Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin

Taliban preparing for assault on Kandahar

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The Taliban have massed on the outskirts of Kandahar in preparatio­n for an all-out assault to recapture a city that was once the Islamist movement’s capital.

The militants have infiltrate­d the suburbs of Afghanista­n’s second city, with heavy fighting reported in southern and western neighbourh­oods.

“Fighting has intensifie­d, the Taliban are so close and the situation is so bad,” Abduljalil Amin, head of the local peace and developmen­t committee, said. “The Taliban front line is strong. Last night (Thursday local time) there were seven airstrikes to push them back. There is no Eid celebratio­n here. People are fleeing to other provinces, but many are trapped in their homes and lack access to food and water.”

Local reports suggest the militants have already sent a wave of more than 20 suicide bombers into Kandahar that was repelled by Afghan forces.

With reinforcem­ents said to be arriving on the outskirts, a renewed assault is expected within days.

The US said it had launched several airstrikes in support of Afghan government troops, including in the province of Kandahar, in the first known operations since General Scott Miller relinquish­ed his command of US forces and left the country last week.

Afghan commandos have also arrived to shore up Kandahar’s defences. Crucially, the government still holds the airport, allowing it to target Taliban fighters on the ground. Once dug into builtup areas, however, the insurgents will be tougher to dislodge without house-tohouse fighting.

The encircling of Kandahar comes amid a lightning advance by the Taliban that has enabled them to lay siege to at least 10 cities across Afghanista­n over the past month as the US completes its withdrawal from the country.

As the birthplace of the Islamist movement, Kandahar is prized above all except Kabul itself, and defeat there would deal a hammer blow to the Afghan government.

The insurgents seized the border crossing into Pakistan at Spin Boldak, southeast of Kandahar, last week, cutting off a vital supply line to the city. Many of Kandahar’s 600,000 residents have already fled, with services breaking down as the fighting edges closer.

Senior Afghan officials acknowledg­ed that Kandahar would represent a serious loss for the government.

The insurgents are yet to capture and hold a big city.

Beyond its strategic importance, Kandahar holds deep symbolic significan­ce for the Taliban.

Kandahar province was the birthplace of the Islamist movement as it emerged from the Afghan civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

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