Taliban readies Ramadan offensive

Al Jazeera witnesses fighters operating unhindered in a province north of Kabul.

    The Taliban says it controls most of Kapisa province's Tabag district, 50km north of Kabul
    The fighting in North Waziristan came a day after the Pakistan military said it had killed 40 fighters in a nearby area.
    Major-General Waheed Arshad, a military spokesman, said: "Militants attacked the post in Nawaz Kot district overnight but troops fought off their assault."

    Air strikes called

    Late on Wednesday, US-led forces in Afghanistan said air strikes were called in to help assist troops under attack in a battle that killed around 45 Taliban fighters in the central province of Uruzgan.

    In video

    Al Jazeera gains exclusive access to the Taliban operating freely in Kapisa

    The fighting erupted when the Taliban attacked an Afghan and multinational-force patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, it said in a statement.

    The soldiers returned fire and called in air support after confirming that the attackers were "drawing large amounts of reinforcements".

    The battle came on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

    The Taliban has said it would use the month to launch a new operation involving suicide bombings, ambushes and other attacks.

    Taliban territory

    The group also says that it now has a foothold in Kapisa province, about 50km north of Kabul, and claims most of the northeastern district of Tagab is under its control.

    Al Jazeera filmed a group of about 50 Taliban fighters travelling unhindered in NowRoz-Abad, in Tagab.

    And the unit's commander said there were 25 more groups just like it spread throughout the province.

    Oji Mullah claims to have bought weapons
    from the Afghan army

    Qais Azimy, an Al Jazeera producer, witnessed the fighters being greeted warmly by locals.

    But the Taliban said they stop and search any unrecognised face owing to fear of spies.

    Oji Mullah, a Taliban commander, said: "All of Tagab except the centre of the town is under control of the mujahidin. The government has no control at all, they are sitting in the centre and they run the market.

    "Hundreds of mujahidin are in this area. If we want, in two hours, God willing, we could take all of Tagab."

    The group was well armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. And they claimed to buy the weapons from the very people who are trying to stop them.

    "We have old stores of ammunition and the national army are also selling us weapons because they have very poor discipline," Oji Mullah said.

    "Even the national police are selling to us, maybe the Americans will start."

    Government's stand

    The Afghan government rejects the claim as little more than propaganda.

    General Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the defence department, said: "The only organisation which is carrying out military operations in this area is the Afghan National Army and they have the trust of the people.

    "The enemy is under their control, so they [the Taliban] want to build up distrust in the ANA."

    However, Al Jazeera's producer travelled with the Taliban for five hours in Tabag district and saw no sign of Afghan or American forces.

    While filming, a young boy appeared and told the Taliban he had seen some Americans - five Humvees nearby.

    A ripple of excitement spread through the group and Oji Mullah ordered his men to move out to prepare and attack.

    Fields of hashish

    The fighters scanned the main road in the distance and then began to move through fields of hashish to take up their position.

    At that point, the Al Jazeera camera pulled out.

    Though the Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan in 2001, it still has a strong presence in the country.

    Nato forces have been battling fighters on several fronts, most notably in the south of the country, where the Taliban claim to control swathes of areas including Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

    But as the Taliban advances closer to Kabul, the north may become a new battleground.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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