Taliban Fighters Infiltrate Area Near Afghan City

By Tuesday, a tribal elder from the area reported, Taliban fighters had taken control of 18 villages, dug trenches and laid mines. The elder did not wish to be identified by name for fear of jeopardizing the safety of family members in the Arghandab area. It was unclear whether any of the prison escapees were among the fighters.

Afghan military reinforcements arrived in Kandahar on Monday and have already deployed in Kandahar Province, said a NATO spokesman, Mark Laity. The soldiers flew from Kabul and more can be expected to follow, he said. NATO forces based in Kandahar Province have also redeployed to be better prepared for any potential threat, he said.

Mr. Laity said NATO aircraft dropped leaflets urging residents of the area to remain indoors. He denied reports that the leaflets urged people to flee. In any event, the tribal elder said, Taliban forces were preventing people from leaving after an early exodus of villagers fleeing in fear of hostilities. Earlier reports from families in the area said they had been told by the Taliban to leave, an indication the Taliban intended to make a stand and fight.

A government spokesman, Parwez Najib, confirmed the news that Taliban fighters had infiltrated parts of Arghandab. “There is not fighting yet,” he said. Afghan and foreign forces are aware of the presence of the Taliban, he added.

Arghandab is a rich, heavily populated river valley of orchards and vineyards running northwest from Kandahar into a range of barren mountains that have been a refuge for mujahedeen fighters and Taliban insurgents. Control of Arghandab is considered critical to control of the city of Kandahar and has been the source of forces that have seized the city in the past.

The move by the Taliban on Arghandab, a district that is critical to the security of the city of Kandahar and therefore to the entire south of Afghanistan, comes amid an increased sense of crisis in Afghanistan. Kandahar is still reeling from Friday’s brazen attack by the Taliban on the prison, in which they released some 1,200 inmates, 400 of them members of the Taliban, including some district commanders.

In a sign of his increasing frustration with the threats to his government, President Hamid Karzai raised the possibility Sunday of sending Afghan troops into Pakistan to hit militant leaders who had vowed to continue a jihad in Afghanistan.

His comments, which Pakistan protested Monday, were welcomed by Afghan tribesmen gathered for a council meeting in the southeastern province of Paktika. “People here have long been asking the government to solve the problem of infiltration from Pakistan,” the provincial governor, Muhammad Akram Khapalwak, said after the meeting. “People were saying today that Mr. Karzai has been too late in saying this, and it should have been said two years ago.”

In Arghandab, local journalists working for the BBC and Al Jazeera had earlier quoted local government officials as saying that 500 Taliban fighters had swarmed into 10 villages in the district.

The Taliban have been pushing into Arghandab for months and have made several attacks on police posts and tribal leaders from the area over the last year. The deaths of Mullah Naqibullah, the longtime leader of the Alokozai tribe that populates Arghandab, and another senior commander, Abdul Hakim Jan, who was killed in a huge suicide bombing in February, have critically depleted the tribe, which has always fiercely opposed the Taliban.

Canadian troops and the Afghan police pushed back a Taliban force after it made a brief show of force in Arghandab in October. Families fled as the troops moved into the district, but the Taliban fell back quickly and the operation was over within days.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/world/asia/18afghan.html