The Taliban has begun its annual “spring offensive” with attacks across Afghanistan, including a suicide assault on government offices and multiple rocket strikes on two airports.
At least 10 people have been killed after local leaders of the fundamentalist movement last week vowed the offensive would target US-led foreign forces and government facilities.
Afghanistan’s instability was also underlined on Monday by the release of an International Crisis Group (ICG) report warning that “the overall trend is one of escalating violence and insurgent attacks”.
It added that residents of Ghorak village in the southern province of Kandahar had resorted to eating grass after being blockaded for months by Taliban fighters.
On the first day of the Taliban offensive, officials said three suicide bombers entered the provincial justice department in the eastern city of Jalalabad, triggering a firefight with security forces that lasted several hours.
“All of the attackers were killed and their bodies displayed at the building,” Abdul Rauf Uruzgani, chief police investigator, told reporters.
“The dead were three justice department employees, two policemen, a 15-year-old boy who was caught up in fighting and another visitor.”
Two rockets exploded near Kabul airport at 5am, the exact time the insurgents had pledged to start a nationwide operation to cleanse “the filth of the infidels” from the country.
Four rockets were also fired at Bagram airport, the biggest NATO military base in Afghanistan, which lies north of Kabul.
There were no casualties in either airport attack. But two women and a policeman died in Ghazni province southwest of Kabul, when Taliban insurgents targeted several police checkpoints.
Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, Ghazni’s deputy governor who gave the casualty figure, said two police officers and six civilians were wounded.
The Taliban’s “Khaibar” offensive, is named after an ancient battle between Muslims and Jews. This year it has begun in the run-up to a second round of elections next month to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001.
About 51,000 US-led NATO troops still deployed in Afghanistan are set to withdraw by December, ending a long and costly battle against the Taliban, who launched a fierce insurgency after being ousted from power.
A small number of US troops may stay on from next year on a training and counter-terrorism mission, if a long-delayed deal is struck between Kabul and Washington.