Commanders say 30,000 troops needed to secure Afghanistan
Sunday February 3, 8:52 PM AFP
Foreign commanders in Afghanistan said they believe more than 30,000 international troops will be needed to secure the country as interim leader Hamid Karzai struggles to contain growing unrest.
Days after Karzai asked world leaders for more troops, commanders with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) told AFP it would be hard to arrange the kind of force needed to stabilise Afghanistan.
Few countries seem willing to offer the kind of troop strength required and problems also would arise due to the limited airport and communications facilities, they said.
"If there is a need to expand militarily, it will be extremely difficult to do that because already we are operating with an air bridge," said ISAF spokesman Neal Peckham.
"We would need enormous air support to operate, to move people in the country. We would need a large number of troops and we would need a large air support to do that."
A senior member of the French ISAF contingent estimated it would take "much more than 30,000 to cover the five main cities as well as the roads".
United Nations deputy special envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell last month said up to 30,000 foreign troops could be needed. ISAF's presence has been capped at around 4,500 troops and they are not allowed out of the capital.
Soldiers and diplomats in Kabul point out that a force of 60,000 men had to be deployed at the height of the crisis in Bosnia, a country about a quarter Afghanistan's size.
Karzai last week raised the need for more troops with the UN Security Council, US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But he returned to Kabul Saturday empty-handed and faced with mounting instability following two days of bloody tribal clashes in eastern Paktia province and reports of ethnic tensions in the far north.
The worst fighting erupted in the Paktia capital Gardez, where Karzai's handpicked governor Padsha Khan tried to take up his post through force after rival Pashtun tribal leader Saif Ullah refused to hand over power.
Some 50 people, including about 20 civilians, were killed in mortar, rocket and machine-gun fire between the two forces, which saw Khan's troops retreat from the town late Thursday.
Tense armed stand-offs also reportedly continued in the far north between ethnic factions in the government, particularly troops loyal to Uzbek Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rashid Dostam and Tajik Defence Minister Qasim Fahim.
On his return, Karzai summoned Border Affairs Minister Amanullah Zadran for a briefing on Gardez, and a government source told AFP the defeat of Khan was "humiliating" for the UN-backed interim leader.
"It shows that his power barely extends beyond Kabul. How he deals with the problem will determine whether he will in future be known as the leader of Afghanistan or only of Kabul," he said.
In Washington, Bill Clinton's former secretary of state Madeleine Albright slammed US President George W. Bush for calling Iraq, Iran and North Korea an "axis of evil". Many in the international community believes the United States had "lost our mind", she claimed.
But Bush said the three nations were proliferating weapons of mass destruction and represented a danger to world peace, sparking sharp reactions from Tehran, Baghdad and Pyongyang and some adverse comments from Russia and China as well as the Middle East.
However an opinion poll just out in the United States indicated 64 percent of Americans believed Bush issued a warning, not a threat.
Meanwhile, a German newspaper said the main NATO partners agreed Turkey should take over from Britain as head of Afghanistan's international security force.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, quoting German, French, British and Turkish sources, said Sunday the agreement emerged during informal discussions on the future leadership of the UN-mandated ISAF, which began its deployment in the Afghan capital late last year.
Karzai calls for end to warlords; no trace of kidnapped US journalist
Monday February 4, 3:12 AM AFP
Afghanistan must rid itself of warlords, interim leader Hamid Karzai said following fresh deadly clashes in the north, as fears mounted over the fate of a US journalist kidnapped in Pakistan.
Diplomats said the abduction 11 days ago of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl could be just the beginning of a wave of revenge terror attacks against Western targets in Pakistan.
Karzai urged restraint after 50 people were killed in a battle between rival warlords in the eastern city of Gardez last week. Fresh fighting broke out later Sunday in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, leaving four dead.
"This is one more reason why we should finish warlordism in this country," he told AFP.
Four were killed and 10 wounded in fresh fighting in Mazar-i-Sharif between forces loyal to Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam and those of rival Tajik commander Atta Mohammad, Atta claimed.
The Tajik commander said those killed were loyal to Dostam, who also serves as the interim government's deputy defense minister. The wounded came from both sides, he said, adding that fighting had stopped.
Dostam could not be reached for comment.
The fighting in Gardez, capital of Paktia province, erupted when Karzai's handpicked governor Padsha Khan tried to take up his post through force after rival Pashtun tribal leader Saif Ullah refused to give up power.
Some 50 people were killed in the two-day battle which saw Khan's troops retreat from the town late Thursday.
Karzai said he had sent a delegation to Gardez to resolve the conflict, but one government source said Khan's defeat was "humiliating" for the new leader.
"It shows that his power barely extends beyond Kabul. How he deals with the problem will determine whether he will in future be known as the leader of Afghanistan or only of Kabul," the source said of Karzai.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, there was no trace Sunday of Pearl, and diplomats coupled his kidnapping with bombs recently placed under vehicles belonging to European embassies here.
"But the worst is yet to come. What we have seen up to now are isolated warnings," a US diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Extremist Islamic Pakistanis who fought alongside the former ruling Taliban militia are returning home "bitter," a European diplomat said.
