KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Sunday called their deadly bomb attacks on the southern city of Kandahar a warning to NATO's top general that the insurgents were ready for the war's next major offensive in their heartland.
The series of bombings that demolished buildings and killed dozens — including 10 people at a wedding — prompted the provincial governor to plead for more security in the area. Fearful residents said they had no confidence that either government or foreign troops can protect them.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the Saturday attacks proved the insurgents were still able to operate despite the buildup of Afghan and international troops in preparation for a push into Kandahar province.
A Taliban-linked Web site called the attacks in the south's largest city a "warning" to NATO's Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has said coalition forces will target Kandahar later this year after driving the insurgents from a key stronghold in neighboring Helmand province.
"Gen. McChrystal has said that soon they will start their operations, and now we have already started our operations," Ahmadi told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. "With all the preparations they have taken, still they are not able to stop us."
Ministry of Interior spokesman Zemeri Bashary said, however, the attacks failed to achieve their main objective, which was apparently to repeat the success of a 2008 suicide bombing at the prison gates that freed hundreds of criminals and suspected insurgents. Canadian troops had recently reinforced the lockup with cement block, so Saturday's blast did not break through and no inmates escaped this time.
"They wanted to free the prisoners … but they failed in their mission," Bashary said.
The multiple explosions — there were at least five, four of them suicide attacks — killed at least 35 people, according to the Ministry of Interior. Another 57 were wounded in the attacks, which hit the city's prison, police headquarters, a wedding hall next door and areas on roads leading to the prison.
Kandahar provincial Gov. Tooryalai Wesa told reporters that he had asked the central government in Kabul for more Afghan troops to protect the city in the runup to the expected offensive in the province, which is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. He also said he wants to coordinate with NATO forces to improve security.
Kandahar city, population 800,000, was the seat of government for the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan, imposing its vision of Islamic theocracy for five years before being toppled by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.