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Taliban announces start of annual Afghan offensive
Updated 5/2/2012 9:46 PM ET
KABUL — The Taliban warned it will officially start its annual "spring offensive" in Afghanistan on Thursday.

The Taliban said this year's offensive would be code-named "Al-Farouk," the title of the second Muslim caliph who lived in the seventh century.

The Taliban said the offensive would focus on "all those people who work against the Mujahedeen, toil to pave ground for the occupation of Afghanistan and become the cause for the strength of the invaders."

PHOTOS: Taliban targets Kabul

Wednesday's announcement comes hours after an attack following a surprise visit by President Obama.

Obama and President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic partnership agreement that will serve as the framework for future relations between the two nations.

Tthe Taliban issued a strong response. A car bomb targeted a heavily fortified, private compound in eastern Afghanistan that is mostly occupied by internationals at 6:15 a.m. Gunfire followed the bombing. Police officials say the incident was under control by 9 a.m., leaving seven people dead and 17 injured.

"With this attack we want to send a message to Obama that the Afghans will welcome you with attacks. He needs to take out forces from Afghanistan. Not kill the innocent Afghans and destroy the Afghans' country. You don't need to sign agreements; you need to focus on how to get out of this country," said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban.

The incident underscores the challenges that remain as American and Afghan officials prepare to negotiate the specific terms of a bilateral security agreement now that the strategic partnership agreement has been signed.

Still for most Afghans, the signing of the agreement comes as a welcome development that secures much needed international support for Afghanistan past the 2014 deadline for Afghans to take over security of their country. There remains some concern, however, as a full copy of the agreement was not made public until after its signing, elevating concerns about the specifics that have yet to be agreed upon.

"The agreement gives independence and sovereignty to Afghanistan, not completely, but it gives some sovereignty," said Mahmoud Khan, a member of parliament from Kandahar.

The strategic agreement secures relations with between the two nations until 2024, with Afghanistan as a "major non-NATO ally." Prior to the signing, the U.S. and Afghanistan reached two separate agreements, one giving Afghan security forces authority over controversial night raids and the other outlining the handover of American-run prisons to Afghan authorities. The two issues had previously stalled negotiations of the agreement.

The document guarantees America's commitment to Afghanistan after 2014, without detailing many of the specifics. Issues such as how long U.S. forces and their bases can remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and what the nature of their presence here will be determined in a separate bilateral security agreement.

The U.S. also committed to providing ongoing financial support for the Afghan security forces and development efforts in Afghanistan without mentioning the exact amount the U.S. will contribute.

With the agreement now signed, the focus will shift to the upcoming NATO summit on Afghanistan that will take place in Chicago on May 20 where many of these issues will be discussed.

There is some concern among Afghans that the unspecified commitments could be problematic. Now that Karzai has signed the agreement, Muhammad Hassan Haqyar, an independent political analyst in Kabul, said he worries that Afghanistan lost much of its bargaining strength because it can no longer threaten to hold out on signing the partnership agreement as leverage.

"The important issue is the fate of Afghanistan which needs to be discussed seriously. But now the Afghan government lost the chance to argue powerful," Haqyar said. "Before the Afghans could bargain and ask for something, but now they can only request things. Now they cannot make conditions."

The agreement also calls for ongoing talks with the insurgency, provided any such agreements require those who oppose the Afghan government to accept the constitution as a necessary condition.

"At the Chicago conference, it has the potential to be a milestone event if they give a green light to the Taliban to join the peace process and offer them some power in the government," said Mangal Sherzad, a law and political science professor at Nangarhar University in Jalalabad. "This is a very important conference. Right now, the top priority is peace and stopping the fighting in Afghanistan."

Contributing: Zubair Babakarkhail, Associated Press

Posted 5/1/2012 10:48 PM ET
Updated 5/2/2012 9:46 PM ET
Afghans push a damaged car away from the scene of a militant attack Wednesday in Kabul.
By Ahmad Jamshid, AP
Afghans push a damaged car away from the scene of a militant attack Wednesday in Kabul.