Afghanistan Battles Continue
The battles between the Taliban and Afghan Army and police units, backed by U.S. forces, enters the third day in the troubled southeastern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Six Afghan policemen are killed in a roadside bombing near Kandahar as U.S. air forces conduct strikes in the Ghoraz region, where “close-air support was called to the scene of the attack. British Harriers, Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft responded to the scene, attacking enemy positions and forcing them to flee into a nearby town.”
The New York Times provides a summarized description of the battles, which began Thursday night, and resulted in chasing Taliban forces from Helmand into Kandahar. Three Taliban commanders and over thirty two Taliban are known to have been killed.
The battle — the largest in Afghanistan in months — erupted Thursday night when about 200 Taliban fighters ambushed a police patrol near the town of Sangin, then attacked reinforcements as they arrived. Coalition planes, including British Harriers and American A10 attack jets and B-52 bombers, joined the battle. In one attack on Friday night, a district administrator, Hajji Abdul Qudous, was killed and a policeman injured when militants fired a rocket into his offices in the district of Musa Qala, the deputy governor of Helmand Province, Mullah Amir Akhundzada, said. Hours later, in another attack on government office, this time in the Nauzad district, a government soldier and five militants were killed, he said.
The rebels had escaped into the mountainous area of Ghorak in the neighboring province of Kandahar, he said. He said 18 Taliban fighters had been killed, including 2 commanders, Tor Akhtar and Haji Nasro. “The Taliban were served a heavy blow,” he said.
In Kandahar, another Taliban commander, Abdul Samad, was killed by border forces as he tried to enter illegally from neighboring Pakistan with about 10 other militants, Kandahar’s governor, Asadullah Khalid, said, according to The Associated Press. The other insurgents fled back across the frontier.On Saturday afternoon, coalition troops were continuing to search for fleeing Taliban fighters on the ground. The bombing forced some of them to flee to a nearby town, the United States military said in a statement.
It appears one of the Taliban commanders was arrested in September 2002; “Haji Nasro, a militia commander well-known throughout the region whose reputation was built resisting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, was arrested Tuesday night at his home about 50 miles southwest of Kandahar.” It is not clear if he was released in an amnesty program or for other reasons. A recent amnesty program has lead to the surrender of over 1,000 Taliban and “included members of the extremist Hezb-e-Islami faction of wanted warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an anti-Soviet resistance commander who is part of a bloody anti-government insurgency.”
Engineer Mohammed Daud, the governor of Helmand recognizes the interrelationship between terrorism and criminal enterprise, “You cannot separate instability and drugs in this province. The smugglers and drug dealers have very close connections with the Taliban and both are supporting each other.” Daud is pushing for the eradication of the drug syndicates and implores the British force arriving in Helmand to work to this end. The Brits seem poised to help. The task is difficult as Helmand has little resources to fight on its own and the taint of drugs extends all the way to the Afghan Cabinet, according to various sources.