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Afghan Officials Worried Over Spike In Violence Threatening Kandahar

An Afghan army graduation ceremony in Kandahar on October 23.
An Afghan army graduation ceremony in Kandahar on October 23.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Until recently, the southern Afghan province of Kandahar was seen as an oasis of security and stability amid a Taliban onslaught that saw the hard-line militants overrunning large swaths of neighboring provinces.

But a recent spike in Taliban attacks in Kandahar now has officials roiled as they worry their strategic province, home to Afghanistan’s second city and historic seat of power, will follow in the footsteps of neighboring Helmand and Uruzgan. Since March, insurgents have overrun most of the countryside in the two large rural provinces and have even besieged a provincial capital.

“The mounting insecurity in Helmand and Uruzgan also threatens our districts that border the two provinces,” Kandahar’s deputy governor, Abdul Ali Shamsi, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Similarly, some districts along the Durand Line [border with Pakistan] have also been threatened by the terrorists.”

On October 31, Afghan officials said insurgents had killed more than 30 Afghan troops in an attack on Afghan Army posts in Kandahar’s northern Ghorak district. The attack, believed to result in the biggest single-day loss to Afghan forces in Kandahar this year, targeted an army outpost in Ghorak, which borders Helmand and Uruzgan. The Taliban now largely control most parts of the two provinces bordering Kandahar.

In addition to Ghorak, the Taliban have attacked Afghan security forces and seized villages, and even attempted to overrun districts centers in Nesh, Miyanaishin, Shorabak, Shawali Kot, Khakrez, and Arghandab districts.

By attacking seven out of a total of 18 Kandahar districts, the insurgents seem to be trying to surround the provincial capital, also called Kandahar.

Shamsi now wants to coordinate with officials in Uruzgan and Helmand to launch counteroffensives in the regions threatened by the resurgent Taliban.

“We have shared our concerns with officials in Kabul. We would like to coordinate cleansing operations with security forces in the neighboring provinces,” he said.

Shamsi says their first priority is keeping a major road linking Kandahar and Uruzgan. “The terrorists were able to cut this artery twice this year, which caused a lot of pain to ordinary people,” he said.

Under the leadership of security chief General Abdul Raziq, Kandahar has been largely immune to the Taliban resurgence witnessed in several rural Afghan provinces after the departure of more than 100,000 NATO troops by the end of 2014.

Human rights campaigners have accused Raziq of grave abuses. But he has defended his “take no prisoners” approach -- meaning clear instructions to his forces to kill militants on the battlefield.

Raziq says the approach has kept Kandahar free of insurgents.

"I'm thankful to my forces for killing them all and not leaving their fates to the courts, which would simply demand a bribe [for their release]," he said in 2014. "The good news is that they [militants] will all be destroyed. My order to all my soldiers is not to leave any of them alive."

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mohammad Sadiq Rashtinai’s reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.