Fighting has been raging in Kunduz province for days, in which the Taliban and the Afghan armed forces are embroiled in bloody fighting. (Reuters)
KANDAHAR: After fierce night fighting with Afghan government forces, the Taliban have captured an important district in their former Kandahar bastion, officials said on Sunday and sent numerous families from the area. The insurgents have continued their campaign to conquer rural areas in Afghanistan since early May when the US military began its final withdrawal of troops from the violent country. The case of Panjwai district in southern Kandahar province comes just two days after US and NATO forces evacuated their main Bagram airfield, near Kabul, from where they operated for two decades against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda Allies directed.
Over the years there have been regular clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces in and around Panjwai, with insurgents attempting to occupy it because of its proximity to the provincial capital, Kandahar. The leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, is from Panjwai. Kandahar Province is the birthplace of the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic Sharia law until it was overthrown by a US-led invasion that night in 2001, resulting in the withdrawal of government forces from the area. “The Taliban have captured the district police headquarters and the governor’s office building,” he told the AFP news agency. Kandahar provincial council chairman Sayed Jan Khakriwal confirmed the case of Panjwai but accused the government forces of “deliberate withdrawal”. Numerous Panjwai families fled their homes after the Taliban captured the district, an AFP correspondent reported. “The Taliban shot our car when my family and I fled. At least five bullets hit my car, ”Giran, a Panjwai resident, told AFP as he sought refuge in Kandahar city.
“The Taliban are up in the mountains and are firing at all moving vehicles. The Taliban don’t want peace. ”Assadullah, a border police commander in the region, said only the police fight the insurgents. “The army and commandos, which have better military equipment, don’t fight at all,” he said. Panjwai is the fifth district in Kandahar Province to have fallen victim to the insurgents in recent weeks. Later on Sunday, the Kandahar governor’s secretary was killed when a bomb attached to his car exploded near their office building, the Interior Ministry said. Fighting raged in several provinces of Afghanistan, and the Taliban claim to have captured more than 100 of the country’s nearly 400 counties. Afghan officials deny the allegations but acknowledge that government forces have withdrawn from some districts. It is difficult to independently review the situation. The withdrawal of foreign troops from Bagram Air Force Base north of Kabul has raised concerns that the insurgents will step up their campaign to conquer new territories. The Bagram Air Force Base is of great military and symbolic importance, as foreign troops previously stationed there provide important air support in the fight against the insurgents. Experts say one of the main reasons why dozens of districts are lost to government forces is the lack of US air support in recent weeks. However, Interior Minister Abdul Satar Mirzakwal said the Afghan Air Force was ready to take on the Taliban. “We will defend ourselves against them with all our strength … we are preparing for offensives soon,” he told the country’s leading broadcaster, Tolo News. “The cities are our red lines”, which suggests that security forces will guard the urban centers of the country with all their might. The Afghan authorities, who have taken control of Bagram Air Base, say they will use it to fight terrorism and have already re-activated their radar system.