"They are digesting their defeat. It will only be a few weeks before we are likely to be confronted by organized terrorism."
"Western diplomats and journalists are thus ideal targets," he said, calling the kidnapping and attempted bombings "messages."
Pearl, 38, disappeared in the southern port city of Karachi on January 23 after telling his wife he was going to meet the leader of a little known militant Islamic organization.
Police in Karachi said Sunday that 12 people were being interrogated in connection with the case, but no arrests had been made.
A group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty had sent a series of e-mails with photos of Pearl in captivity, threatening to kill him by Thursday, and then extending the deadline to Friday.
But police dismissed another e-mail Friday claiming Pearl had been killed, and US officials held out hope that he was still alive.
The e-mails demanded the release of Pakistanis among the prisoners taken from Afghanistan to a US naval base in Cuba and the improvement of the conditions of the other prisoners there.
US forces have captured hundreds of suspected Taliban fighters and members of bin Laden's al-Qaeda network since the start of the US military campaign in Afghanistan, 158 of whom are being held at the US base at Guantanamo Bay.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has ruled out any negotiations on those prisoners. He told CBS News on Sunday that he had "no late information" about the fate of the journalist.
"Daniel Pearl needs to be released right away," White House national security advisor Condoleezza Rice said on Fox News Sunday. "We just hope that this can come to a resolution very quickly."
Rice added that Washington was working closely with the government in Islamabad to obtain Pearl's release.
Amid renewed fighting in Afghanistan, questions arose over the number of troops needed to secure the central Asian country.
Karzai has asked world leaders for more troops, but commanders with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) told AFP it would be very difficult to arrange the kind of force needed.
Few countries seem willing to offer the troops required and problems would arise due to the limited airport and communications facilities, they said.
"If there is a need to expand militarily, it will be extremely difficult to do that because already we are operating with an air bridge," said ISAF spokesman Neal Peckham.
United Nations deputy special envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell last month said up to 30,000 foreign troops could be needed. ISAF's presence has been capped at around 4,500 troops restricted to the capital Kabul.
But a senior member of the French ISAF contingent estimated it would take "much more than 30,000 to cover the five main cities as well as the roads."
Karzai last week raised the need for more troops with the UN Security Council, US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But he returned to Kabul Saturday empty-handed and faced mounting instability, as well as the continued presence of al-Qaeda fighters.
He told BBC television Sunday that while "quite a few" al-Qaeda members had been arrested, "the majority of them are on the run."
The French newspaper Journal du Dimanche reported Sunday that some 50 to 100 French nationals believed to have joined al-Qaeda in recent years were trying to flee Afghanistan before being captured.
"We're getting ready for a long operation," the paper quoted an unnamed French intelligence service official as saying.
Elsewhere, military officials in the Philippines said Sunday that hundreds more US troops were to arrive in the coming months for joint training exercises, despite threats from communist and Muslim separatists that those troops would be attacked.
A Philippines military spokesman said another 800 US troops would arrive in the next few months.
Some 600 US troops are already in the country, supporting the local military hunting Muslim Abu Sayyaf guerrillas allied to bin Laden.
In Kuala Lumpur, a former Malaysian army captain who allegedly met two September 11 hijackers and another suspected al-Qaeda member in Malaysia has been detained under the country's Internal Security Act (ISA) for two years.
The officer, Yazid Sufaat, is being investigated in connection with alleged involvement with the Muslim Militant Group (KMM) and a link to al-Qaeda militants arrested in Singapore in December, the New Sunday Times said.
Afghan power struggles spur new violence
By John Fullerton
Sunday February 3, 2:50 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Uneasy allies at best, Afghanistan's patchwork quilt of Pashtun tribes and Central Asian peoples are once more at one another's throats.
"The biggest threat to Afghanistan's peace and stability is the internal power struggle," said a leading politician in Kandahar province in the south who is a member of one of the region's prominent families.
After 24 years of revolution, civil war, foreign occupation and anarchy and with a nation 80 percent illiterate, Afghans have been left with only one means to power: the Kalashnikov rifle.
It is cheap, easy to maintain and every 12-year-old Afghan male knows how to use one.
A few weeks ago the remnants of the Taliban and their allies of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network would have been seen as the main challenge to Kabul's interim administration.
In Paktia province, in eastern Afghanistan, local Pashtun warlords have dealt a bloody blow to the new Kabul-appointed governor. He in turn has threatened a counter-offensive.
Scores of tribesmen have been killed.
In the north, Uzbeks and Tajiks -- formally allies in the new government, and led by the deputy defence minister and defence minister respectively -- have fought running skirmishes.
"If things unravel, that's the chance for outsiders to step in with fistfuls of dollars and buy up the dissidents -- it would be a window of opportunity for new Talibans and al Qaedas backed by neighbouring states," the politician said.
The fighting presents the international community, especially the United States, with a dilemma.
Washington declared war on terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and helped topple the Taliban and scatter al Qaeda with a prolonged bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
It has troops based at Kandahar airport, in Central Asia and has the use of Pakistani airspace for its carrier-based aircraft in the Arabian Sea.
