Image: NATO forces guard scene of attack in Kabul
Ed Wray  /  AP
NATO forces guard the scene Wednesday of the second suicide attack in two days during a snowstorm in Kabul.
updated 1/28/2004 7:47:23 PM ET 2004-01-29T00:47:23

The Defense Department is planning a new offensive in the 2-year-old Afghan campaign to stop remnants of the Taliban regime and the al-Qaida terror network, officials said Wednesday, as a second suicide assault on foreign troops in Kabul in as many days killed a British soldier and injured four others.

The attack on international peacekeepers in Kabul, the Afghan capital, drew new attention to a worsening security situation in a country where U.S. and other Western troops have been stationed since the fall of the Taliban’s leadership in early 2002.

Rebels’ use of roadside explosives and car bombs in the recent wave of attacks has led to new comparisons with the insurgency in Iraq.

At the Defense Department, orders have been issued to prepare equipment and supplies for the coming offensive, although the operation will not necessarily require more troops in the region, a defense official said on condition of anonymity. The operation, first reported by the Chicago Tribune, has been dubbed the “spring offensive.”

Another defense official would not discuss the possibility that troops would extend operations to the Pakistan side of the border, where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and top lieutenants have long been said to be hiding. But the official said that might have to be the next step.

So far, not enough headway
Defense officials believe current operations in Afghanistan are not having the effect they want on the terrorist network and they are determined to do more, the official said.

Officials have already said they hope to finally capture bin Laden this year, a development that could benefit President Bush in the November election. About 11,000 U.S. troops are in the region.

Torn by conflict

A senior defense official said Defense Department leaders determined a couple of months ago that it was important to catch bin Laden, more for the symbolism than for his military value.

“I can say that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar [former leader of the Taliban] represent a threat to the world, and they need to be destroyed, and we believe we will catch them in the next year,” Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for military forces in the region, told CNN.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, said last month that hundreds of al-Qaida fighters still appeared to be active in Khost and neighboring provinces on the long Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The area has seen a wave of attacks this year by insurgents believed to be a mix of Taliban and al-Qaida and fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a renegade Afghan warlord.

More than 140 people have been killed and injured since the Jan. 4 ratification of a new Afghan constitution that took effect this week. The Western-backed Afghan government hopes the constitution can unite the country after nearly a quarter-century of fighting.

New tactic by opposition
Until now, the suicide attacks on foreign soldiers that have proven so deadly in Iraq have been relatively rare in Afghanistan. But last fall, the commander of the international force, German Lt. Gen. Goetz Gliemeroth, warned that a “new species” of terrorist had infiltrated the capital.

The suicide attack that killed a British soldier and injured four others Wednesday came during a memorial ceremony for a Canadian soldier who was killed Tuesday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both bombings.

The British soldier died after a yellow and white taxi carrying 200 pounds of explosives blew up near his open-topped Land Rover about 11 a.m. (1:30 a.m. ET) in the eastern outskirts of Kabul, said Nayamatullah Jalili, the intelligence chief at the Interior Ministry. He said an Afghan, apparently the assailant, was also killed.

Four other British soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, Col. Mike Griffiths, commander of the 300-strong British contingent in the NATO-led peacekeeping force, said at a news conference in its fortified headquarters. He would not identify any of the soldiers or their unit.

An Afghan translator was also wounded.

The Tribune said officials were particularly determined to hit al-Qaida hard in coming months partly because of concern over two recent assassination attempts against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, whose role as a major U.S. ally in the war on terror has angered Islamic extremists.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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