Afghan and Canadian forces have reportedly cleared out Taliban militants from the outskirts of the southern city of Kandahar. Officials say at least 56 Islamist insurgents have been killed in the offensive. Hundreds of Taliban militants had infiltrated into Arghandab district near Kandahar and seized seven villages on Monday.
NATO soldiers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kandahar province
Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city has been tense for over a week now. On Friday, the city’s main jail was attacked, in which nearly 900 inmates escaped. At least 400 of them were Taliban fighters. While the government was still trying to recover from the setback, Taliban militants struck again, seizing seven villages in Arghandab valley, on the outskirts of Kandahar. In retaliation, Canadian troops and Afghan forces launched a huge offensive this week to drive out the insurgents.
The build-up of Taliban fighters in Arghandab comes at a time when the insurgents, who are trying to topple the US-backed government in Kabul, have stepped up their attacks. In January, the militants attacked a hotel popular with westerners in Kabul and in April they attacked a military parade attended by President Hamid Karzai.
Conrad Schetter, an expert at the Centre for Development Research in Bonn, says the militants have been gaining strength: “I think the Taliban are getting stronger day by day. The main reason is that the Taliban got strong acceptance within the population in southern and south-eastern Afghanistan.”
Schetter believes the coalition forces are losing the popular support because of their aggressive intervention: “The crucial mistake of the international forces was to believe that they could control the territories in southern Afghanistan. The international forces challenged the tribal laws in Afghanistan, they tried to control the tribes and they challenged their liberty. This couldn’t work at all and this is why most tribals are changing sides and supporting the Taliban.”
There are at present nearly 70,000 international troops in Afghanistan. Yet the security situation is worsening day by day. Many experts believe that unless there is a radical change in the approach of the coalition forces, the situation will continue to deteriorate further. “Going for a military solution is a wrong strategy", argues Afghan journalist Halim Fidai. "For throughout the last 30 years, including the six years the Karzai governement has been in power, always military solutions have been a priority. There was some development, but the focus was on combating terrorism by military means, which has caused many civilian casualties. In many cases there was not even coordination with the Afghan government, which has made this government a puppet in the eyes of the public.”
The Afghan government, on its part, blames neighbouring Pakistan for failing to prevent insurgents active in the tribal areas from entering into Afghanistan. Islamabad, which is also battling an insurgency in its own territory, denies the charges. It is trying to negotiate with the local tribals and pro-Taliban militants in a bid to gain stability.
Meanwhile the NATO forces have confirmed the latest offensive in Kandahar will last till the weekend, until all the insurgents are evicted from the Arghandab valley. The operation has already forced thousands of civilians to flee the area.