan security forces and reconstruction.