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July 1, 2002

Grenades Hit Airfield in Afghanistan

Monday, July 01, 2002 4:44 AM EDT

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) -- Two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at an airfield in southern Afghanistan used by U.S. special forces troops, a military spokesman said Monday. No injuries were reported.

Col. Roger King said it was not known who fired the grenades late Sunday, which exploded within the grounds of the airfield near the southern city of Kandahar. He declined to say how close the explosions were to U.S. forces, though he said no equipment was damaged.

U.S. forces did not return fire because they could not determine which direction the grenades came from, King said. Special forces troops were searching for the source of the attack.

``It was enough of a concern that we wanted to go out and find out who was shooting at us,'' King told reporters at Bagram air base near Kabul, the capital, which is the headquarters of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. ``But it's not like somebody penetrated our perimeter.''

He said the rocket-propelled grenades have a range of about 300 yards.

King also said there had been ``sporadic gunfire'' near the base during the weekend. He did not elaborate, and it was not clear if the firing was directed at the base. Many Afghans keep weapons, mostly automatic rifles, in their homes for security reasons.

The base is about 13 miles outside Kandahar, the heartland of the former Taliban regime, about 370 miles southwest of Kabul. About 5,000 U.S., Canadian and other allied troops are stationed in and around the Kandahar air base.

U.S. troops and their allies have repeatedly come under rocket fire in Afghanistan in recent weeks but have suffered no casualties.

Sur Gul, the security chief in the eastern town of Khost, said three rockets were fired in the direction of the Khost airport on Saturday but landed about a mile short.

U.S. and British troops have been searching the area around Khost and other provinces near the Pakistani border for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. Few fighters have been found.

U.S. troops in Khost also came under rocket fire on June 24 and June 25 but suffered no causalities. They dispatched patrols to search for the source of the firing but the patrol's results weren't immediately known.

It is not known if al-Qaida, the Taliban or local warlords have been firing the rockets.

King said U.S. special forces patrols during the weekend found two large weapons caches in caves in southeastern Afghanistan, the latest in a series of weapons stockpiles uncovered by U.S. and British troops in recent weeks.

About a week ago, villagers directed American forces to three large weapons caches near their homes in what a U.S. official said was a sign of civilians' increased desire to rid southeast Afghanistan of hidden arms.

Former Afghan Queen Gets State Funeral

Sun Jun 30,10:24 AM ET

KABUL (Reuters) - Hundreds of tearful Afghan civilians and grim-looking officials braved the summer heat at a hill-top mausoleum in Kabul on Sunday to see the coffin of former queen Homaira laid to rest, her frail husband looking on.

Troops of the International Security Assistance Force for Kabul swept the area for mines before the motorcade swept in from the airport where President Hamid Karzai and former king Mohammad Zahir Shah met the plane bringing Homaira from Rome.

Afghan soldiers stood guard.

Homaira died in Rome last week aged 84.

Her coffin wrapped in the black, green and red Afghan flag arrived on an Italian plane to a modest reception, attended by about 100 royalists and fellow ethnic Pashtuns.

Women fashionably dressed in Western clothes and wearing sun glasses wept as a military band played a dirge. Zahir Shah, 87, showed little emotion, occasionally waving to admirers as he followed the coffin, carried by four soldiers, to a car.

Her body was taken to the war-damaged mausoleum in the center of town where the former king's father is buried.

Karzai and Zahir Shah sat in the heat upstairs as the coffin was carried below to the cooler depths of the tomb.

"She was the mother of the nation," royal spokesman Hamid Sadiq told Reuters, describing Zahir Shah as very sad. "She supported the rights of women and that was her interest -- to give the women of Afghanistan> their rights."

Homaira Shah had lived in Rome since 1973, the year the king was overthrown in a bloodless coup while on holiday. The king came home as a unifying force after 23 years of war, bringing once-feuding ethnic groups together, but he was sidelined in Karzai's new government lineup after he said publicly he would not seek any public office.

Sadiq said Homaira's last wish, after 69 years with her husband, had been to see the city of her birth once again. "Unfortunately that was not to be."

British Forces Hand Afghan Airport Over to Turks

Sun Jun 30, 5:19 AM ET

KABUL (Reuters) - Surrounded by about 50,000 unexploded Soviet mines and watched over from building tops by marksmen in wrap-around sunglasses, the British Royal Air Force on Sunday handed control of Kabul's military airport to Turkey.

The RAF arrived to set up APOD (Air Point of Disembarkation) in January when it was faced with a bombed-out runway and taxiway and no building in usable condition, let alone with water or electricity. Temperatures were well below freezing.

