Violence in Afghanistan "It Will Be A Bloody Summer"
A springtime struggle for power between coalition forces and the Taliban has led to Afghanistan's bloodiest week in five years. US officials predict more violence this summer as NATO prepares to secure the troubled south.
A British soldier on night patrol in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
The Helmand and Kandahar provinces, both located in south Afghanistan, have been particularly hard hit by a springtime insurgency as NATO troops prepare to replace American soldiers in the region this summer. On Tuesday, Taliban fighters ambushed a patrol in the southern Afghanistan mountains killing three Afghan policemen and leaving 12 militants dead. Three health workers were also killed by a roadside bomb not far from Kabul on Tuesday, the latest in a series of attacks on health workers this spring.
Tuesday's violence comes a day after US forces say they killed up to 80 Taliban fighters in an air strike on a village in Kandahar early Monday morning. Locals say dozens of civilians were also killed.
US Air Force A-10 Warthogs bore down on the village of Azizi, in the Kandahar province, to flush out militants who were hiding in mud-brick houses and an Islamic school on Monday. They "bombed the madrassa and some of the Taliban ran from there into people's homes," a villager named Haji Ikhlaf, 40, told the Associated Press. "Then, those homes were bombed I saw 35 to 40 dead Taliban and around 50 dead or wounded civilians."
Local government officials as well as a doctor in a Kandahar hospital, though, said the civilian death toll was closer to 17. "These sort of accidents happen during fighting, especially when the Taliban are hiding in homes," said Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid. "I urge people not to give shelter to the Taliban."
A statement from the Coalition Press Information Center said the Azizi strike was the third operation there in a week and "resulted in the unconfirmed deaths of possibly up to 80 Taliban members Initial assessments have confirmed 20 Taliban killed with an unconfirmed 60 additional Taliban casualties."
US military spokesman Col. Tom Collins confirmed that the Taliban tries to hide in local houses "as a means to protect its own forces." However, he said contested reports of major civilian casualties. "We targeted a Taliban compound and we're certain we hit the right target," he said.
The new wave of violence started last Wednesday, when a group of 300-400 Taliban fighters attacked a police station in Musa Qala, a village in the southern Helmand province. A female Canadian soldier was killed around the same time in a separate offensive by Afghan and coalition forces in the Kandahar province -- a "cooperative engagement" that killed 18 Taliban fighters and rounded up 26, according to the US military.
The intensified fighting comes as no surprise to coalition forces. Every winter brings new rumors of a Taliban "re-grouping" for new maneuvers in the spring, and this time opium barons in the south have made common cause with the Islamic fighters. Still, a death toll of more than 240 makes the last week the bloodiest in Afghanistan since the Taliban's fall, and it comes just as NATO expands its peacekeeping force from 9,000 to 16,000, with the goal of taking over security responsibilities from US-led forces in the south this July.
"It will be a bloody summer," the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, told SPIEGEL last week. "The security problem in the south will have to be solved."