Afghan, NATO Troops Try to Eliminate Taliban Holdouts in Kandahar City

Afghan officials say government troops backed by NATO forces are close to eliminating a cell of Taliban fighters who launched attacks on government buildings in the southern city of Kandahar on Saturday.Occasional gunfire erupted in Kandahar Sunday as Afghan soldiers surrounded several insurgents who were holed up in a building near the local headquarters of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. Afghan authorities said almost all of the government buildings attacked by the Taliban the previous day have been cleared. Streets in Kandahar remained deserted.Taliban fighters armed with guns, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests began the assault with attacks on the office of Kandahar’s governor, police buildings and the intelligence agency. It was the biggest operation by the Taliban since it launched an annual springtime offensive against the Afghan government and coalition forces last month.

Afghan officials say at least 20 Taliban fighters have been killed in the assault on the group’s birthplace and former stronghold, including eight suicide bombers who blew themselves up. The assailants have killed four people and wounded more than 40 others, including Afghan civilians and security personnel. Four insurgents also have been captured.Authorities say most of the insurgents who raided Kandahar were among hundreds who escaped from the city’s main Sarposa prison late last month by sneaking through a tunnel dug by fighters on the outside.The Taliban said Saturday’s attacks were planned for weeks and involved more than 100 fighters. The group has been known to exaggerate the scale of its operations.

In another development, the Afghan government is accusing the Taliban of recruiting Pakistani children to carry out suicide bombings in Afghanistan. It says Afghan authorities recently detained four Pakistani boys who crossed into Afghanistan and confessed to being trained in suicide attacks by Taliban militants.The Taliban denied the allegation. In a statement Sunday, the group said its regulations forbid boys who have not grown beards from spending time in Taliban residential and military compounds. The Taliban also accused the Afghan security forces of recruiting underage boys to their ranks,Meanwhile, the NATO mission in Afghanistan says a combined Afghan and coalition force killed one insurgent in an operation Saturday in the northern province of Baghlan. – Voanews