US pursues al-Qaeda, donors scramble to ease Afghan cash crisis
Wednesday January 16, 1:09 AM AFP
US forces broke off bombing raids to scour mountain valleys for signs of Osama bin Laden's supporters, as foreign donors scrambled to save Afghanistan's fledgling regime from bankruptcy.
There were no fresh reports of US air raids early Tuesday after heavy bombers had smashed a bunker complex in the eastern hills, but both al-Qaeda chief bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar remained at large.
The Central Intelligence Agency denied a media report that claimed the agency had concluded bin Laden had fled to Pakistan then escaped by sea.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to leave Washington for a tour of South Asia -- en route to an donor countries' conference in Tokyo next week for Afghanistan -- during which he is expected to reassure Kabul on international support and offer significant financial aid.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, some 700 US troops poured into the troubled Mindanao region for an operation described as a training exercise with local Filipino forces, but which could lead to clashes with Muslim rebels.
The Abu Sayyaf rebel force has links with al-Qaeda, and Filipino officials have admitted the US forces could end up in confrontation with them.
A second group of prisoners from Afghanistan arrived at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, bringing the number of detainees at the Camp X-Ray detention facility to 50, after a first group of 20 were shipped there last week.
A crackdown on Muslim extremists was winding down in Pakistan, which said it would seek the help of the United States in easing tensions with India.
Pentagon officials said US forces had destroyed Zhawar Kili, a former bin Laden base, using heavy bombers to close cave entrances, raze buildings and prevent the return of al-Qaeda fighters.
Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff deputy director of operations, said US forces would now move to other parts of a region honeycombed with caves and tunnels that could hide al-Qaeda men or materiel.
ABC News said CIA analysts tracking bin Laden concluded he had escaped from Afghanistan around the first week of December before heading to Pakistan, from where he left by ship for an unknown destination, but the CIA denied this.
"It's completely untrue," a spokeswoman said. "That is not what the CIA believes."
Powell, who will visit Islamabad, Kabul and and New Delhi before attending a January 21-22 donors conference for Afghan reconstruction in Tokyo, said he would bring a message of support to Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai.
Representatives of the Afghanistan Assistance Group (ASG), comprising 16 donor countries, huddled in Kabul with the UN and interim cabinet members in a bid to resolve the cash crisis.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said around 10 million dollars were needed immediately to pay civil servants for "something like one month," describing his administration's needs as "enormous and urgent."
"The government has inherited a wholly destroyed country and it has to function," he said.
Asked to describe the financial crisis in Afghanistan, UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said: "Well, the fact is they
Wednesday January 16, 6:55 AM AFP
"American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, captured after a prison riot in northern Afghanistan, faces federal charges of conspiracy to kill US nationals overseas that could send him to prison for the rest of his life, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.
In a complaint filed in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, "the United States is charging Walker with... conspiracy to kill nationals of the United States overseas, namely US nationals engaged in the conflict in Afghanistan," Ashcroft said.
The 20-year-old, also known as Suleyman al-Faris or Abdul Hamid, is also charged with "providing material support and resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda; and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban," Ashcroft said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president was "pleased that the process put in place by the National Security Council to review this unique case and the collaborative efforts between the departments of Defense and Justice worked well.
"The president is confident that justice will be done."
When asked why Walker was not charged with a capital crime, the attorney general said "the crimes for which we believe the evidence now provides a basis for making those charges."
Ashcroft said the Justice Department had not ruled out filing additional charges against Walker, who has not yet hired a lawyer, but noted that proving the charge of treason, which carries a death sentence, requires a "high evidentiary burden."
Walker will not be tried in a military tribunal established by US President George W. Bush because, "it's for dealing with non-citizens of the United States," Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft said the federal complaint is based on uncoerced, "voluntary" statements Walker made both in writing and verbally while in US military custody aboard the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship anchored in the Arabian Sea.
He has been considered a prisoner of war and has been detained in adherence with the Geneva Convention.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said details concerning Walker's transfer to US Federal Bureau of Investigation custody were still being worked out.
