US - Afghan Militaries put heads down to save Kabul from Taliban onslaught

US - Afghan Militaries put heads down to save Kabul from Taliban onslaught

KABUL - *Afghan capital Kabul is becoming the main focus of an intensified US-backed battle against the Taliban this year after a series of high-profile attacks exposed major gaps in security.*

"Kabul is our main effort. To harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here," US General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, told a group of reporters on Wednesday.

The remarks underscored the high degree of concern about the Taliban's intent to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul, which are aimed at undermining the Afghan government and international resolve after 16 years of war.

They are also a reminder that while US and Afghan officials speak with growing confidence about the prospects of peace talks with elements of the Taliban, the military is also making long-term preparations for an extended conflict, including in the capital.

Nicholson said Kabul's exponential growth from about 500,000 people in 2001 to five million today created a haphazard sprawl that was hard to secure. US intelligence agencies were helping Afghanistan map the city so police and soldiers can better design barriers and checkpoints.

In the past year, insurgents have staged massive bombings in the Afghan capital, including one in January that killed more than 100 people and another in May 2017 near the German embassy.

No group claimed the May 2017 attack but Afghan and US officials blamed the Haqqani network, a violent militant group affiliated to the Taliban.