Heavy clashes in Taliban offensive on Afghan city of Kandahar

Ben Farmer
·3 min read
Police inside an outpost called Ghargai, in Panjwai District, in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. - Andrew Quilty for the Telegraph
Police inside an outpost called Ghargai, in Panjwai District, in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. - Andrew Quilty for the Telegraph

Dozens of Taliban fighters were killed in fighting between Afghan forces and militants waging a multi-pronged assault on the symbolically important city of Kandahar, officials said.

Fighters tried to storm checkpoints in five districts around the country's second city and were met with air strikes and ground assaults, the ministry of defence said.

The attacks were the latest push in weeks-long clashes around Kandahar province, which have seen the Afghan government lose control of swathes of rural territory around the city.

"The security forces repulsed the attack, killing 51 terrorists and wounding nine," the ministry said, without offering details of any casualties among government forces.

Kandahar's role as both a historic seat of power in Afghanistan and the place where the Taliban movement first arose in the mid-1990s has made it a key battleground during the long-running insurgency.

The offensive against the city also follows a similar push on the capital of neighbouring Helmand province and has underlined the insurgents resolve to keep fighting despite tentative peace talks in Doha.

As both sides launched attacks around Kandahar over the weekend, locals said at least 11 villagers were killed in one Afghan air strike on the village of Deh Sabaz. Police said the explosion had instead been caused by a Taliban suicide car bomb and the ministry of defence said it was investigating.

Despite the region's reputation for being the insurgent's spiritual heartland, and a focus for American troops during Barack Obama's 2010 troop surge, the countryside around Kandahar had been relatively quiet for years, locals said.

That changed in late October with a coordinated push in the districts of Arghandab, Panjwayi, Maiwand and Zhari which saw Afghan government forces quickly fall back.

“Large numbers of police and others forces checkpoints and villages were captured by the Taliban in this time,” Haji Mohammad Jan, a tribal leader from the area, told the Telegraph.

Farm workers break for tea on a raisin farm in Panjwai District, in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. - Andrew Quilty for the Telegraph
Farm workers break for tea on a raisin farm in Panjwai District, in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. - Andrew Quilty for the Telegraph

Hundreds of families had been forced to flee into the city and many farmers lost their harvests as  fighting erupted in the region's famed pomegranate orchards.   “We called on the Taliban and Afghan national forces to please stop fighting in this season of pomegranates, but neither side accepted our requests, and many farmers lost their crop,” he said.

Jamal Barakzai, spokesman for Kandahar police, said the Taliban had massed fighters from several provinces and launched attacks across Kandahar province over the weekend.

He said: “We started our operation, but very carefully because the Taliban are hiding in civilian houses. If we are too fast, maybe many people will become casualties.”

The Taliban launched a similar offensive against Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, in October, quickly seizing districts once patrolled by British troops. Fighting continues around the city and the main highway between Lahskar Gah and Kandahar had been closed for two months until Afghan forces opened it last week.

Ashraf Ghani's government has gradually lost sway in rural districts across Afghanistan, but analysts do not believe the Taliban are strong enough to take or hold major cities like Kandahar.

Faltering peace talks between the Mr Ghani's government and his Taliban foes have failed to quell violence in the country, which kills scores of civilians and government forces each week.

Envoys have spent months in the Qatari capital hammering out basic ground rules and an agenda for talks, but the Taliban have so far refused a ceasefire as part of the discussions.