Taliban Chief Vows Intense Spring Offensive

A statement attributed to Taliban leader Mullah Omar said Thursday that large numbers of Afghans were signing up as suicide bombers and that an offensive in the coming months would cause many casualties among foreign and Afghan troops.

The statement was telephoned to Associated Press reporters in Kandahar and the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, by reputed Taliban spokesman Mohammed Hanif, and was then subsequently received by e-mail from an unidentified sender.

The two-page typed statement ended with a signature that resembled Omar's, according to the former Taliban ambassador to Islamabad, Abdul Salam Zaeef.

"Young Afghans are coming to mujahedeen camps in large numbers to enroll their names for suicide attacks," the statement said.

"This year, with the beginning of summer, Afghan soil will turn red for the crusaders and their puppets, and the occupiers will face an unpredictable wave of Afghan resistance."

Statements attributed to Omar have been released every few months. The previous two — one in January and the other in November — also warned of increased attacks.

Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanezai dismissed Thursday's statement as propaganda and said the insurgents lacked the strength to launch a major new offensive.

Violence normally escalates at the start of Afghanistan's summer, which is several months away, as the snow melts on the high mountain passes used by insurgents. Violence last year killed 1,600 people, the most since the Taliban was ousted by U.S.-led airstrikes in 2001.

The past six months have seen a wave of some 30 suicide bombings, raising concern because such attacks had been rare here. The Taliban commander in the country's south, Mullah Dadullah, told AP in December that 200 people had registered for suicide attacks.

Thursday's statement predicted that 2006 will be "the year of success and victory for Muslims."

"Those who have attacked the holy soil of Islam and their puppets will face shameful defeat because Muslims now understand that Western infidels want to eliminate our beliefs, soil and culture and make us their puppets," the statement said.

The statement also criticized President Bush's opposition to Hamas winning Palestinian parliamentary elections in January and blamed Washington for sectarian fighting in Iraq.