Does it stand aside and watch the fragile, multi-ethnic coalition led by Hamid Karzai fall apart, or does it wade in, throwing its forces behind the government and taking an active role in combat?
The multinational peacekeeping force responsible for security in Kabul faced a similar challenge.
"The Americans and their allies must be aware that overt military action on behalf of the Karzai government against fellow Afghans would only discredit the authorities," the politician said.
If Afghans had one thing in common over and above tribal and ethnic divisions, it was the Muslim faith and a visceral hatred of any power perceived to be trying to exert control over them.
The last thing the new Kabul government wants is to underscore any impression among Afghans that it has been brought into office purely on the coat-tails of a superpower's forces.
STRUGGLE BEFORE LOYA JIRGA
Support for Kabul in the present crisis on the part of the Western powers was likely to be low-key, possibly covert, and almost certainly indirect. In other words, there would be plenty of advice, and some equipment, including spares and ammunition.
"I am saddened by what's happening, obviously," said a government official who asked not to be named. "But I am not surprised that this struggle for power should be taking place ahead of the loya jirga (grand council) that will decide the country's future."
Afghanistan has no parliament as yet, no working courts, no national media -- no institutional structures to contain the impulse to power, or the rivalry between communities jostling for a bigger share of resources promised by donor states.
"So far, the fighting is limited, the squabbling localised," the official said. "It could have been a lot worse."
U.S. Accuses Iran, Karzai Strives for Peace
Sun Feb 3, 4:13 PM ET
By Peter Millership and Sayed Salahuddin
WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Iran on Sunday of helping Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to flee Afghanistan, while peacemakers reported progress in ending a bloody dispute between tribal factions over control of an eastern Afghan province.
Rumsfeld was speaking less than a week after President Bush in his State of the Union speech accused Iran, Iraq and North Korea of being an "axis of evil" in his war on terrorism, bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov accused his Western allies of double standards for failing to condemn Moscow's Chechen enemies as "terrorists" with the same vigor as they pursue Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in which some 3,100 people were killed.
The whereabouts of bin Laden and his ally Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar remained a mystery.
"We don't know where Mullah Omar is and we don't know where Osama bin Laden is, but we know they are hiding and they are on the run," Secretary of State Colin Powell said as U.S. forces hunted them. "When you're hiding and on the run, you're not doing a very good job of being in charge of anything."
Senior Bush aides urged the immediate release of American reporter Daniel Pearl on Sunday and rejected demands that access be given to Pakistani prisoners, held with captives from the Afghan campaign at a U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In the biggest security operation for a U.S. sports event, troops and Secret Service agents took up positions at the New Orleans Superdome where the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots were to clash in a Super Bowl football championship.
While the air in and around the stadium was being monitored to detect any traces of chemical or biological agents, the teams will go about business as best they can with their eyes fixed firmly on the National Football League's grand prize.
In recent weeks Bush has switched his focus from finding bin Laden to preventing countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea from acquiring nuclear, chemical or germ weapons.
Iraqi newspapers condemned "the dwarf Bush" as savage and aggressive and Iranian parliamentarians in a rare show of unity, lashed out at Bush for his "axis of evil" comments and accused him of being under the influence of Israel.
Asked on the ABC "This Week" program if he could confirm a Time magazine report that Tehran helped Islamic militants to escape across the border, Rumsfeld replied: "I can."
"We have any number of reports that Iran has been permissive and allowed transit through their country of al Qaeda," he said. "There isn't any doubt in my mind but that the porous border between Iran and Afghanistan has been used for Al Qaeda and Taliban to move into Iran and find refuge, and that the Iranians have not done what the Pakistan government has done, (which is to) put troops along the border and prevent terrorists from escaping out of Afghanistan."
Citing sources in the Afghan city of Herat, Time said that shortly before it fell to opposition forces in November, some 250 senior Taliban and al Qaeda fighters fled in a convoy of 50 off-road vehicles, crossing into Iran.
They made their escape after a high-ranking Iranian official, connected to supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini, had been dispatched to Afghanistan to offer secret sanctuary to Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives, the magazine reported.
Rumsfeld said: "We have any number of reports more recently that they have been supplying arms in Afghanistan to various elements in the country."
U.S. officials said Iran initially cooperated when Washington launched its war on terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks. But recently Tehran had tried to exercise influence in Afghanistan that would undermine a new, internationally backed broad-based Afghan government, they said.
BLOODY CLASHES, PEACEMAKERS REPORT PROGRESS
In Afghanistan, a government team said they had made progress with tribal factions battling over control of Gardez.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, one of the peacemakers, said he was optimistic there would be no more fighting between forces loyal to the government-appointed governor, Haji Padshah Khan Zadran, and powerful Pashtun tribal rival, Haji Saifullah. Saifullah's forces do not accept Zadran as governor.
Zadran and his forces were driven out of Gardez, some 75miles south of Kabul, after two days of clashes last week in which dozens of fighters were killed.
