A day after three suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden truck into a construction depot in eastern Afghanistan, killing 24 workers and wounding 59 others, coalition forces announced preparations for a spring offensive to counter a Taliban-led insurgency.
Spring and summer are traditionally known as fighting seasons in Afghanistan, when militants and joint forces of the Afghan Army and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), now numbering over 140,000, move to consolidate their positions.
"We are expecting spring offensive by insurgents and the time for that might also depends on poppy harvest in April and May from southern to northern part of Afghanistan," an ISAF spokesman, Brigadier-General Josef Blotz, told reporters in a weekly press briefing on Monday.
"We try to change the environment, when the insurgents try to strike back in spring, they will face a different situation this year," he said, Xinhua reported. "Our mutual, multi-pronged offensive strategy continues to hit hard at the enemy — particularly as the insurgents are getting ready for the spring fighting season," he added.
Blotz said the joint forces had launched an operation in Helmand that would also cover parts of neighboring Kandahar province.
"Recently, for example, Marines from 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion struck a key insurgent hub along the Helmand-Pakistan border. This marked the opening of Operation Rawhide II, an effort to curtail the flow of narcotics, weapons and fighters in and out of southern Afghanistan," Blotz said.
Taliban insurgents have responded to the offensive by upping suicide bombings and IED attacks across the country. A Canadian soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Sunday, bringing the death toll among Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan to 155.
The suicide attack Sunday took place in the country's eastern Paktika province, in Barmal district, which shares a long, porous border with militant-affected areas of Pakistan.
Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan have been known to target construction workers, whom they see as employed by the Western-backed authorities in Kabul, according to Agence France-Presse.
President Hamid Karzai called the attack "the work of enemies of Afghanistan who oppose the country's development," AFP reported.
According to the United Nations, 2010 was the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001, with 2,777 killed — a 15 percent increase on 2009.
The UN said recently that the Taliban were responsible for 75 percent of all civilian deaths, according to the BBC. It said the proportion killed by Afghan and NATO forces fell, accounting for 16 percent of civilian deaths.