Taliban target more civilians to counter US surge

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Afghan civilians will be targeted by the Taliban over the coming months, with fighting set to escalate, in an attempt to counter US claims that security is improving in parts of the country.

Research revealed that there has been a 40 per cent rise in suicide attacks since the start of this year, with worse expected to come as part of an accelerated spring offensive to be launched by the insurgents in the coming months.

The analysis, by the risk consultants Exclusive Analysis, explains that the focus on civilian targets is the imperative for the Taliban, which aims to discredit claims by General David Petraeus, the US commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (Isaf), that areas have become safer following the US troop surge.

The research cautions: "Civilian soft targets, such as shopping malls, restaurants and markets, as well as government buildings, will face significant risks of attack."

Taliban leaders are under pressure to stage retaliatory attacks in response to an increasing number of raids targeting key insurgents. According to the analysis, senior Taliban figures met in Quetta, Pakistan, in February, and authorised an increase in attacks to refute Isaf claims that a negotiated settlement to the war could be reached.

It concludes: "Militant attacks are likely to increase as the Taliban leadership and many mid-level commanders believe that they are winning the war."

The warning comes in the wake of the attack on the UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif in which seven UN workers were killed.