Afghanistan's interim ruler Hamid Karzai sent the team to settle the conflict, which underlines the difficulties he faces in trying to restore peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Fighting broke out on Wednesday when Zadran's men tried to disarm supporters of Saifullah.
The battle with artillery, mortars and machine guns erupted when Karzai was visiting the United States and Britain to ask for international security forces to be deployed outside the capital Kabul to improve security and disarm fighters.
There were also clashes in the north on Sunday between fighters of ethnic Uzbek warlord general Abdul Rashid Dostum and an ethnic Tajik commander, Ustad Atta Mohammad, in a battle for territory, according to reports from the area. Political sources said 40 fighters from both sides were killed.
Clashes in Gardez and in the north are seen as a setback for Karzai's attempts to stamp the authority of his six-month interim government across a patchwork of warlords' fiefdoms.
Karzai is expected to travel soon to the city of Herat for talks with its governor, Ismael Khan, an Iranian-backed warlord who holds large areas of western provinces. Unconfirmed reports suggest Karzai wants to talk about concerns that neighboring Iran is helping Khan destabilize the new administration.
CONCERN FOR REPORTER
On Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said: "He ought to be released and he ought to released now, unconditionally."
Washington had no intention of acceding to reported demands from kidnappers wanting to contact Pakistani prisoners in Cuba, or other such requests, including for their release, Powell added.
Rumsfeld said meeting demands would "create an incentive for people to take hostages ... and the inevitable result of it is that it will become a major business to go out around the world and kidnap Americans and hold them for a ransom."
The officials spoke as Pakistani investigators failed to find any sign of Pearl on Sunday and a string of messages, including one saying the reporter had been killed, were dismissed as hoaxes.
Pearl disappeared in Karachi on Jan. 23 while trying to contact Islamic groups believed to be linked to bin Laden.
As Bush's war on terrorism widened, Philippine troops, backed by bombers, killed 16 Muslim guerrillas linked to the al Qaeda network in three days of fighting on the southern island of Jolo, the Philippine military said on Sunday.
An unknown number of Abu Sayyaf rebels were wounded in clashes which began on Friday and went into Sunday, military commander Colonel Roland Detabali said. No government soldiers were injured.
Jolo lies about 60 miles southwest of Basilan island where other Abu Sayyaf units have been holding a U.S. missionary couple hostage for more than eight months.
U.S. Special Forces teams are due to be deployed on Basilan around the second week of February to train local troops in fighting the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.
U.S. Special Forces Leaving Afghan North
Sun Feb 3, 7:46 PM ET
- The Pentagon is cutting back on the number of U.S. special forces in northern Afghanistan, even as simmering tensions in the area are reportedly leading to skirmishes between rival militias and a government-installed governor was driven from office.
The military has given no hard numbers on how many special forces troops had been based in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, but confirmed that there had been a marked reduction in the number there over the last week.
U.S. troops have not been involved in peacekeeping in the country, instead focusing on the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban stragglers and for evidence of the whereabouts of accused terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
About 3,500 prisoners are being held in the prison in Mazar-e-Sharif, and the decision to relocate special forces personnel indicates that most of those detainees may have been questioned and military investigators are now ready to focus their energies in other parts of Afghanistan.
"[The special forces] will be here for a while … but I think we are seeing a gradual return to normalcy," said Col. Kevin Wilkenson, commander of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division, which is based at the airfield on the city's edge.
But normalcy in the region has been strife for more than two decades, and with three rival warlords in the area ignoring the interim government's demand that they turn over their weapons, skirmishes have reportedly been on the rise in the mountain valleys around the city.
"Foreign troops must come to take away the weapons. It's the only way to bring peace," Gul Ahmad, a member of a volunteer security brigade in Karnai, told The Associated Press.
A truce was negotiated this week between forces aligned with the region's most powerful commanders, Gen. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek who also happens to be the interim government's deputy defense minister, and Atta Mohammad, a Tajik, after two of Dostum's loyalists were killed in gunbattles.
There are numerous other lesser players in the region who have armed militias backing them, and one U.N. coordinator told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that "there is a veneer of stability. Underneath are the true tensions and anything is possible."
‘Focusing on Funerals’
The events in Paktia province this week highlighted the problem, after the forces of a local warlord appointed by the interim administration to be governor of Gardez were driven out of the city by troops loyal to the local government council, or shura .
Afghanistan's interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai had named Bacha Khan governor of the province, but local tribal elders refused to accept his appointment, so Khan moved Wednesday to try to take the provincial capital, Gardez, by force.
Reports indicate as many as 50 people were killed in the fighting, as Khan's troops, dug in atop a pair of hilltops south of the city, aimed their mortars and machine guns at the shura forces holed up in a fortress in the town center.
But today Khan's opponents claimed victory.
"Now we are focusing on the funerals and treating the wounded," Safiullah, an official with the shura , told Reuters. "It is quiet now. We control all of Gardez town. [Khan's] people are no longer here."
Paktia is considered a strategic area because it borders Pakistan and contains numerous smuggling routes that the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda could use to escape Afghanistan. There are fears that the fighting could complicate the efforts of U.S. forces pursing these fugitives.
