Opposition Close in on Airport as US Increase Blitz of Kandahar
Opposition forces claimed to be engaged in fierce fighting with Taliban troops in Kandahar airport Monday as residents reported a further cranking up of US bombardments on the city.
Opposition commanders expressed confidence that the airport would fall by the end of the day, with the Taliban's defence tactics hamstrung by aerial attacks from US warplanes.
"There was severe fighting between us and the Taliban. We have lost 12 fighters but they have lost at least three times as many," said a spokesman for former Kandahar governor Gul Agha.
"We have entered into the airport. The battle is going on at the moment. We can hope but I am not 100 percent sure we will capture it by the end of the evening," said the close family member who had spoken to Agha at 12 noon (0700 GMT).
Earlier a spokesman for fellow anti-Taliban opposition leader Hamid Karzai had told AFP that his tribal forces were fighting alongside Agha's men.
Agha and Karzai, who is a former Afghan deputy foreign minister, have been the two leading opposition figures trying to oust the Taliban from their last remaining stronghold in the south.
Their willingness to fight together will add to the pressure on the Taliban.
Bombing raids by US warplanes on Taliban positions around the airport had helped the push, said Karzai's brother Ahmad. "Because of the US bombardment, they (the Taliban) cannot come close to our people," he said.
Residents who left Kandahar early Monday confirmed that there had been no let-up in the US bombing.
Abdul Masood, 30, told AFP at this border town that planes were now flying in five-strong sorties.
"The frequency has increased. They now come within an interval of half an hour," he said.
"They are targetting the airport area and Taliban positions outside the city.
"They are also hitting the road between the city and the airport. I saw at least four trucks which had been overturned, lying on the road."
Masood also said he had reports that some opposition soldiers had been killed in a suicide attack by Taliban supporters.
"Some people told me that several Arabs with grenades strapped around their abdomen managed to enter an advancing column at Torkotal (near Kandahar airport). I believe there were heavy casualties."
His claims could not be independently verified but a doctor working for the relief agency Muslim Hands told AFP that he had treated six of Agha's men after they crossed the border Monday. They were later dispatched to Chaman hospital.
Shopkeeper Mohammed Naseem, 36, said that the impact of the bombing now felt like a series of earth tremors.
A Taliban official told the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency that at least two civilians were killed in Monday's bombing.
The two civilian deaths reported by the AIP on Monday brought to 58 the number of non-combatants killed in the past three days, according to reports and witnesses.
"The target is Kandahar airport and its adjoining areas. Bombing is continuing in several other residential areas and on the outskirts of the city," the Pakistan-based AIP quoted a Taliban official as saying.
He denied that opposition forces had captured the airport, saying they were 40 kilometers (25 miles) away.
Some three-quarters of Kandahar city's population is thought to have fled since the start of the US-led bombing campaign some eight weeks ago – Pakistan (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)