Canadian troops confer with their Afghan counterparts at a checkpoint in Arghandab district, Afghanistan on Tuesday, June 17, 2008.
An Afghan soldier searches a man on the way to leaving the Arghandab district, which is partly controlled by the Taliban militants, Tuesday, June 17, 2008.
Afghan families sit in the back of a car as they leave the Argandab district, where Taliban militants have moved in, for the city of Kandahar on Tuesday, June 17, 2008.
A NATO spokesperson is downplaying the prospect of a looming battle in Afghanistan's Arghandab district, even as NATO is dropping leaflets there warning people to stay indoors.
Mark Laity said Tuesday that the coalition conducted a patrol through the area "and found no evidence that militants control the area."
However, he also said the leaflet dropped by air carries the following message: "Keep your families safe. When there is fighting near your home, stay inside while ANSF (Afghan security forces) defeat the enemies of Afghanistan."
Laity said 700 Afghan National Army troops have been moved from Kabul to Kandahar to deal with the threat.
Residents of Arghandab have been fleeing as they fear a major clash between Taliban rebels, who took control of up to 10 villages on Monday, and coalition forces.
They are pulling out in the middle of grape harvest season, thus putting themselves at risk of financial ruin.
"(The Taliban) told us to leave the area within 24 hours because they want to fight foreign and Afghan troops," said Hajib Ibrahim Khan, who fled Arghandab on Tuesday.
"But within a week, we should be harvesting and we were expecting a good one. Now with this fighting we are deeply worried -- the grapes are the only source of income we have."
Arghandab, a lush farming area, sits about 15 kilometres north of Kandahar City, the second-largest city in Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview that more than 500 Taliban are in the Arghandab.
"We are going to start an operation by the name IBRAT, which stands for (Learn a lesson from past deeds and doings)," he said.
The Taliban have reportedly planted mines and destroyed culverts and small bridges.
Sardar Mohammad, a police officer manning a checkpoint, told The Canadian Press that four planeloads of Afghan National Army soldiers have been flown in from Kabul.
Canadian soldiers have also moved in and are awaiting the order to attack, he said.
Show of force
Military analyst Scott Taylor, publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine, told Canada AM that while the Taliban incursion into Arghandab is a surprise, he doesn't think it will go very far.
"When they meet NATO forces out in the open, it's shown time and time again our superiority in terms of weaponry," he said. "We're able to destroy them out in the open."
"It's more about showing the local population what they're still capable of and that when they send their night letters or threats, it's got a fair amount of meaning," he said.
Ahmadi said the Taliban have burned several schools in Arghandab and are threatening anyone who works with coalition or government forces.
"As everybody knows, we have (already) killed so many people who were working with coalition forces or working with international organizations," he said.
Peter Powers, a former British counter-terrorism official, told Canada AM that this flare-up shows that a foreign military presence will be required in Afghanistan for some time to come.
Unfortunately, if one builds up foreign forces, more casualties will inevitably result, he said.
The developments in Arghandab come after a spectacular attack last Friday on Sarposa Prison in Kandahar. About 400 Taliban fighters were among those who escaped.
Omar Samad, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, told Canada AM that institutions like Sarposa need to be better protected. "This wasn't a professional jail. This was a building that became a jail over time," he said.
Building up such infrastructure is "still a work in progress," Samad said.
Critics have noted the jail -- whose entrance was blown apart by a Taliban truck bomb -- had mud walls and a creek running through it, with an occasional landmine floating through.