Four dead as Taliban hold out in Kandahar

THE death toll from a string of Taliban attacks on government buildings in the Afghan city of Kandahar has risen to four as militants held out into a second day.

The violence in the Taliban’s birthplace started yesterday when militants with guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the governor’s office from nearby buildings.

It spread to sites including the local offices of the intelligence service and several police offices as a total of 10 explosions, including six suicide blasts, rocked the city. Nearly 50 people were also wounded in the violence.

The city’s streets were virtually empty of people today, an AFP reporter said, and although the violence died down overnight, Taliban fighters are still occupying a headquarters for traffic police, firing shots and rockets.

“It is a complicated building, that is why it has taken a while to clear up but soon we will clear the building of the enemy,” said Kandahar border police commander General Abdul Razeq, in charge of the clearing operation.

The building is also close to the local office of the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

A doctor at Kandahar’s main hospital, Mohammad Hashim, said: “We have registered a total of 46 wounded so far – 24 of the wounded are security personnel and the rest are civilians.

“We also have registered four dead, two civilians and two security personnel.”

The attacks are the first major incident since the Taliban unveiled the start of its annual spring offensive about a week ago.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the violence was “revenge” for this week’s killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US troops in Pakistan, but the Taliban said the operation was planned several weeks ahead.

A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Major General James Laster, described it as a “spring offensive spectacular attack which was thwarted”.

There are about 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them from the US, battling the Taliban and other insurgents.

Limited withdrawals from seven relatively peaceful areas are due to start in July ahead of the planned end of foreign combat operations in 2014.

International forces say that Kandahar and the surrounding area are now safer following months of intense fighting to clear traditional Taliban strongholds.

But government officials and institutions are still frequently targeted by militants in the city, the biggest in Afghanistan’s south.

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