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BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — The Taliban threatened Saturday to launch a fresh offensive across Afghanistan this coming week, as President Hamid Karzai said international forces have yet to secure large parts of the country.
The Taliban said the offensive starting Monday will include assassinations of government officials, roadside bombs and suicide attacks against foreigners and those who support them.
"All foreign invading forces will ultimately face defeat," the Taliban said in a statement sent to reporters from an e-mail address used by the militants.
Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak quickly dismissed the threat as insurgent propaganda. He said the Taliban do not have the ability to launch a series of attacks across Afghanistan. Moreover, he said, intelligence reports show many of the Taliban commanders currently are across the border in Pakistan.
"I doubt seriously that they have the capability to do something like what they claim," he said. "I do believe it is a propaganda campaign rather than a reality."
A crucial test of the nine-year war is coming this summer, when a U.S.-led military operation tries to clear the Taliban from the key southern city of Kandahar, the group's spiritual heartland.
Insurgents have ramped up attacks there recently. On Saturday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the death of a government official in Arghandab in Kandahar province.
Manan Khan, vice president of the Arghandab district shura and former police chief in the district, was killed Friday night along with two of his bodyguards, according to district chief Syed Ali said.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Karzai said Saturday that the U.S. and its allies still have "miles to go" in Afghanistan and international forces have yet to secure large parts of the country.
"We have traveled far together, but the international effort in Afghanistan still has miles to go," said Karzai, who begins meetings in Washington on Monday after months of rocky relations with the Obama administration.
Karzai is hoping his upcoming trip will bring renewed legitimacy and the political backing he needs for possible peace talks with the Taliban.
The Washington trip comes at a critical juncture in the war. At the same time that more troops and aid are moving into Afghanistan, the U.S. has made it clear its involvement is not open-ended. President Barack Obama, who gathered his national security team to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday at the White House, wants to start pulling out troops in July 2011 if conditions allow.
In his opinion piece, Karzai said civilian casualties were harming efforts to bring security and urged an end to night raids and house searches that have been known to kill civilians as well as insurgents.
Civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. and other international forces are highly sensitive in Afghanistan. Public outrage over such deaths prompted the top commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, last year to tighten rules on the use of airstrikes if civilians are at risk.
Karzai, who was at Bagram Air Field on Saturday with several of his ministers, met with wounded soldiers at the base, offering a lapis lazuli bowl as a gift to U.S. Army Pfc. Jordan Wright, 19, of Russellville, Tenn.
Wright suffered a broken leg in a roadside bomb blast May 6.
Karzai later spoke to about 50 U.S. troops at the base and thanked them for training Afghan forces.
"When you're out in the fields in Afghanistan alongside Afghan soldiers it is like any other society," Karzai said. "There are families. There are children. There are women. There are elderly people. There are young people and people who are ill. I'm sure that you take appropriate and good care of the situation when you face it."
In Kabul, Karzai was scheduled to meet briefly with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. She is visiting Afghanistan with colleagues Reps. Susan Davis, D-Calif.; Niki Tsongas, D-Mass.; Donna Edwards, D-Md., and Madeline Bordallo, D-Guam. They were to meet with Afghan women who counsel victims of sexual assault, female Marines who engage with Afghan civilians in the field and Afghan women who have received vocational training.
In eastern Afghanistan, private security guards opened fire and killed a 30-year-old civilian after the guards' vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Wardak province, the provincial governor's office said.
One of the guards was arrested.
Also Saturday, NATO said a service member died following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan on Friday. It did not provide further details.
Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said the government was preparing to send a high-level delegation from several ministries to neighboring Iran to investigate recent reports of the abuse of Afghan prisoners there. Afghan officials still have not decided which officials will make the trip.