Renewed Afghan Battles Kill More Than 100
Thursday, May 18, 2006; 6:51 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Islamic militants, some armed with machine guns, battled Afghan, U.S. and Canadian forces and exploded two suicide car bombs Thursday, some of the deadliest violence in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban.
More than 100 people were killed in the string of attacks that started Wednesday: dozens of insurgents, at least 15 Afghan police, an American civilian training Afghan forces, and the first female Canadian soldier to die in combat.
The fighting concentrated in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar raised new concerns for the future of Afghanistan's fragile democracy. The Taliban have stepped up attacks in recent months, with roadside bombs and suicide assaults, but this week's fighting marked an escalation in a region where the U.S.-led coalition is to cede control of security operations to NATO by July.
President Hamid Karzai said the violence emanated from the mountainous border trial regions of neighboring Pakistan, populated by the ethnic Pashtuns who make up the majority of the Taliban militants and are believed to be hiding Osama bin Laden.
"We have credible reports that inside Pakistan, in the madrassas, the mullahs and teachers are saying to their students: 'Go to Afghanistan for jihad. Burn the schools and clinics,'" Karzai said.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam, called the allegations "baseless."
The violence started Wednesday in the small remote town of Musa Qala in Helmand, when an estimated 300-400 militants with assault rifles and machine guns attacked a police and government headquarters.
The attack sparked eight hours of clashes with Afghan security forces, the fiercest in Helmand since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 for hosting al-Qaida, said Deputy Gov. Amir Mohammed Akhunzaba. He said the fighting started at 10 p.m. Wednesday, though the Interior Ministry put the time at earlier.
He said the bodies of about 40 Taliban militants were recovered and that 13 police were killed and six wounded in the fight, some 280 miles southwest of Kabul.
Afghan police reinforcements forced the militants to flee. British soldiers helped evacuate casualties but did not provide military backup, in part so Afghan forces could prove themselves, said British military spokesman Capt. Drew Gibson.
"If they're the ones who are seen beating off the Taliban, there's a lot of credibility for them," Gibson said. "The ANP (Afghan National Police) did admirably in the circumstances, proven by the fact that Musa Qala is now back under ANP security."
In neighboring Kandahar province, Canadian soldiers were supporting Afghan forces on a mission to oust Taliban fighters outside Kandahar city late Wednesday when militants attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, Canadian military spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy said.