April 29th, 2011
05:08 PM ET

NATO readies for greater fight from insurgents in Afghanistan

The NATO alliance in Afghanistan anticipates insurgents will attempt to launch an extensive new round of attacks against U.S. and coalition forces as well as Afghan civilians "in the coming days," according to an International Security Assistance Force military official.

The assessment comes as the Pentagon issued its latest semi-annual report to Congress on Afghanistan, which concludes that gains are significant enough to allow for the beginning of transferring security to the Afghans in parts of the country.

"We expect insurgents to attempt a surge of violence in the coming days in order to try and achieve a propaganda victory," the ISAF officer told CNN. ISAF has been briefing reporters on the expected threat but officials decline to be identified because it involves intelligence matters.

Intelligence, the ISAF officer said, indicates attacks were likely to come from Taliban fighters affiliated with the al Qaeda-related Haqqani network. That network exerts its most significant power in eastern Afghanistan and the capitol of Kabul. He noted insurgents in southern Afghanistan may be currently preoccupied with the spring poppy harvest.

The ISAF officer noted that the alliance has seen similar surges at this time in recent years. "What basically they are trying to do is start their spring offensive and they think by surging their forces and having a concentrated series of attacks that they can demonstrate their power and relevance, and influence over the Afghan population."

ISAF feels the increased coalition attacks on insurgents have had an impact, and new attacks by insurgents signal their effort to recoup their losses.

"Over the past several months insurgents have suffered a number of setbacks, having been pushed out of key sanctuaries. They have lost more weapons caches than any previous year and they have lost hundreds of insurgent commanders and thousands of fighters," the officer said.

In the 90 days ending April 22, coalition special forces conducted 1,393 operations, capturing or killing 468 insurgent commanders, and capturing or killing 2,637 lower-level insurgents.

In response to the latest intelligence, ISAF has "increased" measures to protect its forces as well as sharing the intelligence with the Afghan government, the officer said. The expectation is new attacks would continue to focus on the latest Taliban tactics of assassinations, small arms attacks and going after so-called "soft" targets of Afghan civilians. The officer also said the alliance is watching for more of the "impersonation and infiltration-type attacks that you have seen in the last several days."

He noted that the alliance remains uncertain if recent attacks by Afghans in military uniforms really are the work of impersonators loyal to the Taliban. ISAF is currently helping train 450 counterintelligence experts in the Afghan forces to help watch for such activity, a doubling of the current counterintelligence force.

This all comes as the Pentagon released its latest report to Congress on the progress in Afghanistan. The military says gains made in Afghanistan over the last half year has created the "necessary conditions" to begin transferring control of security to the Afghanistan government in seven areas of the country inhabited by approximately 20% to 25% of the population.

The latest semi-annual report concludes insurgent momentum has been halted in much of the country, though the gains are "fragile and reversible." However, the report notes that efforts to fortify government and development was "slower than security gains" over the last six months.

The total number of security incidents were higher from October 2010 through March 2011 compared to the same period of the winter of 2009-2010 the report said. The report says this is mainly due to increased ISAF and Afghan troop presence, which allowed for a higher pace of operations against insurgents safe havens.

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