Taliban Fighters Infiltrate Area Near Southern Afghan City

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
June 18, 2008 By Carlotta Gall and Abdul Waheed Wafa
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Afghan families continued to flee the Argandab District in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday as Taliban fighters and NATO and Afghan forces prepared to battle over the strategic region.
The Taliban have taken control of 18 villages west of the Argandab River and started digging trenches and laying mines, a tribal elder from the region said. NATO and Afghan forces moved into the region and dropped leaflets warning civilians to stay inside if fighting erupted nearby.
The sudden flurry of activity on all sides, after about 400 Taliban prisoners escaped Friday in Kandahar, indicates the gravity of the threat.
Yet Afghan government officials and the United States military played down suggestions that the Taliban were poised to attack the district center or even Kandahar, which is just a few miles from Argandab.
“Still, the Taliban are not in Argandab,” Asadullah Khaled, the governor of Kandahar Province, said by telephone from Kandahar. “They are in some places. It does not mean they took it all.”
“They will have some fighting, but they are not that strong,” he said. Although the governor has in the past raised the alarm when Taliban forces have appeared near the city, and though he has often called for tougher action from NATO forces in his region, this time he said the threat was not great. “I am not worried,” he said.
The United States military said the Afghan police and American and allied forces had conducted a five-hour patrol on the west side of the Argandab River valley, where Taliban fighters had been seen. The patrol encountered no resistance, said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a United States military spokeswoman at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.
She said that she could not confirm reports that the Taliban were destroying bridges.
NATO forces dropped leaflets addressed to villagers, said Mark Laity, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
One side of each leaflet explained that Afghan national security forces, supported by NATO, were coming, he said. The other side warned, “Keep your family safe when there is fighting near your home.”
NATO forces have been deployed in the areas where there is a threat, he added.
Still, local farmers and villagers have been concerned enough to evacuate their families from villages in the northwest part of the district.
A tribal elder, who would not allow his name to be used for fear of jeopardizing the safety of relatives still in the Argandab area, said he left his village a week ago, before the prison break, because he sensed the Taliban were planning something.
On Monday 40 to 50 Taliban fighters seized control of the village and ordered that no one leave, he said. The elder said that he had moved most of his family out early, but that two members had stayed back. They were on their way out, but still had not arrived, he said.
Carlotta Gall reported from Islamabad, and Abdul Waheed Wafa from Kabul, Afghanistan. Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul.