M A I N   N E W S

Hundreds of people flee after NATO warning
Taliban face new assault

Kandahar, June 17
Hundreds of people fled their houses in southern Afghanistan today as foreign and Afghan forces prepare to drive out Taliban insurgents who have overrun several villages here, officials and witnesses said. Around 600 Taliban insurgents took over several villages in Arghandab district in the south yesterday, days after they had freed hundreds of prisoners, including around 400 militants, after an attack on the main jail in Kandahar city.

“There are hundreds of them (Taliban) with sophisticated weapons. They have blown up several bridges and are planting mines everywhere,” said Mohammad Usman, a taxi driver who evacuated his family on Tuesday.

A Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said they were eyeing Kandahar after Arghandab. “After occupying Arghandab, the Taliban’s next target will be Kandahar. But we will not attack Kandahar with rockets and heavy mortars. We will hit specific targets,” Yousuf told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.

The Taliban emerged from religious schools on the Pakistani border in Kandahar during the early 1990s and began their takeover of the country from the province, where they still enjoy support.

Ahead of the operation, the defence ministry said hundreds of soldiers have been sent from Kabul to Kandahar. Afghan forces will spearhead the operation, which would be backed by ground and air support from NATO-led troops, the ministry added, without revealing further details.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of Kandahar’s provincial council and brother of President Hamid Karzai, said around 600 Taliban militia had positioned themselves in Arghandab district, which lies 20 km (12 miles) to the north of Kandahar, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities. However, he did not know whether the militants included the 400 that were set free during the jailbreak.

Meanwhile, NATO and Afghan forces have deployed troops to seal-off the area in order to drive the militants from the district, which has an estimated population of 150,000. NATO troops have dropped leaflets by air warning people to leave the district, fleeing villagers said.

Haji Agha Lalai, a member of Kandahar’s provincial council, said 300 families had left and more were leaving their houses. Witnesses said Afghan troops were stationed in many parts of Kandahar city. The insurgents had taken control of eight villages in Arghandab, the defence ministry said in Kabul. The capture of the villages is part of the latest show of power by the militants in Afghanistan, which is suffering its worst spell of violence since 2001.

The flare-up comes despite the presence of more than 60,000 foreign forces under the command of the US military and NATO, as well as about 150,000 Afghan forces. Britain’s Defence Secretary Des Browne told the Parliament on Monday that the government would increase its forces in Afghanistan by 230, taking the total number of British troops there to more than 8,000. — Reuters



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