Taliban vow guerrilla warfare against Afghan, NATO troops

Kabul: The Taliban vowed on Thursday to fight back with a "hit and run" guerrilla campaign against Western and Afghan forces preparing to storm one of their key strongholds in southern Afghanistan.

Thousands of US Marines and NATO and Afghan soldiers have massed around the town of Marjah, a Taliban bastion in Helmand province, poised to launch one of the biggest operations against the Taliban since the 2001 US-led invasion.

The assault, dubbed Operation Mushtarak ("Together" in Dari) and expected to begin within days, aims to drive out the Taliban and replace their harsh rule with Western-backed Afghan government institutions.

In a defiant statement on their website, the Taliban vowed to defend the town in the poppy-growing region of the central Helmand River valley, which they have controlled for years in tandem with drug traffickers.

"From what we see on the ground this operation is no different to the invading forces' day-to-day activities," Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, was quoted as saying.

"The enemy is making a big deal of it. They try to sell it to the media as a big offensive in spite of the fact that Marjah is a small place," he said, adding: "The operation is not as big as they claim."

Nevertheless he vowed that Taliban gunmen would stand against the offensive, using "hit-and-run" tactics and the improvised explosive devises, or IEDs, that have become a staple of their arsenal.