Taliban Seize Rural District in Southwest as Police Flee

By ABDUL WAHEED WAFA

New York Times

February 19, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 19 — Taliban insurgents seized control of a district in southwestern Afghanistan on Monday as the Afghan police abandoned their post and fled, officials said.

The district is the second to fall into Taliban hands this month, and its capture underlines the precarious hold of the government and NATO troops in the remote districts of southern Afghanistan.

The midmorning attack occurred in the Baqwa district of Farah Province, where few NATO or Afghan troops are deployed. A small number of American soldiers run a reconstruction team in the provincial capital, but the districts are left to the local police, who lack staff and weapons.

The police in Baqwa town warned their provincial headquarters that the Taliban were advancing in such large numbers they could not hold the district office, according to Baryalai Khan, the secretary to the provincial police chief.

“At 11:30, we lost telephone and radio contact with our police in Baqwa district, and it seems the district is in the hands of the Taliban,” he said. “According to the people of the town, our policemen escaped in different directions, and the Taliban are in the district, although not in the center for fear of bombardment.”

“We don’t know if there are any casualties among our police,” he said. “We have no contact with them.” Four policemen were killed and three wounded by a remote-controlled mine in the same district on Sunday, he added.

Taliban forces have often overrun district offices in the past, sacking them and then usually leaving after a few hours. But this year they have seized and held entire regions.

British NATO forces and Afghan troops, however, claimed success in an attack over the weekend on a Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, just east of Farah.

The operation unfolded south of Gamsir and concentrated on three major compounds, destroying a tunnel complex linking them.

“We were able to hit them hard in the largest deliberate operation there has been down there, and disrupt their command and control,” Lt. Col. Rory Bruce told Reuters on Monday from the British task force headquarters.

He said that a “significant number” of enemy fighters had been killed, but did not give a precise figure. There were no British casualties.

On Sunday, insurgents fired twice on a Canadian military convoy moving at night through the southern city of Kandahar, a NATO statement said. Two Afghans — a homeless man and a police officer — were killed by the Canadians in the ensuing firefight, the statement said. NATO said both shootings were under investigation.