KABUL, Afghanistan — The spring fighting season in Afghanistan geared up this weekend with a war of words.
The Taliban announced it will begin its spring offensive today, pledging to attack military bases, convoys and Afghan officials, including members of the peace council working to reconcile with top insurgent leaders. Saturday's declaration came a day after a new Pentagon report said the militants were experiencing low morale after suffering heavy losses on the battlefield.
The Associated Press said it was told by senior officers with the U.S.-led coalition Friday that the Taliban — aided by the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network — plans to conduct high-profile attacks, including suicide bombings, across the country in a display of power.
Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, said the Taliban planned to use the violence as a "propaganda ploy" to try to demonstrate its relevance and create the perception of momentum despite recent setbacks.
In recent months, the U.S.-led coalition said it has seized insurgent weapons caches, pushed the Taliban from its historic strongholds in the south, and captured and killed hundreds. The Taliban has responded with suicide bombings and attacks on Afghan and coalition troops and Afghan government officials.
In Brussels, a NATO official said Saturday that international forces have already tightened security in anticipation of an uptick in assassinations and attacks by the Taliban.
Security agencies employed by Westerners working in Afghanistan have issued lockdowns and travel restrictions. The Afghan intelligence agency said the government had tightened security. Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi described the Taliban statement as "propaganda."
As of Saturday, 1,457 U.S. troops have died in the war in Afghanistan. Identifications as reported by the U.S. military and not previously published:
• Air Force Maj. Philip D. Ambard, 44, Edmonds, Wash.; gunfire Wednesday; Kabul International Airport.
• Air Force Maj. Jeffrey O. Ausborn, 41, Gadsden, Ala.; gunfire Wednesday; Kabul International Airport.
• Army Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Bitner, 37, Greencastle, Pa.; explosion April 23; Kandahar province.
• Air Force Maj. David L. Brodeur, 34, Auburn, Mass.; gunfire Wednesday; Kabul International Airport.
• Air Force Master Sgt. Tara R. Brown, 33, Deltona; gunfire Wednesday; Kabul International Airport.
• Air Force Lt. Col Frank D. Bryant Jr., 37, Knoxville, Tenn.; gunfire Wednesday; Kabul International Airport.
• Marine Sgt. Sean T. Callahan, 23, Warrenton, Va.; combat April 23; Helmand province.
• Army Sgt. John P. Castro, 25, Andrews, Texas; small-arms fire April 22; Paktika province.
• Marine Lance Cpl. Dominic J. Ciaramitaro, 19, South Lyon, Mich.; combat April 23; Helmand province.
• Marine Sgt. David P. Day, 26, Gaylord, Mich.; combat April 24; Badghis province.
• Air Force Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II, 40, New Haven, Conn.; gunfire Wednesday; Kabul International Airport.
• Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley S. Hughes, 41, Newark, Ohio; noncombat incident April 24; Kandahar province.
• Marine Lance Cpl. Joe M. Jackson, 22, White Swan, Wash.; combat April 24; Helmand province.
• Marine Cpl. Adam D. Jones, 29, Germantown, Ohio; combat Wednesday; Helmand province.
• Army Staff Sgt. James A. Justice, 32, Grimes, Iowa; small-arms fire April 23; Kapisa province.
• Army Capt. Joshua M. McClimans, 30, Akron, Ohio; indirect fire April 22; Khost province.
• Air Force Capt. Nathan J. Nylander, 35, Hockley, Texas; gunfire Wednesday; Kabul International Airport.
• Air Force Capt. Charles A. Ransom, 31, Midlothian, Va.; gunfire Wednesday; Kabul International Airport.
• Army Chief Warrant Officer Terry L. Varnadore II, 29, Hendersonville, N.C.; helicopter crash April 23; Kapisa province.
• Army Pfc. Jonathan M. Villanueva, 19, Jacksonville; small-arms fire Wednesday; Wardak province.
• Army Spc. Joseph A. Kennedy, 25, of St. Paul, Minn., died on April 15 in Ghazni province. An incorrect location was listed in the Times on April 24.