Taliban vows to fight on after Canada withdraws
Violence continues to gain intensity as five killed in Kandahar bombing
A high-ranking Taliban commander in Kandahar province says he welcomes Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pledge to withdraw Canadian troops from Afghanistan by 2011, adding that he doubts the Afghan forces will be ready to defend the wartorn country by then.
“It’s a step that will help save Canadian civilians and soldiers,” said Mullah Jalil Akhund about the Conservative election promise. “We want foreign troops out of our country, and those that insist on staying, we will carry on fighting.”
“We don’t get into responding to the Taliban … the prime minister’s statements on withdrawal are a little different than what the Taliban is indicating,” said a senior Conservative official on Sunday.
The official said the Canadian Forces would continue to focus on training of the Afghan National Army and that the government remained committed to rebuilding the country.
Insurgents continued to ratchet up the violence Sunday in Kandahar, where the bulk of Canada’s 2,500 troops in Afghanistan are stationed.
A suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosives into a World Health Organization vehicle at about 9:45 a.m. local time in the city of Spin Boldak, southeast of Kandahar City.
Five people were killed in the attack, including Dr. Shams Kaker, the Afghan head of the WHO in the south, and the head of the polio vaccination program, Dr. Mammon Tahiry, according to Matiullah Qati, provincial police chief of Kandahar. Their driver and two civilians were also killed in the attack.
The escalating violence comes as Harper has promised to withdraw Canada’s troops from Afghanistan by 2011 if the Conservatives are reelected.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has qualified those remarks, saying that Canada will likely stay on in a development and reconstruction capacity past that date.
The exit strategy, however, is predicated on the Afghan government and the Afghan National Security Forces being able to provide some semblance of security to Kandahar by that point.
Akhund, an influential figure in both Kandahar and neighbouring Helmand province, said in an interview this weekend that he doesn’t think they will ready by 2011.
“Every single Afghan knows that the Afghan National Security Forces are nothing compared to the Taliban fighters,” he said.