KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Afghan National Army has declared victory in defending a southern city from an attempted Taliban takeover after days of heavy fighting that tested the mettle of an Afghan battalion under Canadian mentorship.
"The enemy tried to occupy Lashkar Gah, but Afghan forces have defeated them very well, which perhaps they were not expecting," Afghan Gen. Sher Muhammad Zazai said through a translator in Kandahar on Wednesday.
"We defeated the enemy very badly."
The fighting in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, began about 10 days ago when hundreds of Taliban militants attacked the city from three sides.
On Oct. 15, insurgents attacked police outposts around the city but were beaten by ANA forces under the guidance of Canadian mentor teams, and backed up by British forces.
Later, Afghan and international troops retook the Nad Ali district centre, which had been held by insurgents, after a three-day fight. That battle, which also involved air strikes, ended Saturday.
Altogether, Afghan and NATO officials claim that at least 100 Taliban died in the fighting.
Zazai declared the immediate threat in Helmand, Afghanistan’s top opium-producing province, had passed. "The ANA can take care of Helmand very well."
Zazai said there are now only five districts out of the 55 districts in the country’s six southern provinces without an Afghan National Army presence.
British troops have been involved in the bulk of the fighting in Helmand province, which is adjacent to Kandahar province where most of Canada’s 2,500 troops operate.
But about 30 Canadian mentors accompanied an ANA battalion, or kandak, to Helmand on Oct. 16. Zazai said the Canadians were involved in the fighting.
A Canadian military spokesman said the operation was "in its final stages."
Large attacks on major Afghan centres are an unusual strategy for the Taliban.
The threat of such an attack on Kandahar in 2006 produced Operation Medusa, weeks of fighting by Canadian soldiers in the nearby Panjwai district that pacified the area — at least for a while.
After a spectacular prison break in Kandahar city this year, there were fears the provincial capital could again come under siege by Taliban insurgents — but it never materialized. Rapid reinforcement of government forces and a show of force by coalition troops might have deterred an attack.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a U.S.-led coalition air strike hit an Afghan army checkpoint Wednesday, killing nine Afghan soldiers.
Good to hear the Afghan Army is getting its grip.... more victories like this will certainly improve the ANA's resolve..... and the sooner that happens, the sooner we can get the hell out of there.