Afghan and Coalition forces have killed the top Taliban commander in a vital district in Kandahar province after destroying an IED factory in an airstrike.
The clashes took place after Coalition aircraft bombed the Taliban IED factory in Panjwai yesterday. A Coalition and Afghan force raided the attack site and battled with a Taliban force in the area. The combined force “quickly overwhelmed insurgent forces defending the area near the destroyed IED factory,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release on its website.
Izzatullah, the Taliban’s military commander for Panjwai, was among those killed. A police chief put the Taliban casualties at 15, according to Xinhua. Izzatullah “planned and conducted attacks against coalition forces and was involved in the attack on Sarpoza prison outside of Kandahar City in June 2008,” ISAF stated. Several top Taliban leaders were killed during the complex suicide and military assault on Sarpoza prison in the heart of Kandahar City.
Panjwai district is numbered among the major Taliban strongholds in Kandahar; other such districts are Arghandab, Zhari, Maywand, Ghorak, Khakrez, and Shah Wali Kot.
Last week, Coalition and Afghan forces claimed to have ejected the Taliban from Shah Wali Kot during a five-day-long operation in the northern district which included “heavy fighting.” A “significant number of insurgents” were killed, according to an ISAF press release. “Through this operation, the combined force dealt a major blow to more than 100 insurgents and their commanders.”
Targeting the Taliban in Kandahar
The Coalition has been targeting top Taliban leaders and facilitators in Kandahar in the run-up to the long awaited operation to dislodge the Taliban from the province. The much-touted Kandahar operation, which was supposed to be launched this month, has been delayed until the fall as local tribal leaders and other influential Kandaharis have expressed reservations about the offensive.
Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and a major power center for the group. Over the past four months, more than 70 mid-level Taliban commanders have been killed during a series of special operations raids in and around Kandahar City, The National Post reported.
Izzatullah is the third top Taliban leader to have been killed in Kandahar since late May. On May 30, Afghan and Coalition special operations forces killed Mullah Zergay, who led the Taliban in Kandahar City and in the vital districts of Zhari and Arghandab. On May 29, Afghan and Coalition forces killed Haji Amir, who was described as one of the top two Taliban leaders in all of Kandahar province.
The Taliban have launched their own offensive in Kandahar province. The Taliban have targeted tribal leaders, politicians, and other elites for assassination. More than 20 people, including the district chief for Arghandab and the deputy mayor of Kandahar City, have been killed over the past several months.
The International Security Assistance Force has placed great emphasis on Kandahar and is deploying the bulk of its forces en route to Afghanistan to the province. President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said that progress must be made by December in Kandahar, and in other key areas in the south, east, and north, in order for Western nations to continue their support for the war.
But a Department of Defense survey of the situation earlier this year in key districts in Afghanistan paints a grim picture of Afghan public support for the government in the south. In Kandahar and Helmand, the two provinces considered to be the key to the Taliban’s power in the south, the majority of the population is considered to be ambivalent toward the Afghan government and the Coalition, or sympathetic to or supportive of the Taliban.
Of the 11 of Kandahar’s 13 districts assessed earlier this year, one district (Kandahar City) supported the government, three districts were considered neutral, six were sympathetic to the Taliban, and one supported the Taliban.
The situation appears equally grim in neighboring Helmand province. Of the 11 of Helmand’s 13 districts assessed, eight of the districts were considered neutral, one was sympathetic to the Taliban, and two supported the Taliban.
The US has indicated that it will begin turning over security to the Afghan Army and police by July 2011 and that it will also start to withdraw its forces from the country at that time.