KANDAHAR: Afghan police yesterday launched a search for some 30 villagers still missing two days after a mass kidnapping blamed on Taleban militants in the southern province of Kandahar. Seventy people were abducted Friday from their village along the main road in the south and seven of them were found dead the following day alongside the highway, from the city of Kandahar to Tarinkot in Uruzgan province.
Around 30 people have been released while 30 others remain missing, Kandahar police spokesman Zia Durrani told AFP. It remained unclear why the villagers were seized. But some officials said they suspected the Taleban had kidnapped or killed them for suspected cooperation with the Western-backed government which the militants are striving to topple. The insurgents have a heavy presence in Uruzgan, a poppy-growing area.
Yesterday they denied involvement, while confirming they had attacked police checkpoints in the area. “Our mujahideen killed a number of local police and pro-government militias there, also capturing 17 suspects who were later released after interrogation. We have not killed or kidnapped any civilians,” the Taleban said in a statement. Civilians are increasingly caught in the crosshairs of Afghanistan’s worsening conflict as the Taleban step up their annual spring offensive launched in April.
Highways passing through insurgency-prone areas have become exceedingly dangerous, with the Taleban and other armed groups frequently kidnapping or killing travelers. In July Taleban fighters closed a highway connecting Farah to Herat city in the west, stopping a bus and forcing 16 passengers off it. They shot at least seven of them while the remainder was taken hostage.
Elsewhere in the country, the Taleban on Sunday captured a district in the northern province of Faryab after an overnight attack that triggered hours of heavy fighting, said provincial police spokesman Abdul Karim Yourish. He said troops had retreated two kilometers from the centre of Kohistan district. There was no word on casualties.
Local media on Sunday also reported that the Taleban had overran Taywara district in the central province of Ghor, though there was no immediate official confirmation. There has been a surge in fighting in several northern and southern Afghan provinces in recent days, including in Helmand in the south where 16 Afghan police officers were killed by a US air strike on Friday night.
The strike, the latest setback in Washington’s efforts to pacify the country, hit a compound in Gereshk district, large parts of which are under Taleban control. Afghan troops and police are battling largely alone on the ground against the insurgency, after US-led foreign forces withdrew from most combat operations in December 2014.
The United States is actively considering sending more troops to Afghanistan and US commanders there have requested thousands of extra soldiers on the ground. The US contingent now numbers about 8,400, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago. They mainly serve as trainers and advisers.
Taleban seize 2 districts
Meanwhile, Taleban fighters overran a second district headquarters in as many days on Sunday, this one in western Ghor province, the provincial police chief said. At least eight police were killed in separate battles against Taleban militants, who have stepped up their attacks in the north and west of the country laying siege to district headquarters, said Mohammad Mustafa Moseni.
Moseni said the Taleban launched four assaults on Ghor’s Taywara district headquarters early Sunday and “we had no choice but to retreat.” He said police have taken up positions about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the district headquarters while they wait for reinforcements to launch a counterattack. After capturing Taywara district Taleban fighters stalked the corridors of the only hospital looking for wounded Afghan National Security personnel to kill, said provincial public health department director Ghulam Nabi Yaghana.
He said he received reports that they killed four or five patients. The area is remote and telephone communication is sporadic, he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the provincial capital of Ferozkoh. He said Taleban entered the 20-bed hospital early Sunday. It’s believed all the dead are military or police personnel, he said. The Taleban, in a statement to the media, announced the capture of Taywara district headquarters. The statement, however, said 46 Afghan government security forces were killed. The Associated Press could not independently verify either death toll. – Agencies