Kandahar assaults underscore vulnerabilities in Afghan war effort

Taliban attacks continued for a second day in Kandahar, despite a yearlong effort by NATO and Afghan forces to drive the Taliban out of the southern province.

By , Correspondent

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    Afghan border police fire at the Taliban forces from a rooftop during clashes in Kandahar city, Sunday. Afghan troops clashed with the Taliban in the southern city of Kandahar for a second day after insurgents launched coordinated attacks with rocket-propelled grenades and suicide raids against government buildings.
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The Taliban continued their assault on government offices in Kandahar for the second day Sunday, after militants launched attacks in their former stronghold Saturday as part of the start of the group’s spring offensive.

The attacks across the city come after a yearlong campaign by NATO and Afghan forces to drive the Taliban out of Kandahar Province and southern Afghanistan. They show that despite those efforts, the city is still vulnerable to a widespread Taliban assault.

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Agence-France Presse reports that four died in the attacks, and nearly were 50 wounded. They began Saturday when militants used rocket-propelled grenades to attack the governor’s office from nearby buildings. They also attacked police stations and local offices of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, and used suicide bombers. AFP reports that though fighting died down overnight, militants Sunday remained in a building near an intelligence service office, and fired rockets and guns.

"It is a complicated building, that is why it has taken a while to clear up but soon we will clear the building of the enemy," said Kandahar border police commander General Abdul Razeq, according to AFP.

The Associated Press reports that fighting resumed Sunday when security forces tried to clear Taliban fighters from the building where they were holed up. Doing so was difficult because most fighters were believed to be wearing suicide vests. NATO troops and helicopters were supporting Afghan forces, reports AP.

AFP reports that 12 insurgents were killed in the fighting and seven captured, according to the Defense Ministry, while AP quoted an Interior Ministry spokesman saying 23 attackers had been killed, including eight who had detonated suicide vests. The Taliban says 100 militants took part in the attack, while NATO estimated 40 to 60.

The Taliban declared the start of their annual spring offensive last week, and the attack on Kandahar was the first major operation since. The assault, says the AP, “cast doubt on the effectiveness of a yearlong campaign to secure Afghanistan's south and Kandahar in particular.”

Last month, nearly 500 militants escaped from Kandahar’s prison through a 300-meter long tunnel, as The Christian Science Monitor reported. The Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman said that nearly all the militants killed Saturday and Sunday were among the escaped prisoners. Reuters reports that a Taliban spokesman claimed escapees were among the attackers, and said the Taliban were behind the attack.

Though it came less than a week after US forces killed Taliban leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the assault was not in retaliation for Bin Laden’s death, said the Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi. "A number of fighters are in several locations around the city. These are not retaliatory attacks for the death of Osama bin Laden but are part of our spring offensive,” he told Reuters.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that the jailbreak, coming at the beginning of the Afghan fighting season, was not a good sign for international forces battling the Taliban.

"The escape of nearly 500 inmates, most of them Taliban members, from Kandahar’s Sarposa prison is likely to push the security of Kandahar and neighboring parts of Afghanistan in a perilous direction.

While the identities of the escapees and their importance to the Taliban is uncertain, the militant group at minimum has received an influx of foot-soldiers at the start of the summer fighting season. It has also demonstrated its ability to plan and execute a brazen operation in a city that is currently the intense focus of US intelligence and counterinsurgency operations."

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