THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Taliban call bombings a warning to NATO

Say insurgents are prepared for battle in heartland

Afghan police stood near a house damaged in an explosion outside police headquarters in Kandahar yesterday. Afghan police stood near a house damaged in an explosion outside police headquarters in Kandahar yesterday. (Allauddin Khan/ Associated Press)
By Noor Khan
Associated Press / March 15, 2010

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Taliban yesterday called their deadly bomb attacks on the southern city of Kandahar a warning to NATO’s top general that the insurgents were ready for the war’s next major offensive in their heartland.

The series of bombings that demolished buildings and killed dozens — including 10 people at a wedding — prompted the provincial governor to plead for more security in the area. Fearful residents said they had no confidence that either government or foreign troops can protect them.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the Saturday night attacks proved the insurgents were still able to operate despite the buildup of Afghan and international troops in preparation for a push into Kandahar province.

A Taliban-linked website called the attacks in the south’s largest city a “warning’’ to NATO’s General Stanley McChrystal, who has said coalition forces will target Kandahar later this year after driving the insurgents from a key stronghold in neighboring Helmand province.

“General McChrystal has said that soon they will start their operations, and now we have already started our operations,’’ Ahmadi said in a telephone interview.

“With all the preparations they have taken, still they are not able to stop us.’’

However, Ministry of Interior spokesman Zemeri Bashary said the attacks failed to achieve their main objective, which was apparently to repeat the success of a 2008 suicide bombing at the prison gates that freed hundreds of criminals and suspected insurgents. Canadian troops had recently reinforced the lockup with cement block, so Saturday’s blast did not break through and no inmates escaped this time.

The multiple explosions — there were at least five blasts, four of them suicide attacks — killed at least 35 people, according to the Ministry of Interior. Fifty-seven others were wounded in the attacks, which hit the city’s prison, police headquarters, a wedding hall next door and other areas on roads leading to the prison.

Kandahar provincial Governor Tooryalai Wesa told reporters that he had asked the central government in Kabul for more Afghan troops to protect the city in the run-up to the expected offensive in the province, which is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. He also said he wants to coordinate with NATO forces to improve security.

Bashary said the government was considering Wesa’s request.

Kandahar city, population 800,000, was the seat of government for the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan, imposing its vision of Islamic theocracy for five years before being toppled by US-backed forces in 2001.

The province of the same name is the insurgents’ base, and militants control most villages surrounding the city. Residents said Sunday that Taliban can also operate freely in Kandahar city.

“They can do what they intend and want, and the government can’t control the situation,’’ said Javed Ahmad, 40, of Kandahar. “We don’t feel secure in the presence of all the forces in Afghanistan, and it’s terrible for us to live in this kind of situation. We don’t feel safe even at home, and we can’t walk around.’’

Among the dead were 13 police officers and 22 civilians, including six women and three children, the interior ministry said. Most of the casualties occurred at the police headquarters and at the wedding hall.

“Last night was like doomsday for all of Kandahar’s people,’’ said Mohammad Anwar, a 30-year-old shopkeeper, whose relative lost a son in the attacks. He said residents blamed the United States and international forces for not battling the militants strongly enough.

“It is difficult for us to bear this kind of situation anymore,’’ Anwar said.

“We don’t know the aim of these people,’’ he said, referring to the insurgents. “Are they trying to kill civilians or eliminate the system? The government is too weak to control these kind of attacks.’’