KABUL, Nov 17: The Taliban said on Saturday they had thousands of fighters in Kandahar ready to defend the militia’s spiritual stronghold and dismissed reports that supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had ordered a withdrawal.
Some Taliban forces were seen trickling out of the city early in the morning as US warplanes bombed the southern bastion again. But the Taliban insisted it remained in control.
US bombers also pounded Kunduz, a city in the north where up to 30,000 Taliban fighters are surrounded by opposition forces.
The militia pulled out of the western province of Farah on Saturday, leaving the main city in near anarchy, with looting and fighting among various groups in which several people had been killed.
Reports that Mullah Omar had ordered a retreat from Kandahar to the mountains set alight speculation that the Taliban had finally collapsed.
But Maulvi Najibullah, a Taliban foreign ministry spokesman, said: “It is wrong that we have surrendered or have the intention to do so.”
Thousands of Taliban fighters are in Kandahar to defend the city, another Taliban spokesman told the Al-Jazeera channel.
Mohammad Tayyeb Agha, who was described as a spokesman for Omar, said from Kandahar: “Our forces, numbering thousands, have decided to defend Kandahar, the neighbouring provinces, Islamic religion and law.”
Agha said Omar and the entire militia leadership remained in areas controlled by the Taliban.
The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), which is well connected in the militia, reported on Friday that Omar had ordered a pullout from Kandahar and for it to be handed over to two local commanders.
Kandahar and Kunduz are the last major strongholds left to the Taliban after a week of losses.
American warplanes pounded Kandahar on Friday night and Saturday morning, killing six civilians and injuring 15 others, the AIP said. Some Taliban soldiers were seen leaving on Saturday, but there was no sign of a mass evacuation.
A “small column” of Taliban vehicles was spotted heading northwest towards Herat, Kandahar resident Babrak Ali said by satellite phone.
His account tallied with one given earlier by Pakhtoon tribal leader Hamid Karzai, who said there were signs an evacuation had started and there were “skirmishes” in the north of Kandahar province.—AFP