TOPICS : More casualties as Taliban fights US troops

A sudden upsurge in Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan has seen casualties mount daily among combatants and the civilian population.

The rebels, who were ousted from power by US-led coalition forces in late 2001, have regrouped in the southern provinces to ambush and strike government and military targets nearly every day. Caught in the crossfire are civilians.

Sixteen people were killed in the US air strikes on Taliban hideouts in a village in Kandahar province on May 22. A concerned International Committee of the Red Cross has warned the warring sides to “exercise constant care in the conduct of military operations”. The US military claimed that among the dead were 60 rebels. However, villagers told Pajhwok Afghan News that most of the victims were civilians. A man, accompanying one of the injured, said that villagers had to flee the area to escape the bombing. Bodies of the dead and injured victims were lying in pools of blood, he said. It was left to their relatives to take the injured to hospital; the authorities were nowhere to be found.

While the Taliban did not issue a statement, the bombardment was preceded by days of fierce combat with Afghan and coalition forces. Last week, both sides had issued conflicting statements about casualties. Daud Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Kandahar governor, claimed 11 Taliban were killed, while the rebels owned up to losing one person. Taliban spokesman Yousaf Ahmadi said 11 policemen had perished. But according to residents, there were many civilian victims and much damage to property was caused.

Lawlessness has spread in the southern provinces. The Taliban have stepped up attacks at a time when the NATO forces are in the process of taking over security from the US forces as part of the 26-member alliance’s southward expansion plan in Afghanistan. Early May, Britain assumed control of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, which is preparing to move from primarily reconstruction activities to combat operations in Afghanistan. The arrival of 6,000 NATO troops, including its elite Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, will allow the US to reduce its force of 18,000 by 2,000 or 3,000 troops in August. The departure of American troops from southern Afghanistan has already raised concerns among Afghans there as they face an increasingly violent insurgency. A resurgent Taliban have engaged the security forces in bloody battles and suicide attacks. A bomber rammed his explosives laden car into a truck near the office of the coalition forc-es in Hoodkhel, Kabul, on May 19.

Spokesman for the coalition forces in Kabul, Col Tom Collins, said 10 US soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in another attack. The CH-47 copter crashed near Asadabad, provincial capital of Kunar, on May 6. In two other incidents this month, two US soldiers were killed and two injured. A total of 20 US troops were killed in action both in 2003 and 2004. The figure shot up to 66 last year, according to the US Military Times. — IPS