Taliban offensive leaves 130 dead hundreds injured

AFP July 30,1999

KABUL (AFP) - The Taliban militia Thursday kept up their offensive against forces of Ahmad Shah Masood to capture the last remaining opposition-held territory amid rocket strikes and pitched front line battles, with reports saying 130 people had been killed.

Five rockets were fired by the opposition forces and struck the capital, residents said. Combined figures from medical, Taliban, and opposition reports claimed at least 130 people had been killed in battle and by rockets. The opposition also claimed the recapture of lost ground in the valleys surrounding the strategically important district of Nejrab. But the district and the main city of Nejrab remained in Taliban hands after they captured late Wednesday catching the opposition by surprise.

The Old and New Roads are about 25 kilometres north of Kabul, the near-by mountain range of Kohi-i-Safi is to the east, and further east are the twin districts of Nejrab and Tagab. A Taliban spokesman was unavailable for comment on the fighting. But in an official broadcast supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar urged all Muslims to hold special prayers for the offensive. "Muslims are encountering numerous hardships," Omar said on the official Radio Shariat broadcast. He said the enemies of Islam were hatching plots against Muslims who, in many cases, lived "under tyrannic rules of tyrants." The Taliban launched the campaign aiming to end the country's protracted civil war by wiping out forces loyal to opposition commander Ahmad Shah Masood.

Heavy artillery duels were clearly audible in Kabul where sporadic mushroom clouds of dust dotted the skyline after rocket strikes, targeted at Kabul airport. The United Nations suspended humanitarian flights to the capital. The opposition spokesman claimed at least 100 Taliban troops were killed in battle since early Wednesday and many more had been injured. "The offensive will cost both sides dearly, the entire area is very heavily mined," one western observer said. "These figures are conservative." Masood's spokesman said once the Taliban had been pushed back, his forces discovered 26 dead militiamen on the Old Road, about 30 on the New Road, another 20 at Koh-i-Safi and a further 40 at Nejrab. Masood's forces had incurred 12 killed and 30 wounded, the spokesman said.

Medical sources here added at least another 200 wounded had been ferried back to hospitals in the capital by Wednesday night while four civilians were injured in this morning's rocket strikes. Radio Shariat reported that two civilians were killed and three injured in Kabul by rocket attacks on Wednesday.

UN Security Council members have expressed grave concern at reports that Afghanistan's Islamist Taliban movement had resumed large scale fighting, and called for a halt to outside military support for the warring factions.

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