SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The Taliban will step up attacks on foreign troops in Afghanistan this year and kill anyone who negotiates with the government, a top rebel commander said on Tuesday.
Taliban fighters staged a surprise comeback last year with the bloodiest violence since U.S.-led troops forced them from power in 2001. More than 4,000 people were killed on both sides in 2006 including nearly 170 foreign troops.
Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah said the new year would see more attacks on NATO and U.S. forces.
â€œSuicide and guerrilla attacks on NATO, American and coalition forces will continue and increase this year. The Taliban will inflict heavy casualties on them,â€ Dadullah told Reuters by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.
Dadullah did not refer to the death last month of Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, the most senior Taliban commander to be killed by U.S. forces since 2001.
Osmani was killed in a U.S. air strike in the south, and another rebel commander, who declined to be identified, said earlier his death would be a blow to the Taliban.
About 40,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan, some 32,000 of them under NATO command. They are trying to ensure enough security to enable development projects to get started.
Dadullah said the Taliban had used a winter lull in fighting to draw up new war plans to inflict maximum damage on foreign forces. Afghan fighting traditionally falls off during the bitter winter when snow blocks mountain passes.
â€œThey will soon come to know about the Talibanâ€™s strength and war strategy. We will attack with such a force they will have no time to settle,â€ Dadullah said.
The rebel commander ruled out any negotiations while foreign troops were in the country and threatened dire consequences for anyone who did so.
â€œThose who negotiate in the name of the Taliban will be killed,â€ he said. He did not elaborate.
The government has a reconciliation program aimed at persuading Taliban members to give up their fight and rejoin society but few insurgents have taken up the offer.
Some Afghan politicians have said peace will be impossible unless elements of the Taliban are included in talks.
A Taliban spokesman said last month the rebels might take part in planned tribal councils that Pakistan and Afghanistan aim to hold on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
But other Taliban members quickly denied there was any chance of the insurgents attending the councils. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was reported to have denounced the proposed meetings as an American trick in a message last week.