Bloody Day in Afghanistan as Taliban Mount 2 Attacks
Posted December 17, 2017 7:02 p.m. EST
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A Taliban attack on police checkpoints that killed 11 officers in Helmand province and a suicide bombing of a NATO convoy that left a civilian in Kandahar dead capped a bloody day of violence in the restive south of Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.
Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said there were no fatalities or injuries among the coalition forces.
Dozens of Taliban militants stormed the police checkpoints in Lashkar Gah City that form a security belt around the city about 2 a.m., said Omar Zwak, the provincial spokesman.
Zwak said 11 Afghan police officers had been killed, but local media reports, as well as residents in the area, put the number of dead much higher. Haji Niamatullah, who lives in the area, said that as many as 14 officers had been killed and three others wounded.
“The fighting was brief, and it didn’t go on for long,” Niamatullah said.
Helmand remains one of the most violent provinces in Afghanistan, with the Taliban controlling much of its vast territory. About 300 U.S. Marines are based there, training and advising the Afghan army and the police.
Their hope is to reverse some of the gains that the Taliban have made over the past couple of years, where the fighters continue to surround Lashkar Gah City.
The province is the country’s largest opium-producing area, and the violence there is sometimes related to the drug trade. Last week, media outlets reported that about two dozen bodies had been unearthed in the deserts between Helmand and Kandahar, a major smuggling route.
Afghan officials could not confirm the identities of most of the dead. Some officials speculated that the carnage may have resulted from drug-related violence, as groups, sometimes including members of the security forces, have been known to chase smugglers to seize their cargo.
The suicide bomb targeting the NATO convoy occurred in Daman district on the main highway connecting Kandahar to the border with Pakistan. Qudratullah Khushbakht, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said one passer-by, a woman, had been killed and four other civilians wounded.
A police spokesman said the woman had been killed when her house nearby collapsed from the force of the blast.
Violence has also flared in northern Afghanistan, where Afghan forces have been trying to retake an area captured by the Taliban in Sar-e-Pul province after a government militia providing security there switched sides.
Nearly a week of heavy fighting in the Sancharak district displaced as many as 2,000 families, said Abdul Ahmad Iqbal, the province’s director of refugees.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, which provides assistance to the displaced residents, expressed concern that humanitarian organizations were struggling to meet the needs of civilians forced from their homes by the fighting.
More than 390,000 Afghans have been uprooted this year, with displacements reported in 31 of the country’s 34 provinces, the organization said.
“Our capacity to respond to these emergencies is now fully exhausted, as the scale of Afghans fleeing their homes due to conflict this year has been overwhelming,” said William Carter, a representative of the organization in Afghanistan.
“The current funding is now going into the red in our accounts,” he said, “and we continue to face serious access constraints to areas where most of those in need are displaced as there are ongoing clashes.”