Taliban militants attacked a construction company working for coalition forces Sunday, killing a security guard and wounding two others, the company’s director said.
Meanwhile, visiting British Defense Secretary John Reid said that coalition troops must maintain the offensive against Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Afghanistan to prevent their return to power.
“The greatest danger of all for the people of Afghanistan and the people of the United Kingdom would be if Afghanistan ever again came under the rule of a Taliban regime prepared to protect al-Qaida or terrorist groups,” Reid said during a press conference at the Afghan Defense Ministry headquarters in the capital, Kabul.
Heavily armed attackers
Sunday's attack occurred on the Uruzgan-Kandahar highway near a southern Kandahar provincial village where four Canadian soldiers were killed in a suspected Taliban roadside bombing a day earlier.
A group of heavily armed militants launched a two-hour gun battle against the headquarters of the Thavazoo company in Shah Wali Kot district, said Haji Mohammed Youssef, the company’s director.
One guard was killed and two were wounded before the remaining security personnel fled, Youssef said. The Taliban fighters then entered the compound, burning 14 trucks and bulldozers and stealing equipment before escaping.
Youssef said coalition forces gave him a contract to build a 25-mile stretch of road, 15 miles of which have been completed.
“Coalition forces are giving us money to help rebuild our country, but the enemies of Afghanistan don’t want us to succeed,” he told The Associated Press.
Militants have been stepping up attacks against coalition and Afghan forces in a bid to derail reconstruction efforts, four years after a U.S.-led military force toppled the Taliban government for harboring Osama bin Laden.
Also Saturday, U.S. and Afghan soldiers arrested 16 Taliban members in two raids in southern Zabul province, which neighbors Kandahar, local Afghan army commander Gen. Rahmattalluh Roufi said Sunday.
“The Americans are questioning them now to see if they are important Taliban members or not,” Roufi told The Associated Press.
It was unclear if the arrests or Sunday’s Taliban attack were linked to the killing of the four Canadian soldiers, the deadliest attack on that nation’s troops since they deployed here in 2002.
Canadian officers blamed Taliban militants for detonating a massive roadside bomb that destroyed one of four armored vehicles in a convoy in Gomboth, a village about 25 miles north of the southern city of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold. The blast was followed by militants and soldiers exchanging gunfire before the extremists fled.
A 2,200-soldier Canadian contingent moved into southern Afghanistan to relieve U.S. troops. Canada has had forces in the country since the U.S.-led offensive that toppled the Taliban at the end of 2001, and a total of at least 16 Canadians have been killed.
Rising violence is a growing concern for nations contributing troops to a force operating here under a NATO mandate. The force is to rise from its current 10,000 soldiers to about 21,000 by November as it gradually assumes command of international troops in Afghanistan.
Some 6,000 mainly British, Canadian and Dutch soldiers have started deploying in the south. The remote, tribal-dominated region near the border wit Pakistan is considered a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida extremists.