Afghan-Nato forces battle Taliban

Joint operation in southern district aims to force opposition fighters from villages.

    Government and international forces can be seen patrolling all over Kandahar [AFP]

    The number of troops involved in the operation is "substantial", he said.
    Roads blocked
    Hashem Ahelbarra, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kandahar, said: "The main road that leads to Arghandab is blocked and more army reinforcements are heading towards the district - tanks, armoured vehicles and soldiers."

    The Taliban are thought to be holding about
    10 villages in Arghandab

    "The threat from the Taliban in Arghandab is being taken very seriously by the Afghan army and the coalition forces," he said.
    "They are concerned that with the military operation going on, the Taliban could retaliate using suicide bombers and attack inside [the city of] Kandahar."
    Zemarai Bashari, spokesman for Afghanistan’s interior ministry, said "the operation is going very well".
    "Afghan security forces have made progress … the initial reports are stating that 16 enemies have been killed and around 4 others are injured."
    Bashari said that Afghan and Nato troops were sharing the role, with no single force leading the other.
    "This is a joint operation … everyone is playing their role and we are seeing very good co-ordination and implementation of this operation."
    But Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said his group's fighters had not been dislodged by the Afghan-Nato offensive.
    "The fighting started today in the morning but they have not been able to take a metre of the land under our control. We do not intend to leave Arghandab at all," he said.
    "We will use Arghandab for specific attacks with motors and  cannons on targets in Kandahar city. We have also planned a suicide attack which will be carried out in Kandahar."
    As the operation in Arghandab got underway, the British defence ministry announced that four of its soldiers had been killed in an attack in Helmand province on Tuesday.
    'No resistance'
    Afghan and coalition soldiers sealed off the Arghandab district on Tuesday, after the Taliban claimed its fighters took control of 10 villages.
    The Taliban advance came days after a suicide attack on Kandahar's main jail freed more than 1,000 prisoners.

    With hundreds of its fighters controlling a large area north of Kandahar, the Taliban appears to be sending a message that seven years after being toppled, it is still a major force in Afghanistan.


    The Taliban said it met no resistance as it took control of the villages in Arghandab.


    Ahelbarra said on Tuesday that hundreds of Taliban fighters had taken up positions in the area.

    It was unclear if the group was just trying to make a statement as it did late last year when it captured the same area for just a few days before retreating under heavy bombardment by international forces, or if it would try to take back control of large swaths of the country.


    Villagers flee


    As soon as news of the Taliban takeover circulated on Monday, residents in Arghandab fled their villages, some of them with cattle and all their belongings.


    The move comes days after the Taliban freed
    1,000 inmates from a Kandahar jail [AFP]

    The Taliban also told residents to leave.


    "We left the area to protect ourselves from the bombing and the risks of a military confrontation. There are many Taliban fighters - some told us they are more than eight hundred," one resident said.


    Gholam Razeq, the district chief of Arghandab, said "the enemy wants to create insecurity in Arghandab which was the most secure area".


    Haji Ikramullah Khan, a tribal leader from the region, warned that the Taliban fighters could use the cover of the district's grape and pomegranate orchards to mount an attack on Kandahar itself.

    "All of Arghandab is made of orchards. The fighters can easily hide and easily fight," he said.
    "It is quite close to Kandahar. During the Russian war, the Russians didn't even occupy Arghandab, because when they fought here they suffered big casualties."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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