U.S. expect the Taliban to attack in the spring

KABUL, Afghanistan — American military officials in Afghanistan expect the Taliban will mount a fresh spring campaign to regain ground lost to U.S. troops last year and use suicide bombing teams to strike at those associated with the Afghan government or coalition forces.

But U.S. commanders in Kabul, as well as officers working in insurgent strongholds in the south and east, said their troops are better positioned than last year to fend off the insurgency, now that they have 70,000 new Afghan forces and have seized control of some former Taliban sanctuaries.

"I believe their strategy's going to have to change," said Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the number two commander in Afghanistan, during a tour of two southern provinces last week. He said he expected more Taliban attacks on "soft targets" such as the newly created village defense forces, known as the Afghan local police, as well as former insurgents who have switched sides, and anyone else who "supports our efforts."

"We're seeing the beginnings of that through these multiple suicide bombers trying to create a sensational attack that has far-reaching impact," Rodriguez said, referring to the spate of recent bombings targeting hotels, banks and supermarkets. "It will take courage on the part of the Afghan people and Afghan leaders to lead their way through that and we're going to support them."

Many in Afghanistan are skeptical about the progress cited by American military commanders. The level of violence, which usually dips in the winter, remains higher than in previous years at this time. The Afghan government has failed to curb its rampant corruption, which undermines public support. The Taliban leadership remains protected in Pakistan, and Afghans have grown increasingly frustrated with the presence of foreign troops.