Walker, a convert to Islam at age 16, told US investigators that in May he joined a paramilitary training camp run by Harakat ul-Mujahedin, a militant group fighting to expel India from Kashmir, and was given the option of fighting with them or joining the Taliban's drive in Afghanistan.
After presenting himself to the Taliban, who deemed his Arabic language skills insufficient to wage their war, he approached the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, which told him he needed more military training to join them, the complaint said.
After seven weeks of weapons, explosives and battlefield combat training at the al-Qaeda camp visited by bin Laden on three to five occasions, Walker chose to go to the front lines of the Afghan battle.
"Our complaint, based on Walker's own words, is clear: terrorists did not compel John Walker to join them. John Walker Lindh chose terrorists," Ashcroft said.
Walker, who took the name of his mother after his California-based parents divorced, told US officials that bin Laden, who on one of his visits to the al-Qaeda training camp had personally "thanked him for taking part in jihad," had ordered the September 11 attacks, Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft said the charges against Walker were filed neither "casually (nor) capriciously," noting that, based on the inescapable fact of the terrorist attacks on US targets on September 11, "we cannot overlook attacks on America when they come from United States citizens."
"We may never know why he turned his back on our country and our values, but we cannot ignore that he did. Youth is not absolution for treachery, and personal self-discovery is not an excuse to take up arms against your country."
Tuesday January 15, 9:23 PM AFP
US forces pursued heavy bombing raids in eastern Afghanistan to destroy remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while Washington reassured the near-bankrupt Kabul of international support.
As Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar remained impossible to find, the Central Intelligence Agency denied a media report that the al-Qaeda chief had fled Pakistan by sea.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to leave Washington for a tour of South Asia -- en route to an Afghanistan donor countries' conference in Tokyo next week -- during which he is expected to offer the interim Kabul administration significant financial assistance.
A second group of prisoners from Afghanistan arrived Monday at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, bringing the number of detainees at so-called Camp X-Ray to 50, after a first group of 20 arrived there last week.
A crackdown on Muslim extremists apeared to winding down in neighboring Pakistan, which said it would seek the help of the United States in easing tensions with India.
Pentagon officials said US warplanes pursued their destruction of a labyrinth of caves in eastern Afghanistan, using heavy bombers to close cave entrances, raze buildings and prevent the return of al-Qaeda fighters to their former Zhawar Kili base.
"There have been reports of individuals in that area," said Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff deputy director of operations. "We don't know what they were doing, (but) when taken together with other intelligence sources, it's still obviously a hot area."
US special forces searching the complex found 60 above-ground structures and about 50 caves and training areas, as well as tanks, artillery and stockpiles of other weapons and munitions, he said.
He said strikes on Zhawar were winding down, but US forces would move to other valleys in the region, also honeycombed with caves and tunnels that could hide al-Qaeda men or materiel.
ABC News said CIA analysts tracking bin Laden concluded he had escaped from his hideout in Tora Bora around the first week of December, before heading to Pakistan from where he left by ship for an unknown destination, but this was denied by the CIA.
"It's completely untrue," spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said. "That is not what the CIA believes."
Powell, who will visit Kabul -- as well as Islamabad and New Delhi -- before attending a January 21-22 donors' conference for Afghan reconstruction in Tokyo, said he would personally bring a message of support to the Afghan interim government headed by Hamid Karzai.
"That's the purpose of my trip: to reassure him that the international community will stand alongside him and behind him," Powell said. "We didn't just ask him to take this job on alone. A lot of people are waiting to help, a lot of resources are going to be available."
The Japanese government is considering offering the lion's share of up to 500 million dollars at the meeting to help rehabilitate Afghanistan, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper said Tuesday.
A start-up fund set up for the interim government after the inter-Afghan conference in Bonn last month had called for donations of 20 million dollars.
