Friday, February 26, 2010

Afghanistan War Bulletin: Resistance Fighters Attack Kabul; US Plans Offensive in Kandahar

Friday, February 26, 2010
20:29 Mecca time, 17:29 GMT

Taliban fighters attack Kabul

Several suicide bombers attacked a hotel popular with foreigners in Kabul, the Afghan capital

At least 17 people were killed and 32 wounded when several suicide bombers attacked a hotel popular with foreigners and the surrounding area in the centre of Kabul.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, one of the deadliest on the Afghan capital in a year.

Ten Indians, an Italian and a Frenchman were among the dead, officials said.

Attacks on guesthouses used by foreigners have increased in recent months.

The first blast occurred at about 06:45 local time, near the Kabul City Centre, Kabul's largest shopping centre located in the city's main commercial district, that includes the Safi Landmark Hotel.

That was followed by two smaller explosions.

Sporadic gunfire was heard in the area as ambulances raced to the scene and grey smoke billowed into the air.

Police say at least two police officers were among those killed in the blasts.

The Reuters news agency quoted Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, as saying "holy warriors" had "managed to attack in the heart of Kabul city once again".

He said at least five Taliban fighters launched the attack, including two suicide bombers who detonated explosives-packed vests near the hotel and a shopping mall, Reuters reported.

'Crying and shouting'

Witnesses said people in pyjamas were led from the Park Resident hotel and taken away in ambulances.

Friday's attack came as US, Afghan and Nato forces push ahead with Operation Moshtarak

Najibullah, a 25-year-old hotel worker, said he ran out of the hotel when he heard the first explosion. He said he saw two suicide bombers on the site.

"I saw foreigners were crying and shouting," he said.

"It was a very bad situation inside. God helped me; otherwise I would be dead. I saw one suicide bomber blowing himself up on the first floor of the hotel."

The Park Residence was previously attacked in mid-2005, when a suicide bomber struck the hotel's internet cafe.

Dr Subodh Sanjivpaul told The Associated Press news agency that he was trapped in his bathroom for three hours inside one of the small hotels where he lived with other Indian doctors.

"Today's suicide attack took place in our residential complex," he said as his wounded foot was bandaged.

"When I was coming out, I found two or three dead bodies. When firing was going on, the first car bomb exploded and the full roof came on my head."

Indians 'targeted'

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, called Friday's assault a "terrorist attack against Indian citizens" , who were working to help rebuild Afghanistan.

S.M. Krishna, India's foreign minister, described the attacks as "barbaric" and a matter of "deep concern".

"These are the handiwork of those who are desperate to undermine the friendship between India and Afghanistan,'' he said in a statement.

The Indian Embassy in Kabul has been the target of two major attacks, one in July 2008 that killed more than 60 people and another last October that killed 17 people.

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, Hoda Abdel-Hamid, said that the attack was a message from the Taliban that it would continue its activities despite a major offensive against it in Helmand province.

"There is a concern that as the Nato push against the Taliban goes on, these types of attacks will increase as a result.

"The Taliban is showing that they too are very strong-willed and that they will attack anywhere and anytime they want.

"An attack like this one sends a message that no one is really safe, that even a city like Kabul, with heavy security, is not safe from the conflict anymore," she said.

She said that since Operation Moshtarakbegan 12 days ago, Kabul has been largely safe although attacks have occurred elsewherein Afghanistan.

Nato 'outrage'

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, expressed outrage over the dawn assault.

"I strongly condemn the terrorist attack which took place this morning in Kabul," Rasmussen said in a statement.

"Once again, the enemies of Afghanistan have killed innocent civilians, Afghans and international workers alike."

After 12 days of fighting, Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of US marines in southern Afghanistan, had welcomed Thursday's flag-hoisting in Marjahas "a new beginning" as Afghan government authority was restored.

Afghans "believe there is a fresh start for Marjah under the government of Afghanistan", he said as the country's flag was hoisted by the governor of Helmand province in front of several hundred residents.

Humanitarian groups have said residents are facing deteriorating conditions as food, medicine and other supplies run dangerously low and innumerable Taliban-planted bombs make movement in and out of Marjah perilous.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Friday, February 26, 2010
22:05 Mecca time, 19:05 GMT

US 'planning Kandahar offensive'

Operation Moshtarak was launched to push Taliban fighters out of Marjah and surrounding areas

The United States is planning to launch a military offensive in Afghanistan's Kandahar city following the military operation to drive Taliban fighters out of the town of Marjah in Helmand province, a senior US official has said.

"I think the way to look at Marjah, it's the tactical prelude to larger, more comprehensive operations later this year in Kandahar city," news agencies quoted the unnamed official as saying on Friday.

Afghan troops raised their flag over Marjah as the town was symbolically handed over to the Kabul government's control after two weeks of fighting by a joint Afghan, Nato and US Marine force.

The senior US official told reporters that the military operation was "pretty much on track", but cautioned that it would be several more weeks before Nato troops had cleared the area of Taliban fighters.

The Marjah offensive was an early test of the new strategy of Barack Obama , the US president, to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistanto win control of Taliban-held areas and put in a civilian administration.

Kandahar 'very important'

General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan, said earlier this week that "Operation Moshtarak" was a "model for the future".

"We are going to go to where significant parts of the population are at risk and Kandahar is clearly very, very important not just to the south but to the nation," he told Britain's The Timesnewspaper.

"It is not the only area though."

Kandahar is Afghanistan's second biggest city and has been a centre for Taliban resistance since the movement was forced from power by the US-led invasion in 2001.

"If the goal in Afghanistan is to reverse the momentum of the Taliban ... then we think we have to get to Kandahar this year," the US administration official was quoted as saying.

"Bringing security, comprehensive population security to Kandahar city is the centrepiece of operations this year. Therefore, Marjah is the prelude, a sort of a preparatory action."

Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, said that the reported plans for a Kandahar offensive would fit with comments made byofficials before the Marjah operation.

"This all fits in with Obama's plan to surge 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and then set a timeline for withdrawal," she said.

"Sources were telling me this is what the plan was ... They were going to focus on 80 distinct areas and they thought if they could secure those they could connect the dots and form a 'U' around the country.

"The reason they want to do this is because they believe that could be the main economic artery, the main road that hits most of the population centres.

"They are not necessary trying to secure the whole country, just the main population centres."

Taliban 'confused'

A British commander said on Friday that the Helmand offensive had left Taliban fighters "disorientated".

"One of the key conclusions from what the commanders on the ground have seen is the degree of dissipation and confusion the Taliban are experiencing," Major General Gordon Messenger told reporters in London.

"There is increasing evidence that they feel under pressure and are moving out of the area.

"Insurgent activity across the area is levelling off and in some cases experiencing a bit of a lull."

However, Taliban fighters showed that they still had the ability to strike elsewhere in the country, killing at least 17 people in suicide bomb and gun attacks on a number of guesthouses in the capital Kabul on Friday.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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