Taliban captures district

2010-05-29 20:40

Kunar - Taliban militants captured the administrative headquarters of a remote Afghan district on Saturday, officials said, while a suicide bomber blew himself up near a Nato base in Kabul.

Insurgents had surrounded Bargi Matal district in Nuristan province, which borders Pakistan, on Friday and engaged police in a fierce gun battle, said Nuristan governor Jamaludin Badr.

The fate of police officers guarding the administrative compound - which houses government, police and judicial offices - was unclear.

"Since the district headquarters is inside the village in a crowded location we had to make a tactical retreat to avoid casualties to civilians" living in nearby houses, he said.

Afghan authorities often use the term "tactical retreat" when Taliban have overrun police forces and captured districts.

Difficult terrain

An army border police commander in the area, Mohammad Gul Himat, said police responsible for protecting the district had been missing since Friday and it was not clear if they had deserted or been killed or captured.

Only border police had remained to carry on the fight, which lasted all Friday night and Saturday morning, he said.

"Taliban have control over their radio facility which means Taliban have captured the district," he said.

Nuristan is a mountainous and rural province with difficult terrain.

Bargi Matal is the second district in the province to be captured by the Taliban after Kamdesh - which also shares a border with Pakistan - fell several months ago following the withdrawal of international forces.

Nato and the US have 130 000 troops fighting the insurgency, with another 20 000 due to be deployed by August, most of them to the volatile south, where the Taliban are concentrating their war.

Under a new US-led counter-insurgency strategy, the foreign forces are pulling back from rural regions to concentrate on populated areas.

Peaceful stretch

Taliban insurgents are waging a campaign against the presence of foreign troops and have promised to target personnel, both foreign and Afghan, and facilities associated with them or the Kabul government.

After a lull of almost three months in Kabul, attacks have escalated, with another on Saturday near a military caterer, when a suicide attacker with explosives strapped to his body blew himself up, causing no casualties.

The explosion took place east of the capital, close to a warehouse and supermarket run by Supreme Food Services, supplier of food to the foreign military, said interior ministry spokesperson Zemarai Bashary.

"It was suicide attack and the suicide attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body," he said.

Two suicide bomb attacks in Kabul earlier this month ended a peaceful stretch in the capital of almost three months.

On May 18, at least 18 people, including women, children and six international troops, were killed in an attack on a Nato convoy in a busy city centre street.

The following day, seven Taliban militants were killed and at least five Nato personnel wounded in clashes at the Bagram base.

Mistaken bombing

Nato addressed an incendiary issue on Saturday when it released the summary of a report into a missile and rocket attack by US forces on a convoy of vehicles that resulted in the death of 23 civilians.

The incident on February 21 sparked widespread anger at the presence of international troops in Afghanistan, and an apology from the commander of Nato forces in the country, US General Stanley McChrystal.

The report found that the vehicles "were mistaken for an insurgent convoy and engaged by coalition aircraft". The mistake was made in analysing images taken by unmanned drones, it said.

Information that the vehicles were carrying anything other than civilians - rather than militants racing to reinforce Taliban engaged in battle nearby - was "ignored or downplayed", it said, according to a statement by Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The incident, in an area of central Daykundi province that was carved out of Uruzgan province, killed four women and a child, and was the third such mistaken bombing raid in Afghanistan in a week.

It led to a swift apology to President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people by the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, McChrystal, and a reprimand for four senior and two junior officers, the ISAF statement said.