In Kabul, a spokesman for UN special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi warned Monday that the country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, with assets of less than 10 million dollars
Tuesday January 15, 8:23 PM
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan plans to develop a robot to detect landmines and send it to Afghanistan next year, Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday.
Between five million and ten million landmines litter the war-torn nation, with explosions killing or maiming about ten people every day, the United Nations estimates.
Kyodo, quoting the Science and Technology Agency, said that seven specialists will try to develop a robot that will be capable of detecting mines even if some of its functions are destroyed in explosions.
The robot could have six legs, or be snake-like, it added.
Representatives of governments, international and aid agencies who met in Tokyo last month to discuss ways to rebuild Afghanistan said it would cost upwards of $500 million to clear the devices and could take as long as seven to ten years.
Most of the mines were placed by Soviet forces during their decade-long occupation of Afghanistan, which ended in 1989.
The plan will be announced next week when Japan, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the European Union will co-chair a major donors' meeting on Afghan reconstruction, Kyodo said, but gave no further details.
Tuesday January 15, 5:53 PM
TOKYO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Japan's Ministry of Finance said on Tuesday it was removing the Central Bank of Afghanistan from a list of financial institutions whose assets were frozen in the wake of September 11 attacks.
On September 22, the ministry announced that payments or fund transfers to accounts in Afghanistan and to Taliban-related individuals living outside Afghanistan needed its permission.
But two institutions and two people, all with links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, were added to the list, the ministry said on Tuesday. A total 284 individuals and institutions are now on the list of frozen asse
Tuesday January 15, 5:25 PM AFP
A second group of 30 captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters arrived in Cuba as US bombers continued pounding a former militant base ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Colin Powell to Afghanistan.
Powell's visit is intended to support reconstruction of the nation shattered by two decades of war, but the interim government and aid organizations said their work was being frustrated by a lack of funds.
The first group of 20 prisoners from Afghanistan arrived at the base Friday in shackles and chains and with two guards for each prisoner -- the same safety precautions accorded the second group on their arrival Monday.
Britain's Foreign Office said three British nationals were among the al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners now held at the Guantanamo base.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has still made no decision on the legal process that awaits the prisoners, said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.
"All the details on what we're going to do with the various detainees are still being worked out."
Meanwhile, US warplanes attacked caves around the eastern Afghan town of Zhawar early Monday, the Afghan Islamic Press reported, quoting residents in the neighboring Pakistani town of Miran Shah.
But the United States has so far failed in the key objective of capturing September 11 terror suspect Osama bin Laden and his protectors from the ousted Taliban regime, including militia leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
US ground troops scouring the area around Zhawar have found heavy weapons and ammunition in a network of bunkers, caves and buildings much larger than had been apparent from earlier aerial reconnaissance.
As US forces continued their hunt for remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, US President George W. Bush worked to strengthen the international anti-terror coalition forged in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Bush discussed Washington's war against terrorism by telephone with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the White House said.
Bush called the two leaders from the Air Force One presidential airplane as it sped from Washington to the US state of Illinois, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
In his conversation with the crown prince, Bush also discussed "working together to achieve peace in the Middle East," Fleischer said.
The conversation with Assad comes amid tension between the two countries over the Arab-Israeli conflict and the definition of terrorism.
In Beirut, US Representative Richard Gephardt revealed that Lebanon's government had been asked to hand over to the United States Hezbollah members who have carried out anti-US terrorist attacks and warned the demand was "serious."
Officials in Pakistan said they had sealed 473 offices of extremist religious groups and rounded up around 1400 suspects.
But in an indication the terrorist threat was still high, the US Embassy in Yemen suspended consular services after receiving "terrorist threats" that a senior US official said were related to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
Moreover, conflicting reports surfaced on the whereabouts of bin Laden, adding more confusion to the issue.
ABC News reported that Central Intelligence Agency analysts had concluded bin Laden had eluded US troops searching for him in Afghanistan and had fled from Pakistan by sea.
