- Nov 22, 2003
- Reaction score
Better on our offensive than theirs:
Commander: Taliban ready to battle NATO
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 47 minutes ago
A top Taliban commander said Wednesday the group has 4,000 fighters bracing to rebuff NATO's largest-ever offensive in northern Afghanistan, now in its second day. Suicide bombers are ready, land mines have been planted and helicopters will be targeted, Mullah Abdul Qassim, the top Taliban commander in Helmand province told The Associated Press.
NATO, meanwhile, announced the capture of a senior Taliban fighter who had eluded authorities by wearing a woman's burqa. Mullah Mahmood, who is accused of helping Taliban fighters rig suicide bomb attacks, was seized by Afghan soldiers at a checkpoint near Kandahar, the alliance said.
Speaking by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, Qassim said the Taliban has 8,000 to 9,000 fighters in Helmand province, including some 4,000 in the north, where NATO launched its largest-ever offensive Tuesday. He said all the fighters were Afghan, denying reports of hundreds of foreign fighters in the region.
"All of them are well-equipped and we have the weapons to target helicopters," Qassim said. "The Taliban are able to fight for 15 or 20 years against NATO and the Americans."
New mines have been planted, and suicide bombers a growing threat in Afghanistan are ready to attack, said Qassim, whose voice was recognized by an AP reporter who has spoken with him before.
Operation Achilles, comprising some 4,500 NATO and 1,000 Afghan troops, is focused on securing lawless regions of northern Helmand the world's biggest poppy-growing region.
The offensive follows a mission last fall that wiped out hundreds of militants who fought in formation in neighboring Kandahar province, prompting NATO spokesman Col. Tom Collins to say this week the military would welcome a repeat of those tactics.
Qassim said the Taliban would adapt to conditions on the ground this time around...