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    South Asia
     May 19, 2006
Taliban steps up spring offensive
By Borhan Younus, Ilyas Wahdat and Naeem Kohistani

KABUL - Almost daily armed attacks on government officials by the Taliban may have prompted President Hamid Karzai to renew his amnesty offer to supporters of the ousted Afghan regime.

In the latest attack on Wednesday night running into Thursday, reports said as many as 70 Taliban soldiers and 13 policemen had been killed in nine hours of fighting in the southern town of Mosa Qala in Helmand province.

It is the biggest Taliban attack since they were ousted by US-led forces in 2001. Asia Times Online has predicted the surge in the insurgency. (See Taliban's Iraq-style spring is sprung Mar 15).

Karzai recently urged the Taliban to give up the violence and join

in the efforts to reconstruct the country. Almost four decades of war and civil strife have reduced Afghanistan to rubble. The Afghan president, whose tone was conciliatory, called the Taliban "victims of outsiders" - but he did not identify these.

He said a Muslim did not kill innocent people, including teachers, engineers and religious scholars. Neither was burning of schools the act of a true Muslim, he added. "I ask the Taliban in which Islamic country are schools torched?" he rhetorically stated.

The public speech at Kabul's Chaman-i-Hazoori park was on the 14th anniversary of Mujahideen Victory Day - when the Taliban fighters emerged from seminaries in Pakistan to overthrow the pro-communist government on April 28, 1992.

But this victory was followed by another bout of bloodletting as the different mujahideen factions started fighting among themselves to grab power. The infighting resulted in 65,000 deaths in the capital city, Kabul. In the chaos, the Taliban seized power in 1996.

Civilian rule was restored in 2002 by the US-led coalition that has stayed on to prop up the Karzai regime. But remnants of the Taliban continue to fight the coalition forces, government troops and the police, particularly in the southern and eastern provinces.

The escalating violence
This week, a rocket landed close to the Kandahar airport, southern Afghanistan, but caused no loss of life or property. The airport is under the control of Canadian troops, who have recently taken charge of security in the province from US forces as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's southward expansion plans.

Major Quentin Innis, spokesman of the coalition forces, confirmed that it was the fifth rocket attack on the airport since the 2,000-member Canadian force had taken over.

Four policemen and 11 Taliban fighters were killed in the Panjwayee district of Kandahar on May 13, provincial governor Mohammed Daud Ahmadi said. Violence has escalated in Kandahar in recent months.

A senior official of the Women's Affairs Department escaped unhurt in an assassination attempt that killed her driver in southern Helmand, on May 8. It was the first attack on a woman official in the lawless province, where the Taliban have targeted teachers and schools, which have opened to admit girls. The Taliban regime had banned girls from attending school, or joining the workforce.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the fatal attack on an intelligence officer in the Tor Tank district of Helmand, but denied involvement in the attack on a schoolteacher in the provincial capital. Both incidents took place on the night of May 13. The schoolteacher escaped with injuries.

Two months back, a teacher named Arif Laghmani was gunned down inside a school in the Nad Ali district of the same province. In another attack in the Musa Kala district in early April, an intelligence officer was killed along with his brother.

Four policemen were killed in a clash with the Taliban in Baghran district in Helmand April 29, the provincial governor said. The Taliban spokesman Ahmadi confirmed the report on the ambush of the police patrol.

Afghan Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbil confirmed at an official meeting on Saturday that security was a serious concern in Ghazni province. The Taliban's writ runs large in many districts, including Andar, where they have imposed a ban on the entry of vehicles. Since May 1 there have been 20 attacks on police patrols. On May 11, the deputy governor's vehicle was attacked.

The government has not been able to confine the violence.

The Taliban claimed it had captured Baraki Barak district in central Logar province, which is counted among the most peaceful in Afghanistan, on April 29. While the Interior Ministry's spokesman Yousaf Stanizai said the government forces had repulsed the night attack, the Taliban claimed they had taken over the district, burned government offices and killed or injured several policemen.

Karzai has publicly decried Taliban attacks in his public speeches. In one he said, "In our brotherly neighbor country Pakistan, girls become pilots, and the ulema [religious scholars] support that, but in Afghanistan, girls are not allowed to attend schools and their schools are burnt and destroyed by bombs," he said.

(Inter Press Service. Released under agreement with Pajhwok Afghan News)

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