The Taliban vowed Wednesday to launch a wave of attacks in a spring offensive as a surge of American troops arrives in Afghanistan, a threat delivered on the same day that 42 militants were reported killed in clashes.
Taliban leaders regularly boast of impending attacks that never materialize — such as proclaiming that hundreds or thousands of suicide bombers were waiting to attack around the country — but the new threat from a top-tier commander could signal a more aggressive stance.
A U.S. military spokesman said the Taliban's warning showed the militants are worried by the rising number of international troops.
Mullah Berader, a top deputy to Taliban commander Mullah Omar, said the Taliban would unleash ambushes, roadside bombings and suicide attacks Thursday against foreign and Afghan troops, government officials and "whoever is supporting invaders in our country."
"As American and NATO countries plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, it is necessary for the Afghans and Afghan mujahedeen to defend their country," militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a statement that he attributed to Berader.
Taliban fighters have increased attacks the last three years in a resurgence following the toppling of their radical Islamist regime by a U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.
President Barack Obama has ordered 21,000 more U.S. troops to the country to bolster the 38,000 American and 32,000 allied troops already in the country.
Given the influx, U.S. commanders have long said they expect a spike in violence this summer, the season when Taliban attacks are most numerous. Many of the new troops will deploy to southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's stronghold.
Col. Greg Julian, spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, called Berader's threat a sign that the U.S. is making the right move by pouring troops into the militants' southern strongholds, where they fund their operations with profits from opium poppies and heroin.
"This is a demonstration that this is the worst possible thing that could happen in their mind. They don't want to see an increase in troops because they know they will be forced away from their source of income and it could lead to their demise," Julian said.
The U.S. and other NATO countries now have some 70,000 soldiers in Afghanistan — a record level.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday he would send 700 more soldiers by July to boost security for Afghanistan's August presidential election, but said Britain's troop numbers would return to the current 8,300 by November.
Australia plans to add 450 soldiers, increasing its force to about 1,550, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced Wednesday, saying Obama persuaded him to increase the deployment during discussions last week.
Militants reported killed
In fighting Wednesday, coalition and Afghan forces reported killing 42 militants in three clashes. No casualties were reported for Afghan or international troops.
Combat generally rises as the weather warms, and even more violence is expected as U.S. troops continue to move into areas they previously had not operated in.
In the largest battle, a convoy of Afghan police and soldiers of the U.S.-led coalition was attacked during a patrol in southern Uruzgan province, a statement said. The troops fired back and called in attacks by aircraft, killing 23 insurgents.
Nine other militants were killed when troops came under fire during a search operation in neighboring Helmand province and 10 insurgents died southwest of Kabul when international and Afghan troops attacked compounds believed to belong to Taliban operatives, the coalition said.
The clashes came as Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, met with Afghan officials in the capital.
Some 3,750 German soldiers are based in Afghanistan's relatively peaceful north, but the force was hit by an attack Wednesday. A suicide bomber jumped in front of a German armored personnel carrier, wounding four German soldiers, the NATO-led force said.