According to the network, CIA analysts tracking bin Laden have concluded he escaped from his hideout in Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan around the first week of December, leaving behind a tape-recorded message to fool US pursuers.
But the CIA immediately denied the report.
"It's completely untrue. That is not what the CIA believes," CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said.
Powell's visit to Afghanistan later this week is part of a tour which will also take him to nuclear rivals India and Pakistan to try to help defuse border tensions reignited by last month's deadly attack on India's parliament.
Powell said he would meet Afghanistan's new interim leadership before going on to a January 21-22 conference of Afghan donor countries in Japan.
An acute lack of funds is hampering the ability of the interim government and non-governmental organizations working in the war-shattered country to provide basic needs.
The United Nations on Monday warned that the government had just 10 million dollars in the bank and public servants had not been paid for six months.
"This administration needs several million dollars tomorrow, otherwise there will be no country when the billions are available," said Ahmed Fawzi, spokesman for special UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, referring to a planned international reconstruction package.
"This country has suffered from two decades of war and people are starving. Some of them are living in caves."
The new acting governor of the central bank, who assumed office Sunday, said the Taliban took all the cash they could lay their hands on before fleeing Kabul November 12.
Some aid groups have also said their funds have dried up while donors await the Tokyo conference, leading to the interruption of a number of humanitarian programs.
At least 15 billion dollars will be needed to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan in the first 10 years, say international officials finalizing requirements ahead of the donors' meeting in Tokyo January 21 and 22.
The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper said Tuesday Japan was considering offering up to 500 million dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan over the next two-and-a-half years.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (news - web sites) (Reuters) - U.S. forces have seized a cache of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades near their base at Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan, a U.S. military official said Tuesday.
The weapons were discovered in buildings and tunnels about 300 yards (meters) from the perimeter of the air base after a group of seven men were spotted in the area Monday evening, U.S. Captain Daniel Greenwood told a news briefing.
U.S. forces went out to search the area after the men were seen and found the weapons. The men had disappeared, the official said.
Captured al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are being flown to detention at a U.S. military base in Cuba from the Kandahar air base.
Last Thursday unidentified gunmen launched a night attack on U.S. Marines at the airport just as the first planeload of prisoners was taking off for Cuba.
No U.S. troops were hurt in the probing fire by some eight to 14 gunmen armed with AK-47 assault rifles and using flares to illuminate U.S. Marine Corps positions.
The second planeload of prisoners flew out of Kandahar on Sunday without incident.
Tuesday January 15 5:22 AM ET
By David Fox
KABUL (Reuters) - Relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks on the United States were due in Afghanistan (news - web sites) on Tuesday to meet Afghans who lost family members in the U.S. bombing campaign on a mission organizers hope will help heal wounds between the two countries.
``For me this trip is about respect and love for all human beings by all human beings -- regardless of where they come from,'' said Derrill Bodley, a music professor from Stockton, California, whose daughter Deora died aboard United Airlines Flight 93.
``By embracing our common humanity and sharing our sorrow, perhaps we will be able to avoid other loss in the future,'' he said in a statement released ahead of the visit.
The trip has been organized by Global Exchange, an international human rights organization that aims to build people-to-people ties at grassroots levels.
Four Americans will visit Afghanistan for three days on this exchange.
Apart from Bodley, they include Rita Lasar, a 70-year-old retiree from New York who lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz in the World Trade Centre attack; Kelly Campbell, an environmental coordinator from Oakland California whose brother Craig Amundson was killed in the Pentagon (news - web sites) attack; and Eva Rupp, Deora Bodley's step sister.
While in Kabul, the group will visit several Afghan families whose lives were also shattered by the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Although a full accounting of civilian deaths from the U.S. bombings may never be known, human rights organizations estimate that between 2,000 and 4,000 Afghans may have been killed, Global Exchange said.
``Don't we, as citizens of a wealthy nation that unleashed deadly force against Afghanistan have a moral responsibility to help Afghanistan's innocent victims?'' said Medea Benjamin, a founding director of Global Exchange.
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