Taleban militants launched an assault on the home of a district governor in southern Afghanistan, killing 20 police in one of the deadliest insurgent raids in months.
The target of the attack, Mullah Abdul Salaam, was visiting Kabul when the insurgents struck his home in Helmand province. Mullah Salaam is governor of the strategically important Musa Qala district, but lives 12 miles (20km) away in a police compound in the small village of Shaghzay.
The Taleban attacked as the policemen were having lunch on Wednesday, according to Daoud Ahmadi, a provincial spokesman. He said that the attackers had also killed the mother of one of the policemen as she pleaded with them to spare her son.
Zemarai Bashary, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said: “The enemies of Afghanistan attacked a police HQ and as a result of the fighting 20 police were killed. Unfortunately a woman was also killed by the Taleban.” Mr Bashary said that the fighting lasted several hours and that reinforcements were sent to secure the village, at which point the insurgents retreated.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack, but provided a different version of events. Their spokesman, Yousef Ahmadi, told The Times that the militants had killed thirty-two soldiers, including four commanders, and that the raid had begun at about 3am. He confirmed reports that two of the insurgents had been killed and said that four more were wounded.
A local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that government forces did not have full control of Shaghzay village and that the dead men were not police but personal bodyguards whom Mullah Salaam had recruited and paid for.
Mullah Salaam, a former Taleban commander, is a symbolic figure in the fight against the insurgency. He switched sides shortly before British and US forces retook Musa Qala late in 2007, and is an example of the reconcilable Taleban that President Karzai’s Government wants to bring in from the cold.
Since joining the Government, he has appealed for national unity and is known for his rousing speeches.
Musa Qala district and the neighbouring Kajaki, where Shaghzay village is located, are two of the most fiercely contested fronts in the war between the Taleban and the international forces supporting the Afghan Government.
Helmand alone produces almost two thirds of the world’s illegal opium, with some of the proceeds used to fund the insurgency.
Although the Afghan Government nominally controls the towns in Helmand, large swaths of the countryside are under the sway of the Taleban. Musa Qala links insurgent strongholds to the north and south and is rife with militants.
January 2, 2009
Julius Cavendish in Kabul
Source: The Times