KANDAHAR, Afghanistan —
“I’m safe and healthy,” he told the AP in a telephone interview.
Insurgents have stepped up attacks around the country in recent weeks as Afghanistan enters what could be one of the most critical periods following the U.S. invasion in late 2001 that ousted the Taliban.
The majority of U.S. and coalition forces are expected to begin a significant drawdown in the latter part of this year, leaving Afghan forces in charge of security across the country within months. Afghanistan also is gearing up for a presidential election next spring, and the Taliban have not yet accepted an offer to engage in peace talks in the Gulf state of Qatar.
There currently are about 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 66,000 from the United States. The U.S. troop total is scheduled to drop to about 32,000 by early next year, with the bulk of the decline occurring during the winter months.
While there has been no final decision on the size of the post-2014 force, U.S. and NATO leaders say they are considering a range of between 8,000 and 12,000 — most of them trainers and advisers.
The Taliban have already sought to disrupt the political process as Afghanistan’s various ethnic groups prepare to field candidates to run in the presidential elections. President Hamid Karzai is banned by the constitution from seeking a third term.
The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghan government officials in recent attacks, including an assault on Wednesday on a courthouse and government offices in western Farah province. Forty-six people were killed, including two judges, six prosecutors, administration officers and cleaners working at the site.
The Taliban have said civilians working for the government or the coalition are legitimate targets, despite a warning from the United Nations that such killings may violate international law.
They also have been staging complex attacks in Kabul and other urban areas. On March 14, the Afghan intelligence service seized a massive truck bomb packed with 7,257 kilograms (8 tons) of explosives on the eastern outskirts of Kabul. The truck apparently was going to be used in an attack on a NATO facility in the capital.