Above: Taliban in Kandahar
The Taliban is on the offensive once more. After a swift assault of the villages of Arghandab District, they have now setup bases in and around the area. They started by destroying bridges and restricting access of tanks and other army vehicles into the region. Then they planted mines to further prevent land assault. Arghandab is in the southern part of Afghanistan, found in the Kandahar Province. The Arghandab region is found just 10 miles to the northwest of Kandahar City – the second largest city in the whole country.
A provincial council member saw how it happened. He said the militants were destroying bridges and planting mines in hopes of protecting themselves against NATO force and Afghan Army attacks.
With the Taliban now controlling Arghandab, they could just as easily takeover Kandahar – their former stronghold.
True or False?
Above: The coalition set up checkpoints around the district; here they check the vehicles of those fleeing Arghandab after the Taliban assault
These reports came from Afghanistan’s own Ministry of Defense. They said on Tuesday that the militants’ number were close to 400; including foreign terrorists. Just last week, the Taliban assaulted the Kandahar prison – freeing almost the same number of militants.
Above: This is what the Kandahar prison wall looked like after the Taliban attack
NATO disputed the supposed takeover – saying that their troops in the area saw no signs of any kind of Taliban attack. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, led by United States troops, said they sent soldiers into the district and they did not meet any form of resistance.
“Recent reports of militant control in the area appear to be unfounded,” their issued statement said. Their spokesman, Captain Christopher Colster said that their soldiers patrolled for almost five hours on the west side of the Arghandab River – the exact location where the Afghan Ministry of Defense said the Taliban initially attacked. The soldiers didn’t make any contact with militants and said there were no signs of fleeing civilians either.
“In talking to our folks they do not have any imminent concern that Kandahar is about to fall to the Taliban,” said United States Department of Defense press secretary Geoff Morrell from Washington.
Nonetheless, hundreds of families, most of which are farmers, fled the district. At the same time the Afghan army soldiers rushed in. They were the ones who told the people to flee. They fear that a major battle will be coming soon. While a NATO aircraft dropped leaflets from above Arghandab, informing the residents to stay in their homes: “Keep your families safe. When there is fighting near your home, stay inside” the leaflet said.
Nobody wanted to take chances. More than 700 families of almost 4,000 people fled the district. An Afghan police officer reported that the families moved through the east side of the Arghandab River. While on the west side, the Taliban army was already in control of their villages.
“Last night the people were afraid, and families on tractors, trucks and taxis fled the area,” said the officer. “Small bridges inside the villages have been destroyed.”
“[Taliban] told us to leave the area within 24 hours because they want to fight foreign and Afghan troops,” said one farmer. “But within a week we should be harvesting, and we were expecting a good one. Now with this fighting we are deeply worried – the grapes are the only source of income we have.”
Ever since being driven out of their bases, the Taliban have been eyeing Arghandab – it will provide the perfect location to strike back; with good hiding positions and the proximity to the big city.
“From a strategic military point of view, Arghandab is a very good place for the Taliban,” said the council member. “Arghandab is close to Kandahar city, allowing the Taliban to launch ambushes and attacks more easily than any other place in the province. Secondly, it’s covered with trees and gardens – they can easily hide from air strikes.”
This was confirmed by a telephone conversation between the Taliban and the Associated Press:
“We want to fight until the death,” said Taliban commander Mullah Ahmedullah. “We’ve occupied most of the area and it’s a good place for fighting. Now we are waiting for the NATO and Afghan forces.”
This was the latest display of strength by the Taliban since their ousting in 2001… and despite a record number of United States and NATO troops in the country. After pleading for additional troops over the last year, the coalition now has 65,000 soldiers all over the country. Apparently, this is not enough.
The commander further confirmed the earlier reported number; 400 Taliban insurgents moved into the district and that most of them were from the earlier prison break. He also confirmed to the AP reporter that Kandahar is the main target; it is still regarded as their main stronghold.
They Can’t Handle the Truth
“We’re coming off of two difficult events in Kandahar province – the break-in to the prison and the Arghandab fighting,” said United States Ambassador to Kabul William Wood from Washington – confirming the reality of the Taliban attack.
But he is not convinced of a takeover: “I would like to point out that six months ago, there was also fighting in Arghandab and there was lots of headlines then that said Arghandab is about to fall and that wasn’t right then and it’s not going to be right now.”
He knows that the Taliban does not have the support of the people this time: “The Taliban can raise a lot of dust at any given moment and a given point. They can’t stay. They don’t have the loyalty of the people,” Wood told the press.
According to reports, the combined Afghan and NATO troops killed 35 Taliban rebels Wednesday in what was considered as a clean-up operation. According to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, two Taliban commanders were killed. They used chopper gunships to drive out the militants that were entrenched in the villages in Arghandab. In the ensuing gunfight two Afghan soldiers were also killed.
The choppers, flying high over the Arghandab River, fired rockets at Taliban posts at the west side of the river (confirming the earlier account of the Afghan police officer that NATO disregarded).
NATO armored vehicles moved throughout the district, as more helicopters flew in low up the valley, while others landed at the already heavily guarded district center of Arghandab. The shops in its bazaar are now closed and the streets are guarded by soldiers of the Afghan National Army. This is how the district looks like now; when only a few days ago, United States officials denied any Taliban presence.
But the coalition still expects little resistance. Lieutenant Colonel Dave Corbould of the Canadian battle group said that the Taliban “do not appear to have the foothold that they have apparently claimed.”
After their first gunfire exchange, the coalition said they expected the operation to take only a few days.
Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khaled agrees that his province, which used to be a Taliban stronghold, is now safe from possible takeover. He said that the Taliban are already on the defensive in Arghandab. Further movement to his capital is no longer possible. He said that the operation is taking more time than usual because they were taking utmost precaution not to hurt the innocent families in the region.
They have also confirmed the presence of foreign militants. After air strikes on the villages of Kohak and Nagan, bodies of 16 insurgents were recovered – including foreign Pakistani and Arab militants.
The Real Victims of War
One farmer said he had already evacuated his family to the city the previous day. But he was back at his village when the gun battle erupted. He had no choice but to return – his wheat was already ripe. “What can we do,” he said. “I am very worried about my wheat harvest; if fighting is prolonged we will lose the harvest.”
Another one said he left everything and fled as early as Tuesday with only his cattle. “They are so expensive and if I don’t bring them down they will die,” he said. “If they die it means my family will die because they are the only resource that my family relies on.”
During the initial assault by the Taliban, they urged these people to join them. The terrorist group used to have their support. This was a former stronghold. But not anymore. The people have realized that they are better off without them. And now that they have returned, the people want nothing to do with them.