Thursday, June 19, the provincial governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khalid declared that Afghan forces backed by British and Canadian NATO units had driven 1,000 Taliban fighters out of the villages they had occupied in the Arghandab district 10 miles northwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city.
This was a piece of hyperbole.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the Taliban, intermingled with al Qaeda fighters – Turks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Pakistanis and Arabs – had melted away into areas northeast of Arghandab. They had never had any intention of drawing a line in the sand for confronting the Afghan special forces units flown in with their accoutrements from Kabul with Canadian troops. Neither did they plan to expose themselves to American and French bombers from the carriers cruising in the Arabian Sea or the British warplanes and helicopter gunships from Afghan bases.
Instead, Taliban commanders sent their forces to take shelter and regroup for their next major assault after the jailbreak at Kandahar prison on June 13, which let more than 1,000 inmates out on the loose including 400 Taliban rebels and al Qaeda activists.
They had all made a beeline for the insurgent forces holed up in the lush Arghandab orchards.
In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts, the series of successful Taliban-al Qaeda attacks in the last two weeks were the opening shots for their summer offensive. This is something US, British, Canadian and Afghan war planners refuse to acknowledge. Since mid-May they have insisted that that there would be no Taliban summer offensive this year in view of heavy insurgent losses at the hands of NATO.
American officers described them as “on the run.” British commanders said the Taliban command had been “decapitated.” Even on Thursday, June 19, with fighting taking place close to Kandahar and Helmund Province, British officers had this to say about nine British deaths in a week’s combat:
“We’ve just been unlucky and we can’t talk about Taliban’s resurgence.”
Speaking in parliament the day before, British premier Gordon Brown asserted: “The Taliban is not conducting war, it is engaging in insurgency.”
Taliban and al Qaeda have launched a summer offensive
These locutions do not represent the real situation on the ground in the Afghan war, which is characterized by the following:
1. Taliban and al Qaeda have embarked on a major summer offensive in Afghanistan’s southern provinces.
2. The US, British and other coalition commanders of NATO and the Afghan army were caught unready and their troops were unprepared.
3. The new offensive was kicked off by the Kandahar jailbreak. No forces were there to intervene when dozens of Taliban fighters, including half a dozen suicide bombers, blew up the gates and detonated 800 kilos of explosives to release the inmates.
NATO and Afghan troops were in camps and bases no more than 12-15 minutes’ drive from the jail. These facilities have tall, fortified watchtowers. It does not stand to reason that none of the watchers in these towers missed the flashes and sounds of huge explosions at the prison.
When they finally arrived on the scene, they turned south to hunt for escapees. This was the wrong direction; the freed Taliban fighters had made tracks for Afghandab to the northwest.
4. Taliban strategists have switched tactics for their new offensive. They have given up operating in large groups to seize broad areas and adopted the combined guerrilla tactics employed by al Qaeda in Iraq. These insurgents now carry out surprise attacks on NATO and Afghan military strategic installations and positions in order to catch them off-balance and shake their self-confidence.
The last two weeks have therefore seen more suicide attacks, more roadside bombings and more anti-tank mining, accompanied by spectacular operations such as the Kandahar prison attack. Only if they see signs of weakness in the control exercised by NATO and the Afghan military in a location or town such as Kandahar, then they will go in hard.
This combat pattern may not be restricted to the South. Taliban and al Qaeda have enough troops at their disposal to call up the support of local tribal chiefs and extend the war to the eastern and western regions of Afghanistan.