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Taliban Set To Ramp Up Bomb Attacks

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ NATO-led forces will face ``hard fighting'' this spring in Afghanistan's volatile south and west, where the Taliban is gearing up for increased suicide and roadside bomb attacks, an alliance spokesman said Wednesday.

Two NATO soldiers, meanwhile, were killed in separate attacks Wednesday.

The insurgents will focus their efforts on reducing Afghans' support for their government, said Col. Tom Collins, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

``The enemy is making preparations to ramp up their activities in the spring,'' Collins told reporters, noting that such an increase in attacks has been a trend in recent years as the harsh winter weather breaks and snows melt on mountain passes used by militants.

``We know that there are concentrations of Taliban forces in some areas of the south,'' he said, listing Uruzgan, Kandahar and Helmand and the southwestern provinces of Farah and Ghor.

Military operations would take place where the Taliban were impeding efforts for reconstruction and development, Collins said. He expected militants to launch attacks, mainly suicide and roadside bombs.

``We do expect some hard fighting in selected areas,'' Collins said.

A top Taliban military commander, Mullah Dadullah, claimed in an Al-Jazeera TV interview Wednesday that he had deployed more than 6,000 fighters for a spring offensive. He said the fighters were hidden in tunnels and elsewhere in preparation the assault.

``The attack is imminent,'' said Dadullah, commander of Taliban operations in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan and a trusted associate of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Attacks by insurgents occur almost daily in the lawless southern provinces, once a former stronghold of the Taliban where the government wields little power. Last year saw the bloodiest surge in violence since the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001 for hosting al-Qaida.

Washington has been pressing its European allies to do more to confront the expected Taliban spring offensive.

White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley urged NATO allies Wednesday to make a greater contribution to the war effort in Afghanistan.

``It is important that the mission succeeds so that Afghanistan does not become again a safe haven for terror or a center for narcotics trafficking,'' Hadley said after meeting with NATO officials in Brussels, Belgium.

``We are working together to ensure that if there is a spring offensive, it is a spring offensive of NATO against the Taliban,'' he said.

This month, the Afghan government has lost control of two district centers at Musa Qala in Helmand province and briefly at Bakwa in Farah province. Musa Qala remains under militant control, but about 160 Afghan police and soldiers, backed by a 12-man U.S. special forces team, retook Bakwa without resistance on Tuesday, Collins said.

Militants seized Bakwa after a roadside bomb killed four Afghan officers involved in opium poppy eradication. Collins said the Bakwa takeover was ``more drug lord-inspired than Taliban extremist-inspired.''

``For the most part, these were thugs who did not like what the police were doing in their area, so they intimidated them and perhaps called in some Taliban allies to help them push them out of the town,'' Collins said.

He said NATO forces were ``prepared to do the same thing'' to help take back Musa Qala if the Afghan government requests it.

A NATO soldier was killed in fighting in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said. NATO did not disclose the soldier's nationality, although most troops in that area are British and Canadian.

In the western town of Shindand, an attack on a Spanish military convoy killed a female soldier and wounded two other troops, the Spanish Defense Ministry said. The ministry said it appeared to be a mine blast.

Spain has about 600 peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan. At a meeting of NATO defense ministers last week in Seville, Spain was among countries that rejected a request from the alliance to send more.

Denmark said Wednesday it was considering sending 200 more troops to Afghanistan, where it now has 400.
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