New mullah in Arghandab district wants Canada to stay in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – When it comes to his views on Canada’s presence in Afghanistan, it’s like father like son for the new mullah in the Arghandab district north of Kandahar city.

Arghandab has been the site of heavy fighting involving Canadian and Afghan security troops as the Taliban sought to gain a foothold in the area with the death last month of Mullah Naqib, a former warlord who was an enemy of the Taliban.

“With what’s going on right now in the district of Arghandab is not good and in this situation the Canadians must stay right here for a long time,” said Kareemullah Naqibi, recently named by President Hamid Karzai as his father’s successor.

“And with the acute situation in Kandahar city, I think that the Canadians should stay a long time too,” said Naqibi, speaking through an interpreter to reporters in Arbhandab. “I do not say the exact time whether it’s one month, two months or three months. They must stay because the security situation is not good right now.”

A force of about 300 Taliban tried last month to gain control of Arghandab, lush farmland of grape and pomegranate orchards which would have provided the group with easy access to its former stronghold.

Naqibi blames himself for allowing a leadership vacuum and not acting sooner to solidify his position in the region.

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid told reporters that the Taliban understimated the support the govenrment had in the area. He said the Arghandab people provided valuable information and with the action if ISAF, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police the Taliban were pushed back in two or three days.

“They cannot come back because we have strong civilian support,” he said. “We have reports that they went to the mountains but we will follow them. They are not in Arghandab anymore but wherever they are, we will follow.”

The governor said the Afghan people are grateful for the Canadian presence but noted it is a two-way street.

“They are also here to fight against terrorism. It is not just an Afghan fight and you are lucky because you are able to defend against your enemy thousand and thousands of miles far away from your country.”

A strong Canadian military contingent will remain in Arghandab for at least a few more days according to the second-in-command for Canada in Joint Task Force Afghanistan.

“The insurgents came down in the Arghandab district to knock at the door and we made sure that the door was closed,” said Col. Christian Juneau. “When they come back again the door will still be closed.”

Col. Juneau said what was interesting about this encounter with the Taliban is some members of the local population in the region took up arms in support of the government.

The fact that a large force of armed men showed up in the region isn’t something Juneau was about to dwell upon.

“If you look behind you, look at some of the coverage the trees and fields provide. It’s difficult to detect that. They came in and we kicked them out and they left, at least some of them left, using that coverage,” he finished.

About 50 Taliban soldiers died in the attack and an equal number were wounded.

There were about 300 members from the Canadian Battle Group involved in the military operation, along with 350 Afghan soldiers, 200 Afghan police as well as 33 U.S. mentors and 12 Canadian soldiers who work with the Afghan army.

In other words, the two sides really weren’t evenly matched.

“You don’t take a knife to a gunfight,” observed Lt.-Col. Thomas Ritz, the commander of the U.S. police mentoring team dryly.

“We swept them from the battlefield,” he added.

The Taliban were greater in number than previously reported said Lt.-Col. Shirin Sha Kowbandi, commander of the Kandak 21 battalion of the Afghan National Army.

“They had a plan to take Kandahar city too and we with the help of Canadian friends. We gave a lot of casualties to the Taliban forces,” he said. “The amount of the Taliban were probably about 600 and we killed more insurgents.”

Col. Ritz said the cooperation in coaltion forces working with Afghan security bodes well for the future and should send a message to the Taliban.

“What we did in this operation together was seize the initiative from the Taliban and took the fight back to the Taliban,” Ritz said. “We’re going to meet them again and we’re going to defeat them again. And wherever they are we’re going to find them.”

The Canadian military effort has been focused almost entirely on the Panjwaii and Zhari districts over the past few years and the regions, west of Kandahar city, have been the site of bloody battles involving the Canadian forces.

Arghandab is likely the next area that Canada will be focusing in he said.

“Eventually we would like to focus our efforts somewhere else and this is an option, obviously,” Juneau said. “We just would like to expand that inkspot that we have developed in the Zhari-Panjwaii districts.”

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