SANGESAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Canadian and Afghan troops pushed into a Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan, fought off fierce counter-attacks and fortified an outpost on Sunday to stay in the area.
An Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman said at least 12 Taliban fighters were killed and another 15 wounded in the fighting for control of the Sangesar district, where fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar once lived and preached at a local mosque.
Canadian troops have fought the Taliban for control of the area, west of the biggest southern city Kandahar, for more than a year with each side seizing then losing the same ground several times.
But this time, dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles followed the troops into the area to fortify two seized civilian compounds and stay in the Sangesar district.
The operation began on Friday night with around 100 Canadian and some 50 Afghan troops driving a spearhead into the area under cover of darkness and seizing the compounds. By morning the troops were surrounded by Taliban and fighting at close quarters.
“It was pretty hectic yesterday. At one point we were taking fire from north, south, east and west,” said Canadian infantryman Jerome Deschenes.
Artillery and airstrikes were called in to break the Taliban counter attack. “We were in a really sticky situation,” said Deschenes. “Thank God for the artillery and air cover.”
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) released no figures on the Taliban casualties figures, but soldiers involved in the fighting said at least 10 Taliban had been shot dead and more killed by artillery fire.
Military sources said “quite a few” mid-level Taliban field commanders had been killed in the fighting.
The Taliban commander in the area, Mullah Ulfat, said six of his fighters had been killed and three wounded but the rebels had inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan and foreign forces.
More than six years after U.S.-led and Afghan troops drove the Taliban from power for harbouring al Qaeda leader after the September 11 attacks, Afghanistan still suffers from daily violence.
Analysts say the 2003 war in Iraq and its aftermath meant political and military chiefs “took their eye off the ball” in Afghanistan allowing the Taliban to regroup and relaunch their insurgency two years ago. At least 7,000 people have been killed since.
To the north of Kandahar, the Taliban hanged five Afghan policemen from trees in the Deh Rawud district of Uruzgan province on Sunday, provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemat said.
Meanwhile, a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a convoy of foreign forces in the Girishk district of Helmand province on Sunday but no one was wounded, provincial police chief Hussain Andiwal said.
Elsewhere, two Afghan policemen and three insurgents were killed when the Taliban attacked a police patrol in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, the local intelligence chief, Mohammad Zamaan, said.
Further south, 11 insurgents and one Afghan soldier were killed when Taliban attacked a joint foreign and Afghan military convoy in the Shah Joy district of Zabul province on Saturday, said Qasim Khan a police official in the district.
Additional reporting by Mirwais Afghan and Ismail Sameem; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Sami Aboudi
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