NATO-led Canadian forces were preparing an offensive on Taliban-held villages in Kandahar province, while insurgents were planting mines and destroying bridges to stop it, officials said Tuesday.
NATO aircraft dropped leaflets on several villages in Arghanadab district, some 20 kilometers north of Kandahar city, on Monday night warning the villagers to leave the region before the operation to push out the militants, Haji Gholam Farooq, a tribal leader in the district, said.
Up to 500 Taliban fighters captured several villages in the district without resistance Sunday night, posing a threat to Kandahar city, and a strategic town that links the capital to southern and western provinces of the country, reported dpa.
Farooq said thousands of local residents were already fleeing the district towards the city.
"The villagers are very worried about the possible airstrikes by the NATO forces," Farooq said.
Thousands of Afghan army forces were rallying near the district to push back the militants out of the area, Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said.
"We are sending fresh troops from Kabul by planes to the area," Azimi said. "The number of army forces in the area reaches to thousands of soldiers."
Afghan and NATO forces also erected several checkpoints around the district, checking every passing vehicle in the region.
NATO General Carlos Branco confirmed that international forces were redeploying in the area.
Police in Kandahar said the insurgents were planting mines and destroying bridges to slow the government offensive.
Two militants were killed on Tuesday morning when the mine they were trying to plant on a roadside exploded prematurely, said Mohammad Noor, a police official.
Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousif Ahmadi said rebel fighters were ready to face the Afghan and NATO forces in the area.
"We see Afghan and Canadian forces flying over Kandahar city in a very panicky way, now they are trying to save Kandahar city," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by phone from an undisclosed location.
"We are well-prepared for any operation. We have your guns and rockets on our shoulders and are waiting for them."
The latest development followed a rebel attack on Kandahar city's main prison late Friday which freed about 900 inmates, including 400 Taliban militants.
Ahmadi said that the Taliban prisoners had already joined the fighting groups in the region and "some of them are in Arghandab district."