KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – America’s senior military commander in Afghanistan warned Saturday that Taliban-linked terrorists might launch a large-scale attack in coming months in a desperate attempt to reverse their waning fortunes.

But Lt. Gen. David Barno said predicted the near-total collapse of the Taliban within a year.

“As these terrorist capabilities grow more and more limited, the hard-core fanatics will grow more and more desperate to try and do something to change the course of events in Afghanistan,” Barno told a news conference. “Terrorists here in Afghanistan want to reassert themselves and I expect that they will be looking here, over the next six to nine months or so, to stage some type of high-visibility attack.”

He did not give details or say whether he had specific intelligence reports.

“I think we must all remain realistic and clear-eyed with the understanding that the enemy is still dangerous. He’s been reduced in his capabilities, but he remains a desperate foe who will try and create events and inflict losses,” he said.

Barno noted that a number of senior insurgents have already abandoned the fight and said more would follow. However, he said a small number of hard-liners funded by al-Qaida were likely to continue the struggle indefinitely.

“The diverging organization that I see evolving over the next year or so (involves) much of the organization, probably most of it, I think collapsing and rejoining the Afghan political and economic process,” Barno said at a news conference in the capital. “A small hard-core remnant of the Taliban – which is essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of al-Qaida – (will) continue to wage some degree of a terrorist fight.”

Barno did not name any commanders who had turned themselves in, saying only: “In the last month or so we have seen very prominent figures come out in different parts of the country – very unexpectedly in a couple of cases – who were part of the leadership of the Taliban.”

In March, Abdul Wahid, a powerful commander once suspected of helping the Taliban chief Mullah Omar escape capture, pledged his loyalty to the Afghan government and agreed to try to persuade other Taliban figures to join him.

Afghan officials say dozens of former Taliban officials and fighters have approached them about a reconciliation drive touted by U.S. military commanders as a way to undercut militants and allow a reduction in the 17,000-strong American force more than three years after the U.S.-led invasion.

However, few have come forward publicly.

“My sense is that right now the leaders that are beginning to come across are testing the waters for larger groups,” Barno said.

The U.S. commander said he believes there are about 2,000 Taliban fighters, the same number the military has used in the past. But he cautioned that there is no way to make an accurate estimate.

“This is not a large movement here in Afghanistan,” he said.

Barno, who is expected to leave Kabul next month after 19 months in charge, also reiterated that the U.S. military would take a lead role in anti-narcotics efforts in a nation that produces the bulk of the world’s heroin.

AP-ES-04-16-05 1636EDT


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