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Officials Downplay News Reports of Taliban Takeover in Southern Afghanistan

By Ayaz Gul
17 June 2008

Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces are discounting media reports that say Taliban militants have seized control of several villages in southern Afghanistan. From neighboring Pakistan, Ayaz Gul reports.

Reports earlier this week said a force of about 500 Taliban fighters had swept into several towns just north of the Southern city of Kandahar, setting up roadblocks and planting landmines.

Hundreds of local residents are reported to have fled the area (the Arghandab district).

But officials from the U.S. led coalition in Afghanistan say a patrol sent into the area to investigate, found no evidence to support the reports of a Taliban takeover in the villages.

A statement says that coalition forces moved freely and met no resistance.

In Kabul, presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada has also played down the reported Taliban offensive in the Kandahar region.

"The Afghan National Army is in-charge of the situation. They are conducting the military operations, addressing the security incidents that have come up there. I must say that in the press, there is unreasonable focus on, and also enlarging and magnifying what is happening in Kandahar. There are, of course, some security incidents that have taken place, but the Afghan National Army supported by NATO forces is in Kandahar and they are addressing the situation," said Hamidzada.

Reports of the alleged Taliban offensive follow a major insurgent attack on the central jail in Kandahar. More than 1,000 prisoners were set free in the brazen attack, almost of half of them were suspected Taliban militants.

Since making a comeback in 2006, Taliban insurgents have briefly overrun some district headquarters and villages, particularly in the south and east of the country.

Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan have flared up this year, despite the presence of more than 60,000 foreign troops under the command of the U.S. military and NATO as well tens of thousands of Afghan troops. The Afghan government and coalition commanders blame militants hiding across the border in Pakistan for the rise in violence particularly in the border areas.

On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzi threatened to send his troops to Pakistan to destroy militant hideouts.

Pakistani leaders condemned his statement as irresponsible and unfortunate, warning Afghanistan against any such attempts.

Pakistan denies allegations militants are given shelter on its side of the border. It says it has deployed tens of thousands of troops to secure its tribal regions near the Afghan border and is also using political dialogues to end militancy there.

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