The Taliban rarely warns of attacks in advance, but on Saturday the group issued a statement proclaiming the start of its spring military offensive on May 1 and said it planned to assassinate the Afghan government's peace envoys as well as foreigners and any Afghans working for foreign contractors.
After last week's bold Kandahar prison break-out, as great a publicity coup for the insurgents as an embarrassment for the Kabul leadership, the latest proclamation is a clear sign of the Taliban leadership's disdain for all the diplomatic overtures of the past weeks appealing for reconciliation talks. Several members of provincial and national peace councils have already been killed by the Taliban in recent months.
Intimidation and threats are weapons as powerful as suicide attacks and roadside bombs in a guerrilla war. So the Taliban's new promise to target "places of gatherings," and to murder Afghan government officials and anyone providing goods or services to foreign forces, is meant to terrify all Afghans.
The English version of the Taliban statement, sent out by email, said "strict attention must be paid to the protection and safety of civilians during the spring operations." According to the United Nations, attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups were responsible for three-quarters of the 2,777 Afghan civilian deaths in 2010.