The Taliban released a video on Friday showing an Afghan military helicopter exploding on a landing pad at a small, remote Afghan military outpost in the mountainous Nari district of Kunar province, close to the Pakistani border.
The Taliban claim to have blown up the helicopter using an improved explosive device (IED) planted under or near the helipad. The release of the video comes just three days after the militant group declared the beginning of its fighting season — the time of year when the snow melts, and the Taliban moves to expand its territory.
In announcing the new offensive, the Taliban said that "Jihad against the aggressive and usurping infidel army is a holy obligation upon our necks and our only recourse for re-establishing an Islamic system and regaining our independence."
The video, the Taliban said, was filmed on March 28, weeks before the annual summer offensive was announced. Before the video was released, the governor of Kunar Wahidullah Kalimzai had blamed the crash on technical failures. The Taliban said on Friday that the Afghan government had been pressured by their "American masters" to label the explosion an accident.
The video shows the explosion from multiple angles, while chants play in the background — it's impossible to verify the Taliban claim that the explosion was caused by an IED, but the Taliban claim 12 Afghan security forces were killed.
Over the past week, Taliban fighters have escalated attacks against Afghan security forces in the Kunar province, and Afghan officials say nine Taliban fighters have died in the fighting so far.
The Taliban insurgency gained strength across Afghanistan since the withdrawal of international troops from combat at the end of 2014. The Taliban are now stronger than at any point since they were driven from power by US-backed forces in 2001. According to NATO commanders, the Taliban exert control over only about six percent of Afghanistan but up to a third of the country is at risk from the insurgents. NATO says government forces control no more than 70 percent of Afghanistan's territory.
US General John Nicholson, who took over as commander of international troops in Afghanistan last month, is currently conducting a strategic review, including plans to cut US troops in Afghanistan from 9,800 to 5,500 by the end of the year. Unless the plan is changed, the reduction would mean the end of most of NATO's training and assistance operations to the Afghan security forces. The small number of US troops remaining would focus on counterterrorism operations against radical groups like Islamic State, which have a limited presence along the Pakistani border.
Reuters contributed to this report