A NATO plane crash in southern Afghanistan killed four international troops Saturday, the same day the Taliban announced their spring offensive and said it will target military and diplomatic sites with suicide bombers and infiltrate enemy forces to conduct deadly insider attacks.
April already has been the deadliest month so far this year across the country where Afghan security forces are increasingly taking the lead on the battlefield of the more than 11-year-old war.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said its security forces were prepared for the Taliban’s new campaign, which was to start today. “The Afghan National Army is ready to neutralize the offensive,” the ministry said.
Insurgents have escalated attacks to gain power and influence ahead of next year’s presidential election and the planned withdrawal of most U.S. and other foreign combat troops by the end of 2014. And U.S.-backed efforts to try to reconcile the Islamic militant movement with the Afghan government are gaining little traction.
The Taliban did not immediately claim responsibility for the plane crash. NATO said initial reports indicated no enemy activity in the area where the plane went down. Coalition personnel secured the site and were investigating the cause of the crash.
The brief NATO statement did not identify the victims or say exactly where the crash occurred in Afghanistan. However, Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar, deputy governor of the southern province of Zabul, said an aircraft belonging to foreign forces crashed Saturday afternoon in Shah Joy district.
In their announcement on Saturday, the Taliban vowed to step up violent attacks now that winter was over and warmer weather has made travel and fighting easier.