Taliban fighters attack Afghan police near Pakistan border
Insurgent force of hundreds fails to overtake base
KABUL — Hundreds of insurgents attacked Afghan police checkpoints yesterday in a remote eastern province with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, but failed to overrun the government positions, officials said.
The assault in Nuristan Province, a rugged and mountainous area bordering Pakistan, is the second significant Taliban attack on Afghan government forces in less than four days and is part of the insurgents’ long-expected spring offensive.
The effectiveness of the Taliban campaign could affect the size of President Obama’s planned drawdown of US troops in July, the scale of which military officials have said will depend on conditions on the ground.
Nuristan Province police chief, General Shams-ul Rahman Zahid, said about 400 Taliban fighters launched their assault at dawn, striking government security outposts around a base housing reserve police units some 11 miles south of the provincial capital of Parun.
The gun battles tapered off just before nightfall with the police still in control of the four checkpoints, which had been reinforced by more police from Parun, he said.
Zahid declined to say how many police had come under attack or the size of the security force based in Nuristan, although it is thought to be small. He acknowledged asking NATO and the Afghan army for help.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Kabul, the Afghan military said it would not send reinforcements, while NATO claimed to know nothing about the attacks. There are few coalition or Afghan Army troops in Nuristan.
Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said the army was aware that “hundreds of insurgents’’ had attacked police forces in Nuristan, but had no immediate plans to dispatch troops to the area. He said he did not have further details because there are no army forces in the area.
Asked why he wasn’t dispatching troops, Azimi said that at this point the police were still holding their ground. He said the Afghan army does not have troops stationed in Nuristan because it doesn’t have the personnel available to cover the remote area.
The American commander in charge of the area disputed the number of Taliban attacking but said the United States sent an unmanned drone to the area to check on the situation.
Speaking from Bagram Air Base, Major General John Campbell told a Pentagon press conference that in the year he has been there, “we have never seen . . . 400 insurgents mass.’’
The Taliban launched the first major strike in their spring campaign over the weekend in Kandahar, the movement’s birthplace and the economic hub of southern Afghanistan, hitting government buildings across the city in a full frontal assault. At least two dozen insurgents, two members of the Afghan security forces, and one civilian were killed in two days of fighting in the city.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups control large swaths of Nuristan, Kunar, and other northeastern provinces near the Pakistani border. Insurgents retain safe havens in Pakistan’s neighboring lawless tribal regions and cross the border into Afghanistan to attack NATO troops.
Hizb-i-Islami, a militant group loyal to regional warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also has a large presence in the region. Its members are not thought to be taking part in the attacks. The area also has small ultraconservative Salafi groups.
Violence continued in other parts of Afghanistan as well. NATO said yesterday that three of its service members were killed by roadside bombs, one yesterday in the east and two on Monday in the south. France confirmed that one of the soldiers was French, and the other two were Romanians, their government said. Seven NATO troops have died this month.
In southern Zabul Province, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said one of its commando units killed five insurgents, including two Pakistanis.