ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan – Afghan, U.S. and Canadian troops have surrounded a pocket of some 250who have commandeered people’s homes in villages just outside Afghanistan’s major southern city, officials said Wednesday.
Hundreds of Afghans — their cars and tractors piled high with personal possessions — were fleeing the battleground about 15 miles north of Kandahar city.
The provincial police chief said the combined forces have killed some 50in three days of fighting. Three police and one Afghan soldier have also died, Sayed Agha Saqib said.
“The people are fleeing because the Taliban are taking over civilian homes,” Saqib said. “There have been no airstrikes. We are trying our best to attack those areas where there are no civilians, only Taliban.”
Saqib said 16 suspected Taliban have been arrested during the operation.
The fighters moved into the Arghandab district ofthis week, about two weeks after the death of a powerful tribal leader, Mullah Naqib, who had kept the Taliban militants out of his region.
“He was a good influence for his tribe. He was supporting the government,” Saqib said. “After he died the Taliban were thinking they would go to Arghandab and cause trouble for Kandahar city. But now they’re surrounded and they’re in big trouble. We are capturing and killing them and I don’t think it will cause any problem for Kandahar.”
Still, hundreds of Afghan villagers were fleeing the area in the middle of harvest season, leaving pomegranate crops at a prime picking time.
Haji Karimullah Khan piled his three children into the front seat of a pickup truck and put three female relatives in the back beside household goods and clothes. He was driving to Kandahar city to stay with relatives.
“The Taliban came into our village and they told us to leave,” Khan said. “We just packed up our necessities and left. Our pomegranate orchard and home we left behind.”
Violence in Afghanistan this year is the deadliest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban militant movement from power in the country. More than 5,300 people have died this year due to insurgency-related violence, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.