Afghan Taliban announce spring offensive

Operation Mansouri - named after the group's former leader who was killed in a United States drone strike in May 2016 - will use strategies from "conventional attack to guerrilla operations", the statement said.

Lavrov reiterated that Moscow's contacts with the Taliban are meant only to encourage insurgents to join peace and reconciliation talks with the Afghan government.

"The fight against ISIS-K is important for the world but, sadly, it is not without sacrifice", Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said.

It is believed to be the deadliest by the Taliban on an Afghan military target since they were driven from power in 2001, and marked yet another psychological blow by the resurgent militants. The casualty toll was much more than the losses Afghan forces suffered in the battlefield in the past several weeks, prompting the defense minister and the military chief to step down.

The start of the spring offensive was announced by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Friday in an email statement.

At least 35 soldiers have been arrested over the attack so far, ranking from foot soldier to colonel.

U.S. officials estimate that ISIS has about 600 to 800 fighters in the country, largely formed from former members of other regional terror groups, including the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

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The assault is believed to be the deadliest by the Taliban on an Afghan military target since they were driven from power in 2001, and fuelled fears of insider attacks - when Afghan soldiers and police turn their guns on colleagues or on worldwide troops.

The report said that as of March this year, 210 children had been killed - up 17 percent from the same period last year.

"I believe this will be a hard year for Afghan security forces, as they will be facing the resilient Taliban's complex and sophisticated attacks countrywide", he told AFP.

Bullet holes are seen on the wall of a mosque at the military headquarters where the Taliban attack occurred last week in Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan April 25, 2017.

US defence secretary James Mattis, who warned of "another tough year" in 2017, and national security advisor H.R. McMaster both visited Afghanistan this month as US President Donald Trump's new administration works on developing a strategy for the region.

In addition to the Taliban, Afghanistan is battling an emerging local Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate known as Islamic State in Khorasan. The target was IS hideouts in the Achin district of Nangarhar province.

The bombing triggered global shockwaves, but was criticised by observers who questioned its use against a group that is that is not considered as big a threat as the Taleban. Two US troops were killed on Wednesday and one was wounded while fighting IS militants near where the bomb was dropped, the Pentagon said.

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