KABUL (Reuters) - Fighting in Afghanistan has escalated ahead of the usual spring season, as both sides seek to increase leverage in talks on a peace settlement - a gamble that analysts warn could also risk hardening positions.

In March, hundreds of Afghan forces were killed or wounded in heavy clashes in southern, western and northern Afghanistan, according to unofficial reports. Two U.S. special forces were killed near Kunduz, and attacks by both sides caused civilian casualties. U.S. air strikes also accidentally killed Afghan soldiers, in a case of friendly fire.

"Government forces are on the offensive this year. We expect a lot of fighting and obviously casualties," said a senior Afghan security source.

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