- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan | The Taliban on Sunday called their deadly bomb attacks on the southern city of Kandahar a warning to NATO’s top general that the insurgents were ready for the war’s next major offensive in their heartland.

The series of bombings that demolished buildings and killed dozens — including 10 people at a wedding — prompted the provincial governor to plead for more security in the area. Fearful residents said they had no confidence that either government or foreign troops can protect them.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the Saturday night attacks proved the insurgents were still able to operate despite the buildup of Afghan and international troops in preparation for a push into Kandahar province.

A Taliban-linked Web site called the attacks in the south’s largest city a “warning” to NATO Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who has said coalition forces will target Kandahar later this year after driving the insurgents from a key stronghold in neighboring Helmand province.

“Gen. McChrystal has said that soon they will start their operations, and now we have already started our operations,” Mr. Ahmadi said in a telephone interview. “With all the preparations they have taken, still they are not able to stop us.”

However, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said the attacks failed to achieve their main objective, which was apparently to repeat the success of a 2008 suicide bombing at the prison gates that freed hundreds of criminals and suspected insurgents. Canadian troops had recently reinforced the lockup with cement block, so Saturday’s blast did not break through and no inmates escaped this time.

“They wanted to free the prisoners … but they failed in their mission,” Mr. Bashary said.

The multiple explosions — there were at least five blasts, four of them suicide attacks — killed at least 35 people, according to the Interior Ministry. An additional 57 were wounded in the attacks, which hit the city’s prison, police headquarters, a wedding hall next door and other areas on roads leading to the prison.

Kandahar provincial Gov. Tooryalai Wesa told reporters that he had asked the central government in Kabul for more Afghan troops to protect the city in the run-up to the expected offensive in the province, which is the “spiritual” birthplace of the Taliban. He also said he wants to coordinate with NATO forces to improve security.

Mr. Bashary said the government was considering Mr. Wesa’s request.

Kandahar city, population 800,000, was the seat of government for the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan, imposing its vision of Islamic theocracy for five years before being toppled by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.

The province of the same name is the insurgents’ base, and militants control most villages surrounding the city. Residents said Sunday that Taliban can also operate freely in Kandahar city.

“They can do what they intend and want, and the government can’t control the situation,” said Javed Ahmad, 40, of Kandahar.

The offensive that U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are planning in Kandahar later this year is a follow-up to the ongoing military operation in Helmand province’s Marjah district. The operation is the first test of Gen. McChrystal’s strategy to rout insurgents from areas, set up new governance and rush in development aid in hopes of winning the loyalty of the residents.

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