KABUL: More than 50 senior Taleban commanders were killed in an artillery strike on a meeting in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, a US military spokesman said yesterday, as fighting continued across the country. Details of last week’s operation emerged as fighting continued in other parts of Afghanistan, where the Taleban, aiming to restore their version of hardline Islamic law, launched their annual spring offensive last month.
There were also serious incidents in Takhar province in the north, in Loghar, east of the capital, and Kandahar in the south, keeping up a pattern of attacks across the country. The US military said the May 24 meeting in Helmand’s district of Musa Qala involved commanders from a number of Afghan provinces, including neighboring Farah, where Taleban fighters this month briefly threatened to overrun the provincial capital.
“We think the meeting was to plan next steps,” said Lt Col Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan. While the strike by an artillery rocket system would disrupt Taleban operations, it would not necessarily mean any interruption to the fighting, he said. However, the attack in one of the heartlands of the Taleban insurgency was a significant blow to the insurgents, he said. “It’s certainly a notable strike,” he said, adding that several other senior and lower level commanders had been killed during operations over a 10-day period this month.
The Taleban dismissed the report as “propaganda” and said the attack had hit two civilian houses in Musa Qala, killing five civilians and wounding three. “This was a civilian residential area, which had no connection with the Taleban,” spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said in a statement. In the northern province of Takhar, Taleban fighters in the Dasht-e Qala district center captured the governor’s compound and police headquarters yesterday but heavy fighting was continuing, police spokesman Khalil Aseer said.
In Loghar, the Taleban claimed an attack on a police station in the provincial capital, Pul-e Alam, which killed three police and wounded 12, among them four police and eight civilians. Shahpoor Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said three attackers who sought to enter the police station in the early morning hours triggered a three-hour gunbattle that ended when all three were killed. Elsewhere, three civilians were killed and 13 wounded by an explosion in the southern city of Kandahar that appeared to have targeted a mechanics’ workshop repairing Afghan army vehicles, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.
Meanwhile, militants launched a gun and bomb attack on the interior ministry in Kabul yesterday, killing a policeman in the latest chilling demonstration of their ability to strike at the heart of the Afghan capital. Five people were injured in the attack, which took place during the holy month of Ramadan and was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. Special forces rushed to the scene after the attackers detonated what police said was a car bomb at the first checkpoint leading to the ministry, then tried to battle their way inside.
“The fighting is over, the attackers have all been killed by security forces between the first and second security perimeter,” said Kabul police chief Daud Amin. A security source told AFP a clearing operation was continuing. “The attackers used two vehicles to reach near interior ministry compound. There were eight attackers involved, one detonated his explosives, seven others were killed,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told reporters.
Danish said one police officer had been killed and five civilians wounded. Policeman Mujibullah Nabizada was injured in the first blast. “I dragged myself to the road and a car picked up and brought me to the hospital,” he told AFP from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for broken bones. Seweeta Saberi, 17, was also wounded in the blast and taken to hospital. “Everyone is sitting in their loved ones’ blood these days,” her brother Sameer told AFP. “We request you [government leaders], for God’s sake, if you can’t manage this country please resign.”
A security source told AFP there had been multiple blasts but could not confirm how many. “I was in my office when I heard a blast followed by gunfire. We were told to stay inside our offices as the compound was attacked,” said one ministry employee.IS, which is trying to make inroads in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq propaganda service. Police also said they had found a car stuffed with explosives and guns at Kabul’s international airport near the interior ministry yesterday. – Agencies