The New York Times, By Taimoor Shah and Alissa J. Rubin
8 May, 2011
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — For more than 30 hours over the weekend, the Taliban immobilized the southern city of Kandahar, unleashing multiple attacks with small arms and suicide bombers near the city’s downtown, pinning down people in their homes, forcing shops to close and halting most traffic.
An Afghan police officer watched from a building that Taliban fighters used to attack the provincial governor’s office in Kandahar.
A car bombing left debris on a Kandahar street on Sunday.
Although the attack, the first major campaign in the Taliban’s announced spring offensive, did not kill many people, the insurgents made clear that they could muster their followers, tie up one of Afghanistan’s largest population centers and elude a heavy police and military presence.
The attack ended as night fell Sunday, when the last two suicide bombers were killed in a hotel near the provincial headquarters of the national intelligence department. Spent casings littered the streets “like hail after a storm,” one Kandahar resident said, and ranks of police officers stood guard at official buildings.
The scale and organization of the attack as well as the targeting of government buildings suggested that the Taliban had been planning it for some time — and that they had relied on support from inside Kandahar.
Among the places singled out were the provincial governor’s palace, the police headquarters, the transportation police headquarters, a police substation and other buildings used by the military, according to a NATO statement.
Those are among the most well-guarded spots in Kandahar, the biggest city in southern Afghanistan and a major base for NATO forces. Still, the 27 insurgent fighters involved in the attacks were able to move in those areas while toting explosive vests or driving vehicles laden with explosives, raising questions about complicity with the attacks.
“How can a big number of armed people with suicide car bombs enter the city?” asked Mohammed Umar Sathi, a political analyst and Kandahar resident.
“How are they able to occupy nearby buildings and stage themselves so they can shoot on the governor’s office and the N.D.S. department?” he asked, referring to the National Directorate of Security, the intelligence department.
“Either the security forces are incompetent, or they have no coordination among each other,” he said. “Also, we have foreign forces who have responsibility for securing the city.”
The scale of the attack suggested that despite NATO’s ability to kill large numbers of fighters, which they say discourages others from joining the cause, there is still a substantial reservoir of men willing to fight to the death.
Of the 27 attackers, according to the provincial governor, Tooryalai Wesa, 13 were killed in combat and 7 were killed when they exploded their suicide bombs. Another seven fighters were detained.
At least two security officers were killed: a police officer and an intelligence officer. A civilian was killed, as was one other person whose identity was unclear, according to doctors at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar. Doctors said that of 45 people who came to the hospital emergency room, 20 were treated and released while the others were kept for treatment. At least three were in critical condition.
The attacks frustrated and depressed Kandahar residents.
“People are really in trouble; this is the second day the bazaar is closed,” said Abdul Qadus, the owner of a textile shop, who had to leave the market suddenly Saturday when gunmen climbed on the roof of a building near where he worked and began to shoot. “People need to work, they need to buy something and earn their living, but in such circumstances you are not able to come outside.”
As the shooting stopped, the police and intelligence officers found one explosives-rigged vehicle after another: cars, rickshaws, motorcycles and wheelbarrows. In all, 20 vehicles were found with undetonated explosives, said a senior officer at the intelligence department. It was not clear why.
Governor Wesa, who was one of the targets of the attack — the Taliban fired into his compound — implored the insurgents to take advantage of this moment in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden and lay down their arms.
“I am advising them not to kill themselves nor harm civilians nor destroy the country,” he said at a hastily called news conference. “Come and put down your weapons and join the peace and reconciliation process. You will be protected, your blood will be protected and your property will be protected. You will have a normal life in your own country.”
Governor Wesa was not the only one ready to offer the attackers a political solution.
Mohammed Nadeem Khan, a high school teacher who was standing in line to buy bread for his family as sporadic gunfire sounded in the distance, shook his head and spoke as if he were talking to the Taliban.
“I don’t know the aim of these Taliban or opposition or whatever you call them. What do they want? Power? Do they think by occupying a building, then starting shooting or detonating themselves, someone will give power? I don’t think so,” he said.
He continued: “If you really want to free Afghanistan from foreigners or bring justice to the people of Afghanistan, please appear in a political shape: come with logical reasons for the people to follow you, present a reasonable and proper solution for all these conflicts, get rid of corruption and I will support you, the people of Afghanistan will support you. But by destruction and killing, no one will support you. You will get nothing.”