KABUL – About 700 Afghan government reinforcements are being sent to southern mountains near the Pakistan border where about 60 Taliban fighters have been battling government forces for four days. The governor of Zabul province, Hamidullah Tokhi, said there were heavy clashes in the Ata Ghar mountains on Wednesday but the Taliban fighters could not escape. “The Taliban have no chance, except dying or surrendering,” Tokhi told Reuters by telephone from Zabul.
“But we don’t see any chance of them surrendering now. Heavy fighting is still going on. They’re besieged and we’ve blocked all their escape routes.”
He said authorities were sending in the reinforcements to back up the 150 government men involved in the fighting.
Mullah Abdul Rauf, a provincial governor during Taliban rule, told Reuters that Hafiz Abdur Rahim, one of the most wanted senior commanders from the ousted regime, was leading more than 200 Taliban fighters at Ata Ghar.
Rahim has been a constant thorn in the side of Afghan government forces and their U.S. allies since giving the Americans the slip in the mountains in southern Afghanistan in January.
Rauf said that Taliban fighters and Afghan soldiers had clashed in the area three days ago and again on Tuesday when government reinforcements arrived. He added that two Taliban members and several soldiers were killed, giving no more details.
The police chief of Zabul said on Tuesday three Taliban fighters and six government soldiers had been killed in the fighting. Tokhi said men from both sides had been killed and wounded but he could not give a casualty figure.
Zabul was part of the heartland of the hardline Taliban who were driven from power by a U.S.-led offensive in late 2001.
The province is one of the most volatile areas in southern Afghanistan where some provincial officials have said Taliban remnants are regrouping.
U.S.-led forces hunting remnants of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies have conducted several operations in the Ata Ghar district since the beginning of the year.
Afghan government officials say Taliban fighters and their allies are plotting attacks on Afghan and U.S.-led troops and foreign aid workers from the safety of the Pakistani side of the border.
Pakistan says it is doing all it can to stop militants crossing the porous frontier.