U.S. warplanes circled Gardez throughout the two days of fighting, keeping an eye on the conflict, but they did not drop bombs or become involved in the fighting.
There are about 30 U.S. troops stationed in an old fort just outside the city, but they also stayed out of the battle.
U.S. investigators missed a chance to gather a wealth of intelligence information on al Qaeda and the Taliban when they failed to quickly secure the terrorist network's officices and compounds in Kabul when the city fell, according to a report in Jane's Intelligence Review .
As Taliban and al Qaeda fighters fled Kabul on Nov. 13, residents of the city looted the terror network's headquarters, carrying off anything of value, such as computers, cameras, VCRs and furniture, and carelessly scattering documents, books and notebooks that were subsequently gathered not only by intelligence operatives, but by members of the media as well.
A Wall Street Journal reporter bought one of the computers in a Kabul pawn shop weeks later, and after studying the information on the hard drive, turned it over to the government.
The material that was recovered from the Kabul houses and offices has provided a picture of al Qaeda as an organization that included highly educated individuals, trained in engineering, nuclear physics and computers.
The Jane's report criticized the intelligence effort such potentially valuable material slip away.
"Surprisingly, despite the fact that the fall of Kabul had been predictable for several weeks and the whereabouts of al Qaeda offices in the city were a well known fact to many ordinary Kabulis, there appears to have been no effort made by U.S. or other Western intelligence services to target these premises and secure vital intelligence," the report said.
"Given a degree of forethought and planning, both of which appear to have been notably lacking, this task of rapidly sealing off key al Qaeda locations and securing their contents could have been undertaken by either by Special Operations Group personnel of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency working with [United Front] military; or at very least delegated to UF teams until the later arrival of the Americans," the report went on.
Report: Pentagon Believes Mistakes Made in Raids
In other developments:
Pentagon officials reportedly said today that it appears highly likely that U.S. soldiers who raided two compounds in Afghanistan on Jan. 23 mistakenly captured or killed people loyal to the new Afghan government. An official told The Associated Press that the American special forces troops killed and captured some anti-Taliban forces and "criminals" not necessarily associated with the Taliban or al Qaeda in the raids, in which 15 people were killed and 27 taken. Afghans have put the number killed at 20.
Intelligence uncovered in January indicates that al Qaeda has been trying to open a new base of operations in Lebanon, after losing its Afghan home to U.S. bombing, according to a report in The Times of London. A senior al Qaeda operative known under the alias of Salah Hajir is believed to have arrived in Lebanon about two weeks ago and has held meetings in Beirut with leaders of the Hezbollah terrorist group, the paper reported.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned the nation in separate addresses on Thursday to be on constant alert and that terrorists could be planning attacks much worse than the terror of Sept. 11. Underscoring the dire warnings, reports surfaced that the government last week warned nuclear power plants of a possible terrorist attack. On Jan. 23, the Nuclear Regulatory commission sent an advisory to operators of all 103 commercial nuclear reactors at 63 sites across the country that terrorists were planning an airplane attack on a power reactor.
An interview with Osama bin Laden that was taped in October was aired on CNN, despite protests from the Arab satellite television network al Jazeera, which taped it. Al Jazeera had declined to air it after deeming it not newsworthy, and accused CNN of obtaining the video and broadcasting it illegally. CNN said it obtained the tape legally, and its relationship with al Jazeera permitted it to air the tape.
ABCNEWS' Pierre Thomas, John McWethy at the Pentagon and Bob Woodruff in Pakistan contributed to this report.
Afghan Mediators Upbeat Over End to Clashes in East
Sun Feb 3,12:01 PM ET
GARDEZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan government peacemakers said Sunday they had made progress in trying to end a bloody dispute between tribal factions over control of an eastern province.
Government team member Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai said he was optimistic there would be no more fighting between forces loyal to the government-appointed governor, Haji Padshah Khan Zadran, and powerful Pashtun tribal rival, Haji Saifullah.
Saifullah's forces do not accept Zadran as governor.
Zadran and his forces were driven out of Gardez, some 75 miles south of Kabul, after two days of clashes late last week in which dozens of fighters were killed.
"We are optimistic. The result of the discussions which we had with them is positive and they both have said that they don't want to fight," Ahmadzai told Reuters after several hours of discussions with both sides. He gave no further details.
The delegation, which arrived in Gardez Sunday, was expected to continue peace efforts for another day.
Afghanistan's interim ruler Hamid Karzai sent the delegation to settle the conflict, which underlines the difficulties he faces in trying to restore peace and stability in a country riven by tribal and ethnic disputes and power struggles since 1979 when the country was invaded by the Soviet Union.
After meeting the peace delegation, Haji Saifullah told Reuters television Karzai's choice of governor was unacceptable to the people.
"We told them that we do not accept Padshah Khan Zadran as the governor of Gardez," he said.
Fighting broke out Wednesday when Zadran's men tried to disarm supporters of Saifullah, who claims to have been chosen by the tribal leaders as the governor of Gardez.
