Afghan and Coalition special operations forces killed the senior Taliban military commander for Kandahar city after tracking him for weeks.
Mullah Zergay, who led the Taliban in Kandahar City, as well as in the vital districts of Zhari and Arghandab, Taliban strongholds to the west and north of the provincial capital, was killed last week “in a Taliban safe haven area south of Kudeza’i” in the district of Zhari, the International Security Assistance Force reported today. Zergay and an undisclosed number of his bodyguards were killed during a raid designed to capture him. Intelligence assets had been “tracking his location for several weeks” before the raid was executed.
Zergay was behind the targeted assassination program in Kandahar that has been designed to break the will of Afghans working with the Coalition and Afghan government. The campaign is part of the Taliban’s counteroffensive against the Coalition’s push to secure the province this summer.
Over the past several months, more than 20 government officials and tribal leaders have been assassinated in Kandahar City and the surrounding areas, including the deputy mayor of the provincial capital. Azizullah Yarmal, the deputy mayor, of Kandahar city, was shot and killed while praying in a mosque.
“[Zergay] rose to power through violent intimidation campaigns against civilians and by leading kidnappings and executions of government employees and village elders,” ISAF stated. “He used explosives in nearly all of his operations and was directly responsible for multiple deaths in Kandahar city alone.”
ISAF described Zergay’s death as “a major loss for the Taliban leadership in southern Afghanistan.”
Zergay is the second senior Taliban leader was reported to have been killed in Kandahar since May 30. Haji Amir, who was described as one of the top two Taliban leaders in all of Kandahar, was killed along with several of his bodyguards in an airstrike and follow-on raid in Kandahar.
Background on operations in Kandahar
Over the past several months, US and Afghan special operations forces have been conducting raids against the Taliban’s top leaders and operatives in Kandahar to prepare the battlefield for an upcoming offensive that seeks to wrest control of the province from the Taliban. More than 70 mid-level Taliban commanders have been killed during a series of special operations raids in and around Kandahar City over the past four months, The National Post reported.
The US has placed great importance on the need to secure Kandahar, which is considered the ideological and spiritual home of the Taliban. Two brigades of the additional troops surging into Afghanistan are slated to deploy in Kandahar in the upcoming months.
But a Department of Defense survey of the situation in key districts in Afghanistan paints a grim picture of 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. 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.