Taliban overrun another Afghan district

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HERAT, Afghanistan, Nov 1 (Reuters) Taliban rebels have overrun a district centre in western Afghanistan as fighting took place in a nearby area captured earlier this week, a provincial official said today.

The Taliban have massed in unusually large numbers in the last week in the west and near the main southern city of Kandahar, challenging assertions by Afghan government and foreign troops that they can rout the rebels in any direct engagement.

A Taliban leader vowed to press on with the campaign to overthrow the Afghan government and eject the 50,000 foreign troops with the same intensity through the harsh Afghan winter.

Some 400 Taliban fighters took over the district centre of Gulistan in the western province of Farah on Monday. While Afghan and NATO-led forces were battling to take it back, the insurgents took over the neighbouring district centre of Bakwa.

''Bakwa district centre fell into the hands of the Taliban in an attack yesterday afternoon,'' said Maolavi Yahya, the district chief of neighbouring Delaram.

''The Taliban wanted to keep Afghan and foreign troops busy (in Gulistan) as another group of Taliban tactically overran the district centre.

''During the confrontation 14 Taliban insurgents and two Afghan police were killed and the Taliban set the district centre building on fire,'' said Yahya.

More than 400 families have fled the fighting and have set up camp by the river, Maolavi Yahya said.

Some 50 Taliban have been killed around Gulistan since Monday, the regional police chief said yesterday.

Fighting also continued around the town of Arghandab, 12 km from the main city of Kandahar in the south, the Taliban former de-facto capital when they ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

Canadian forces in Kandahar said it was one of the most organised Taliban offensives they had seen and said it appeared to be aimed at a move towards the city.

Prominent Taliban leader Mullah Mansour Dadullah vowed the insurgents would extend their fighting to the north of Afghanistan during the winter.

''Our operations are blazing across the southern provinces, and we shall reach the northern provinces in the same manner,'' he said in a video posted on the Internet yesterday.

Mullah Mansour took over as commander of Taliban forces in the southern province of Helmand in May from his brother, Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a raid by British forces.

Mullah Mansour said the Taliban also had contact with insurgents in Iraq.

''We exchange information on planning attacks against the enemy, as well as on weapons that are developed on the battlefronts,'' the Taliban leader told an off-camera interviewer.

The video was produced by al Qaeda's media arm As-Sahab, which said it was made during a visit to the Taliban commander by al Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid.

The recording carried the date of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ended in around mid-October.

Elsewhere, US-led coalition forces killed ''several'' Taliban in the Tarin Kot district of Uruzgan province as the insurgents were setting up mortar positions, the US military said today.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan in the past two years, the bloodiest period since the US-led coalition ousted Taliban from power in 2001.

More that 7,000 people have been killed during that time.

REUTERS PD SSC1356

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