The battle with artillery, mortars and machineguns erupted when Karzai was visiting the United States and Britain to ask for international security forces to be deployed outside the capital Kabul to improve security and disarm fighters.
Relations between Zadran and Saifullah, who belong to different clans of the majority Pashtun ethnic group, have been strained for some time.
Saifullah accused Zadran of calling for U.S. air strikes on a convoy of the area's tribal members who were on their way to Kabul to take part in Karzai's inauguration in December.
More than 60 people were killed in the raid which Washington said was targeted at followers of the former Taliban regime and the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, accused by the United States of masterminding the suicide attacks on U.S. landmarks.
CLASHES IN NORTH
There were also clashes in the north Sunday between fighters of ethnic Uzbek warlord general Abdul Rashid Dostum and an ethnic Tajik commander, Ustad Atta Mohammad in a battle for power and territory, according to reports from the area. Political sources said 40 fighters from both sides were killed.
But Mohammad played down the significance of the fighting and said he had agreed with Dostum on the formation of a security team headed by another faction to stop the violence.
"The team consists of 600 men and its work is to disarm irresponsible people and those who fight," he said.
The clashes in Gardez and in north are seen as a setback for Karzai's attempts to stamp the authority of his six-month interim government across a patchwork of warlords' fiefdoms.
Karzai is expected to travel soon to city of Herat for talks with its governor, Ismael Khan, an Iranian-backed warlord who holds large areas of western provinces.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Karzai wants to talk about concerns that neighboring Iran is helping Khan destabilize the new administration.
Danger Looms in Collecting a War's Explosive Residue
U.S. Bombings Add to Task of Clearing Mines, Ordnance
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 3, 2002; Page A13
HERAT, Afghanistan, Feb. 2 -- The steel carnage of war lay before Sean Moorhouse, the twisted metal and moonscape craters left by a U.S. bombing run. Littering the scene were explosives of every lethal form -- bombs, grenades, artillery shells, rockets -- that were scattered when the Americans hit a Taliban munitions camp.
"Don't kick anything," he advised.
For Moorhouse, 34, a bomb disposal expert working for the U.N. World Food Program, the work has just begun. As the war in Afghanistan subsides, the job of cleaning up its explosive residue looms huge.
Afghanistan is littered with an estimated 10 million land mines, the product of 23 years of war. And that was before U.S. planes dropped thousands of pounds of explosives in four months of bombardment after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
The explosives included cluster bombs, each of which scatters 202 smaller bombs. When they hit, they are designed to rain incendiary fire and armor-piercing shrapnel over a wide area.
"Our problem is not the ones that worked," said Moorhouse. "It's the ones that didn't." The bombs that failed to explode on impact are now lying in wait, a daily danger to curious children, wandering shepherds and refugees who stumble across them.
Moorhouse said the problem is greater than the Pentagon acknowledges. The Pentagon contends the "failure" rate of cluster bombs -- those that do not explode -- is 5 percent to 7 percent. Moorhouse calculates the failure rate is 14 percent to 19 percent, leaving as many as 38 live "bomblets" on the ground from each dropped cluster bomb.
He also says some bombs missed their targets. Comparing the target coordinates provided by the U.S. military with where the bombs fell shows "the accuracy of the U.S. figures is pretty doubtful," differing by as much as four miles, he said.
Bashir Ahmad, 25, lives in a crowded warren of mud-brick homes about a mile from a military camp on the outskirts of Herat, and almost as close to a second camp. He was on his roof, feeding his pet pigeons and chatting with his father and a neighbor, when a U.S. plane passed overhead. The sky blossomed with mustard-colored canisters floating from tiny parachutes, he said.
Suddenly, his neighborhood was an inferno of shrapnel and fire. Pieces of the cluster bombs ripped through his back, arms, legs and side. As he stumbled from the high-walled homes, he saw the remains of the other two men.
"I know the Americans were aiming at the army camps," said Ahmad, whose home was destroyed and who lost partial use of an arm. "What is the use of being angry?"
When the smoke cleared, the area was littered with dozens of the canisters. Nabi Bullah, 60, was eager to clear the debris. "I didn't know what they were," he said. He picked up a dozen canisters and threw them into the muddy canal that runs through the neighborhood. He now knows he is lucky to be alive.
"They are usually pretty sensitive," Moorhouse said of the cluster bomb canisters, which are designed to send fragments through seven inches of steel. "They can go off if they are in the rubble and you just move a brick, or if you use a radio in the area."
The cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance have set back the painstaking efforts to remove the land mines that have been planted in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion in 1979.
"I used to be able to send my teams" to outlying provinces to remove mines, said Haji Siddiqui, manager of the regional mine action committee, which has more than 200 disposal experts on the job. "Now we are too busy here in Herat. We can't even get to the other areas."
Mine removal started in 1989, but in western Afghanistan, only about one-fourth of the mined areas have been cleared. "At this rate, it will take us 30 to 35 years," said Mulajan, an official of Afghanistan's Mine Control Planning Agency.
The dangers are compounded by people moving around because of the war.
