Two Taliban commanders killed in Kandahar

Incidents in Kandahar province, 2007 vs 2008. Click image to view.

Coalition and Afghan forces killed three Taliban commanders in the restive southern province of Kandahar over the past week. But while the military has shown prowess at knocking off extremist leaders, the Taliban have expanded their control in Kandahar as Canadian force draw back to populated districts, according to reports from the southern province.

The International Security Assistance Force reported it killed a senior Taliban political and military leader know as Mullah Mahmoud during an airstrike Kandahar’s Khakrez district on July 9. Mahmoud was among “several key insurgent commanders … meeting to regroup their forces and plan further attacks against the Arghandab district and Kandahar city,” ISAF reported. Afghan commandos called in an airstrike after setting up observation post near the meeting.

Mahmoud commanded more than 250 Taliban fighters and “was responsible for many insurgent operations in Kandahar province.” He also served as the Taliban’s deputy “shadow” governor for the province. The Taliban conducted two high-profile, successful attacks in Kandahar in July. Taliban forces overran the Arghandab district and held it for several days after conducting a bold jailbreak in the heart of Kandahar city. More than 1,100 prisoners, including 400 mid and low-level Taliban operatives, were freed. Few of those freed have been re-arrested or killed.

Afghan and Coalition forces also killed and wounded “scores” of Taliban fighters during operations on July 15-16, Governor Assadullah Khalid said during a press conference. “Pakistani nationals had been seen fighting alongside Taliban insurgents,” Xinhua reported based on Khalid’s statements.

Taliban commander Mullah Janan was killed and Mullah Ghafar was wounded during clashes in Kandahar’s Panjwai district. Khalid did not give further details on Janan’s identity, and as RFL/RE reported in 2006, Mullah Janan is a popular nom de guerre for Taliban commanders. Afghan and US forces claimed several times to have captured persons named Mullah Janan. A “high- ranking Taliban commander with direct links to al Qaeda” with the same name was detained in central Kandahar in 2006.

Mullah Ghafar operates along the border between Kandahar and neighboring Helmand province. In 2006, the BBC reported Ghafar commanded a Taliban force with an estimated 300 to 500 fighters. “He is allegedly in regular contact with the Iranian secret service via an Iranian-Baloch tribal family which is heavily involved in the opium trade,” according to the report.

Security deteriorates in Kandahar

While Coalition and Afghan intelligence has had success in identifying an targeting senior and mid-level Taliban leaders in southern Afghanistan over the past several years, the Taliban have increased their footprint in Kandahar, according to a report in The Globe and Mail.

Incidents in Kandahar province, by type, 2007 vs 2008. Click image to view.

The Taliban are said to control six of Kandahar’s 16 districts, according to a US assessment. The Canadian Army and the Afghan government are focusing their efforts on the most populous districts, and control four, including Kandahar city, Arghandab, Spin Boldak and Daman. The Taliban control remote, rural districts where Canadian and Afghan forces have pulled back its forces. The remaining six districts are classified as contested or locally controlled.

The violence in Kandahar has spiked over the past year, according to data compiled by Vigilant Strategic Services Afghanistan. Taliban incidents in Kandahar have jumped from 300 to 500 from 2007 to 2008. IED attacks have almost doubled (78 in 2008 to 121 in 2008); attempted IED attacks have more than tripled (31 to 108); complex attacks more than doubled (57 to 123); and rocket and mortar attack have more than tripled (13 to 31). Suicide attacks have remained constant, with 15 recorded this year versus 16 during the same time period last year.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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