Hundreds flee as fighting looms in Afghan south

Tue Jun 17, 2008 5:50pm EDT
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By Jon Hemming

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of families fled their homes in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday as Afghan and foreign forces prepared for an offensive to confront Taliban fighters who have overrun several villages.

About 600 Taliban insurgents took over the villages in Arghandab district on Monday, days after they freed hundreds of inmates following an attack on the main jail in Kandahar city.

Extra Afghan and NATO-led soldiers were sent to the area in a "show of force," Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Corbould, commander of the Canadian battle group within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told reporters.

"The movement of troops has taken place without significant incident thus far and it is clear that Kandahar city remains firmly under the control of the Afghan government," he said.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said militants were eyeing Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban, who U.S.-led troops drove from power, which is 20 km (12 miles) south of Arghandab.

"After occupying Arghandab, the Taliban's next target will be Kandahar. But, we will not attack Kandahar with rockets and heavy mortars. We will hit specific targets in the city," Yousuf told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.

The insurgents had taken control of eight villages in Arghandab, the defense ministry said in Kabul.

Haji Agha Lalai, a member of Kandahar's provincial council, said 300 families had left and more were leaving.   Continued...

<p>British soldiers from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol in the city of Kandahar, south of Afghanistan June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Ismail Sameem</p>