"There are lots of refugees who are starting to come back," said Mohammad Farhad, who is part of a program to educate Afghans about the dangers. "They don't know where the dangerous areas are."
And there are new risks, Moorhouse said. His experts spent 14 days digging out an unexploded 2,000-pound bomb -- one of the larger U.S. weapons -- that was buried near a residential area.
"If it had blown up, a lot of people would have been killed," he said. They defused it and loaded it onto Moorhouse's truck to take it to a remote area for detonation. "Strangely, there weren't many volunteers to ride with me."
Moorhouse used to work as a broker at the New York Stock Exchange, which he said "was not very rewarding to me. It is all about money."
A British national who served as an intelligence officer in Rwanda, he signed up with a relief agency working on mine removal, and has worked in Mozambique and Kosovo for the Swiss Federation for Mine Action. He has been in Afghanistan for two months, under contract with the U.N. program.
Moorhouse is passionate about his job, and has been fascinated with explosives since boyhood. As he walked carefully through the debris of the U.S. airstrike on a Taliban munitions dump, he rattled off the names of the armaments on the ground, a catalogue of contributors to Afghanistan's misery.
"That's an 82-millimeter Russian artillery shell. There's a Pakistani-made mortar. That one's a Chinese copy of a Russian grenade. That's from Serbia. Those rocket-propelled grenades -- very unstable.
"Oh, look," he said, picking his way carefully into a crater. "It's an Iranian copy of an American Claymore mine." He looked it over carefully, disappointed that he could not add it to his collection. "The detonators are still armed," he said.
U.N. agencies are involved in this work because the explosives must be removed before the relief workers can do their jobs. Even pinpoint strikes such as the demolition of a Taliban munitions dump near Herat become a civilian problem, because the bombardment tossed the munitions into surrounding residential areas.
The disposal experts usually disarm mines and larger bombs, but the cluster bombs are too sensitive, so they pack sandbags around them and detonate them. There have been no casualties among the teams working on disposal since the U.S.-led war began, Moorhouse said. But "there's a certain inevitability about casualties," he said. "People get blase. They say, 'I've done this a million times,' and get careless."
But the work carries rewards, said Moorhouse.
"We've found munitions on roofs, in gardens, all over," he said. "I've taken things off of houses, and then sat with the family to have tea while they moved their belongings back in. There's an immediate sense of satisfaction."
Feuds Simmer Beneath a Warlord's Gaze
Afghanistan: Fighters cross the country to plead for their jailed comrades. How disputes like these are settled will be crucial to the future.
By DAVID ZUCCHINO
TIMES STAFF WRITER
February 2 2002
HERAT, Afghanistan -- With their gold and silver turbans glistening in the afternoon sunlight, the men from Kandahar laid down their weapons and sat at the feet of the warlord of Herat. Ismail Khan, the self-proclaimed emir of five western provinces, stared down at them, serene and impassive.
Many of the visitors were former members of the Taliban from the very city where that regime had jailed Khan for three years. Now, in a cool green garden just after noon prayers, they were seeking his favor. They wanted their jailed comrades freed from the warlord's prison.
Khan did not oblige them, but he did grant them a jalsa, a collective meeting for airing grievances. After three hours of arguing and posturing, of veiled threats and somber pleas for reconciliation, it was decided that not even the emir of the west could solve everyone's problems in a single day. Instead, they would form a committee.
The men from Kandahar, along with elders from three other southern provinces, would select three men to resolve their complaints in negotiations with three of Khan's men. The Kandahar men accuse the warlord's gunmen of killing, kidnapping and robbing their sons, fathers and brothers after Khan drove the Taliban from the western provinces in November. At least 600 of their men are being held incommunicado at Herat's central prison, the Kandahar contingent claims.
The Kandaharis and their confederates left mollified, if not satisfied--a sign that postwar Afghanistan has the capacity to resolve disputes, or at least defuse them, by talking instead of shooting. But oaths of revenge muttered by some of the armed visitors as they left made it clear that the rule of the gun is not over.
How lingering feuds from the latest war in Afghanistan are resolved will be crucial to the survival of the interim government. Leaders of the 150-man southern delegation said they had consulted with interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai; his photograph graced the windshields of their dusty SUVs. They also had the blessing of the man who rules their southern provinces--warlord Gul Agha Shirzai, Khan's rival.
During the meeting in Khan's garden this week, there were tense moments. One visitor wagged his finger in the emir's face, a grave insult. Another, an elder, shouted Khan down and shoved a fat file of written complaints into his hands. Yet another lectured him about honor. Several times, the warlord's bodyguards tensed and edged toward his guests. Above his flowing white beard, a smile played on Khan's lips.
That his former enemies would drive across Afghanistan to seek his indulgence put Khan in an expansive mood. He seemed to savor every minute of their uncomfortable presence as supplicants in his kingdom. They are ethnic Pushtuns. He is Tajik. With an alluring smile, he assured them that the difference didn't matter.
