US commanders 'planning for the worst' as Afghan fighting season winds down

American and Afghan forces are bracing for a possible large-scale Taliban offensive in eastern Afghanistan to coincide with the end of Ramadan and this year's fighting season. 

With less than two months left in this fighting season, "we expect the enemies of the Afghan people to come out and try to achieve those objectives that they've not been able to achieve," Maj. Gen. James McConville, the top U.S. commander for Regional Command-East (RC-East), said Wednesday.  

"We're expecting a spike in violence," McConville told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. 

"They're gonna have to do something because ... they haven't met their objectives," he added. 

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Those objectives, according to the RC-East commander, include high-profile attacks against the central government in Kabul and provincial and district government leaders in eastern Afghanistan, as well as continued offensives against U.S. forces in the region. 

"I think we're at a very critical time," McConville said. 

Pakistani-based terror groups like the Haqqani Network and others are calling upon “every house, every family” to send fighters into Afghanistan, Afghan army commanders stationed at the American base in Paktia province told The Hill in July. 

“The madrassas are emptying" in Pakistan, added Lt. Col. David Hamann, who leads the American Security Force Assistance Advisory Team (SFAAT) at Combat Outpost Matun Hill, during an interview. 

The looming Taliban threat in eastern Afghanistan coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coming to a close, according to McConville 

The holiday is traditionally accompanied by a lull in attacks by Islamic extremist groups against U.S. and Western allies. 

However, that month-long pause in high-profile attacks allows groups like al Qaeda the opportunity to replenish their ranks of fighters and stockpile the necessary weapons and equipment needed for the kind of spectacular attacks forecast by American intelligence prior to this year's fighting season. 

That said, Afghan National Security Forces are planning several major operations to "blunt any type of enemy offensive" that may be coming as American and local forces head into the end of this year's fighting season. 

"What I'm planning for is the worst. So if it doesn't spike, then things went well ...  but I want to plan for the spike," the three-star general added. 

The early months of this year's fighting season, which is likely the last for U.S. forces before the White House's 2014 withdrawal deadline, has been punctuated by several spectacular attacks in and around the secure zone in Kabul. 

In May, Taliban fighters kicked off this year's fighting season in the country by blowing up an American convoy traveling through the capitol, killing 16 people, including six American military advisers. 

Since then, Taliban and other insurgent groups have launched attacks against the Afghan Supreme Court, the country's international airport and the presidential palace. 

These types of strikes were designed to chip away at Afghan President Hamid Karzai's power base and delegitimize the government's hold in the far-flung provinces and districts in the east and elsewhere along the Afghan countryside. 

It is also a sign that the Taliban are aiming to inflict as much pain as they can on the U.S. in the months remaining before the pullout. 

The terrorists’ offensive is already being felt by U.S. forces.

On Monday, three U.S. soldiers were killed and several wounded during combat operations in Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan. 

In July, one American soldier was killed and three others wounded after a brazen nighttime attack against U.S. forces conducting security operations outside Combat Outpost Chamkani in Paktia. 

The slain soldiers were attached to 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) headquartered at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost Province. 

Monday's deaths were the first U.S. casualties in Afghanistan for August and the seventh suffered by 4th BCT-101st since they arrived in country back in May.