KABUL - The Taliban are likely to use "large-scale, spectacular attacks" to try to Destabilize the transition process in Afghanistan once the fighting season begins this summer, British military commanders have warned.
They are expecting a change of tactics as insurgents try to regain ground lost to coalition and Afghan forces over the past six months.
The warning came from Major General John Lorimer during a briefing at the Foreign Office in which officials attempted to set out the political and military progress that has been made in Afghanistan over the past year, and the problems that lie ahead.
Lorimer said commanders in the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan military were predicting a backlash from insurgents, who have been under sustained pressure over the winter.
However, commanders believe the Taliban's strength has been so degraded that its fighters will have to find different ways of trying to derail a transition process that will see local forces take responsibility for seven provinces by July.
"Over the last few months, we have been saying that the type of incident might change this year," said Lorimer. "We were suspecting that we may see more spectaculars, more intimidation of locals. The insurgents have been under pressure over the winter – that inevitably will have an effect on their military operations. The anticipation is that they will probably move to different types of attack. The potential is that they will try large-scale attacks that make an impact in terms of the press."
Targeted assassinations of influential political figures is one likely method of attack, as well as suicide bombings.
Michael O'Neill, the head of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team, said: "The insurgency in Helmand, and elsewhere, clearly feels under pressure and one of the reasons they resort to [such] tactics is a result of this pressure.
"We'll see over the next three months. There's a key test everyone is conscious of. In the late spring and early summer as we get past the poppy harvest, will the insurgents manage to get back and re-establish their position in areas they previously controlled? There are indications that they will find that more difficult, but we'll see."
Both he and Lorimer said the Taliban would try to knock public confidence in a political process that will see the steady withdrawal of Nato troops over the coming months and years, but neither thought they would succeed.
"There is a sense of momentum this year. There is a growing confidence that this steady progress is amounting to something," said Lorimer. "I don't think they will have an effect in terms of the progress that has been made."
O'Neill said poppy production in Helmand had fallen for a third consecutive year, a sign, he said, of growing law and order in the province. And while some of the relationships with tribal leaders were fragile, he praised Mohammad Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, for trying to solve problems by brokering political settlements.
Senior officials within the Foreign Office believe Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, should also clamp down on corruption, and that some high-profile investigations and convictions would help to bolster confidence in his leadership. (Agencies)