Visitors Are Left to Sip Green Tea for an Hour
He invited them into his whitewashed villa on a hill above his military garrison, with its stunning view of Herat's legendary blue mosque. Then he let them wait, restlessly sipping green tea, for an hour while he reviewed his private army. He made sure his guests could see the long green formations, row after row of armed men, and his two dozen tanks and armored vehicles in the hazy distance.
Then he took them to his mosque for noon prayers.
Only later, when the Pushtuns were sated by the great feast of roast chicken and lamb that Khan had set before them, would he upbraid them.
The southerners were still finishing their cold Pepsis, sitting cross-legged on 25 new Iranian carpets Khan had bought at the bazaar that morning, when the emir rose to address them. He was conciliatory. He offered to speak Pashto, not the Dari tongue of the Tajiks. He called them his "brothers of Kandahar." He advised them to stop speaking of Tajiks or Pushtuns, of Kandaharis or Heratis, because now everyone is simply an Afghan.
Khan spoke for nearly 30 minutes, without notes. No one interrupted him. Each Pushtun addressed him as "Your Excellency Emir," the title that Khan's functionaries insist upon from visitors.
Khan reminded his guests that Afghans had erred by allowing Russians, Pakistanis, Arabs and Iranians into the country to meddle or conquer. At the mention of Iran, the elders murmured, because Khan has been accused of accepting money and arms from that country, where he took refuge after escaping from Taliban custody. He assured them that such charges are propaganda and that he fully supports the interim government in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Hanging over the meeting was the question of who had been Talibs. Dozens of the visitors wore thick, wild beards and massive turbans in the Taliban style, yet no one could be found who admitted to having served in the movement. Khan played along, but finally he spit out, "Ninety percent of the people in the Herat jail are your Taliban."
The Pushtuns stirred, and Khan seemed to sense a belligerency among them.
"We are ready for a fight if need be, but it's better to talk," he told them. "I tell you, my brothers, the only way is to sit together and solve our own problems."
Upon hearing this, the Pushtuns erupted in a chorus of "Allahu akbar!" (God is great).
The head of the council of elders in Kandahar, Said Zahir Agha, rose unsteadily on his cane. He asked Khan for a gift: the release of their men.
"If our sons and brothers have murdered, kill them," Agha said. "If they have stolen, punish them. If not, please release them."
Amid the Outbursts, an Ever-Present Smile
Khan did not respond. Agha asked him for a private meeting with his delegation's top four elders. Khan nodded, almost imperceptibly, agreeing to that request.
Next to speak was silver-bearded Haji Abdul Raouf Noorzai, from Kandahar.
"We appreciate what you say," he told Khan. "But we don't want words. We want action."
There were shouts of approval.
"You call yourself emir of these provinces," Noorzai went on, "so try to keep honor among your people."
Khan's smile did not leave his face.
"I try my best," he said evenly.
Suddenly, one of the Pushtuns walked up and squatted before the seated emir. He said that two of Khan's soldiers had killed his two nephews and stolen six cars and 15 motorcycles from his dealership. It was this man who thrust his finger in the warlord's face. Khan motioned for his police commander.
"Is this true?" he asked the officer.
"Yes, it's true, but the violators have been jailed."
"If they are in jail," Khan declared, "then the law will decide."
The Pushtuns cried out: "No! You must kill them! They killed our people!"
Khan raised his hand and the shouting ceased.
"No, you cannot take the law into your own hands," he said.
One of the elders tried to get Khan to read the stack of complaints the Pushtuns had brought--kidnappings, carjackings, rapes, murders, evictions. Khan glanced at them, then withdrew a written complaint of his own from the daybook he carried. Stapled to it was a photo of a teenage boy.
"Those Taliban bastards kidnapped this young boy," Khan said. "I have hundreds more cases like this in my office. You should come see them."
Then he summoned his police commander again. The officer described how the Taliban stole every vehicle from the Herat police force and drove them to Kandahar.
"Maybe you were driving one of them," he said to one of the Pushtuns.
More Pushtuns rose to register grievances, but Khan cut them off.
"Stop!" he said. "I don't have time to hear your problems."
He proposed the six-man commission, three from each side, "to solve all these problems and dispense justice." The Pushtuns agreed, and selection of the panel was set for the next day.
Then Khan stood and issued his decision on the jailed men: Anyone held in his prison and found to have been a Talib would not be released. For all the prisoners, there would be proper trials, he promised.
If a man is convicted of murder, he will be executed, Khan said. If he is convicted of torture, he himself will be tortured.
The Pushtuns fell silent. Khan stared down at them and slowly repeated, "I will not release any Taliban."
He fixed his narrow brown eyes on one of the Pushtuns who had been arguing with him and said, "Even if he's one of yours, I won't release him."
There was nothing more to say. The meeting was over. The Pushtuns loaded their weapons onto their convoy. Some of them vowed to take up arms to free their comrades. Others said no, give the new commission a chance. The southerners sped from Khan's villa in a cloud of white dust, their turbans bouncing against the roofs of their SUVs.
<>Khan's security men hustled him into a silver Toyota Land Cruiser and he too was gone, taken to safety somewhere in the province he rules.
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