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Taliban vows to keep fighting this winter Add to ...

The district governor in Panjwaii says he's been warned the Taliban intend to continue fighting throughout the winter months and not give NATO forces any rest.

Haji Baran, the Noorzai tribal elder who has been the face of the Afghan government in the restive district for three years, says he received the news from contacts in Pakistan.

His tribe has a deep, long-standing ties to the insurgency that normally chooses to fight between May and late October.

Mr. Baran urged Canadian military commanders to be vigilant in the coming weeks.

"The fall of Panjwaii is the fall of Kandahar," he said Sunday, repeating a well-worn line of many in the rural part of the province.

"So we have to be careful with that."

The colourful, often bombastic governor said he'd been told a small Taliban bombmaking cell was still operating in the eastern region, near the city which was "looking for something to do."

The warning came as the Taliban responded to NATO's new deadline of 2014 to hand over security to Afghan forces, by saying the alliance will be unable to establish a stable government by that date.

A spokesman also said in a message emailed to the media that the Taliban would fight on until all foreign troops leave.

Whether the Taliban can effectively maintain their campaign of roadside bombings and ambushes this winter appears doubtful.

A U.S.-led offensive in the western part of Panjwaii, long a trouble spot for Canadian troops in Kandahar, has witnessed the capture and killing of a number of Taliban commanders.

Two mid-level commanders have been captured in recent days, one of them in the Zangabad area, which has been a hotbed of insurgent activity.

Lieutenant-Colonel Conrad Mialkowski, the commander of the Royal Canadian Regiment battle group, based out of Petawawa, Ont., was able to confirm one of the captures, but could not discuss the details.

Baran and Afghan National Army Colonel Sakhi Barriz, who leads Kandak No. 2, insisted that security in the area immediately west of Kandahar city had improved dramatically in recent weeks, partly because of Eid holidays.

There are two Afghan army battalions operating in Panjwaii alongside Canadians and those units uncovered only one roadside bomb in the last week - a dramatic decline from fighting season when explosives were being uncovered daily.

"It is the most peaceful Eid that people have seen in years," said Col. Barriz.

"The Taliban will continue to attack us, but they are not powerful enough to fight us face-to-face."

There are also signs the insurgency is having trouble paying its fighters because the poppy harvest in the region - long a source of ready cash for local commanders - was poor.

Mullah Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, put out an appeal for cash during the holidays.

Whether the recent NATO sweep of western Kandahar will have any lastly effect also remains to be seen.

Privately, American military officer say it will be the spring before they know if they've broken the back of the insurgency with their push to the west, which started in July.

"We're hopeful, but we really won't know the degree of improvement until" the spring fighting season, said a senior U.S. commander, who spoke on background because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

 

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