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These deaths are a warning to the Afghan people that the Taliban “will not tolerate any Afghan person working with international forces,” said the interpreter, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

“But we need the money for our families or we will die of starvation, and many of us do not want the Taliban to return. We will take the risk and die without regret,” the interpreter said.

In Kandahar, meanwhile, Taliban forces had taken control of the city’s outer ring road by noon Tuesday as a mass exodus of women, children and others on foot, bicycle and mules fled the city for the mountains in anticipation of a huge battle with U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.

Eyewitness reports said coalition forces had taken positions on rooftops in Kandahar in anticipation of an attack.

Also on Tuesday, Taliban forces kidnapped an engineer working on a road project in Kandahar province.

No information was available regarding his whereabouts or “if he’s been beheaded or tortured,” said an official source who was investigating the case.

Details about the engineer are not being released pending further investigation, said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used by insurgents in Iraq have turned up with increasing frequency in Afghanistan.

So have rocket attacks and suicide bombings against U.S. and other international forces.

Mullah Bradar has said the attacks would continue until Mr. Karzai is ousted and U.S. and NATO forces withdraw.

U.S. and NATO military officials have dismissed the idea of a Taliban spring offensive as the “same old nonsense,” saying the only offensive that will take place this year in Afghanistan is one by Western and Afghan troops.

But during the past week, a palpable tension has gripped Kabul, and people were preparing to leave the city.

NATO and the U.S. “miscalculated what the Taliban is capable of,” said the Afghan security official.

“This is something that people must know. If the Taliban gains control of Afghanistan again, especially from the United States, it will open the door to the terrorists. … They will say not even the greatest superpower can defeat them.”

Additional NATO and Afghan forces have been redeploying to meet the threat by Taliban fighters in Arghandab district just north of Kandahar province, hoping to push out the estimated 500 Taliban fighters who have moved there.

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