Within three days, the first aircraft was landing to serve the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the peacekeeping force for the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The airfield is still littered with the carcasses of Soviet and Afghan planes and demining teams work non-stop in the grass and dirt next to the runway.

Outgoing APOD commander Group Captain Graham Stacey said thousands of mines and other unexploded weapons had been cleared from inside and outside the airfield, but outside the perimeter fence there were still about 50,000 mines to clear.

"Mines are the real problem," Stacey told a press briefing. "The Soviet system was to put thick mine-fields around the airfield. They're pretty basic and have been here a long time."

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, launching 23 years of war in the poverty-stricken, landlocked country, first against the Soviets, then among warring Afghan factions and then against the Taliban who were ousted last year.

The airport has come under sporadic and haphazard attack. Only on Saturday, a rocket exploded to the northwest of the perimeter fence, according to government officials. No one was hurt. ISAF investigated and found nothing.


Security was tight as assorted military dignitaries gathered in a tent under the baking sun, with marksmen and firetrucks at the ready, for speeches, salutes, exchange of gifts and the handing over of flags. Two helicopters, flying British and Turkish flags, conducted a fly-past.

Britain> handed control of the ISAF to Turkey> on June 20. Turkey> will head the 4,650-strong force for six months.

Stacey praised his team at the airport for its success in helping ISAF, for helping to rehabilitate schools and orphanages and helping the convening of the recent Loya Jirga grand assembly that elected President Hamid Karzai.

"We have been absolutely vital to the ISAF operation," Stacey said. "More important, we have been absolutely key in the rebuilding of Afghanistan>. Perhaps the most important thing, we depart very proud of what we have done and very happy to contribute to Afghanistan>."

Turkish ex-fighter pilot Colonel K. Ondul, taking over from Stacey, thanked the British for a job well done.

"They have set us a tough challenge to follow," he said in a speech. "But I want to assure you that it will be even tougher for our successors."

Perhaps the most poignant speech came from Afghan General Zahir Aghbar, representing Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim.

He thanked the international community for helping to rid the country of the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States>. "We really suffered under the Taliban," he said through an interpreter. "Now we are witnessing that people have a life and a good situation.

"The service ISAF has provided has been really appreciated and will be remembered in the history of Afghanistan> as well as by the people of Afghanistan>." Karzai has called for the extension of to the troublesome north.

Negligence caused deadly arms dump explosions: Afghan official

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan authorities on Sunday ruled out sabotage in a deadly munitions depot explosion in this southern border town, saying negligence caused the chain of blasts that killed and wounded dozens of people.

"The investigation shows it was due to personal negligence and we have no grounds to say the blast was an act of sabotage," Khaled Pashtoon, a spokesman for Kandahar governor Gul Agha, told AFP.

"Two locals from Kandahar have been arrested," he said, without giving the reason for their arrest.

Pashtoon was speaking by satellite telephone from Kandahar, the main southern city some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north-west of Spin Boldak.Officials were still investigating the explosion in the massive arms stockpile that set off the series of blasts through Thursday night into early Friday.

Spin Boldak administrator Fazaludin Agha recanted his statement on Friday that a rocket fired by remnants of the ousted Taliban militia may have been the cause.At the weekend he said a fuse had short-circuited and set off a fire."We believe it was a power short-circuit," he told reporters here Sunday.But an Afghan soldier in the dusty border town rejected the accident theory.

"We think it was a bomb explosion because the first blast went off about an hour after midnight, and it was followed by three successive explosions each ten minutes apart," he said on condition of anonymity.

"Because of the precise timing we think someone planted time-controlled bombs inside the depot."

The blasts demolished the arms depot and a nearby customs warehouse. Homes, government buildings and foreign aid agency offices were also wrecked.

Residents on Sunday told Pakistani aid workers that more than 30 people were killed, including women, children and Afghan soldiers.

"They are still saying more than 30 dead," Mohammad Hanif of Pakistan>'s Edhi Welfare Trust said by phone from Chaman eight kilometers across the border.

Human limbs were found among the ruins and debris of unexploded rockets and grenades that were still strewn across the dusty border town Sunday.

"Today we found two limbs in the rubble," an Afghan soldier said, adding that several of his colleagues were still missing.

"Around seven of our men who were guarding the depot are still missing," the soldier said on condition of anonymity.

Local officials told journalists here Saturday that 10 bodies had been retrieved from the rubble.

Pakistan asks people for word on bin Laden

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan appealed to its people on Sunday for information that could help in the hunt for Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and 17 associates, calling them "mischief-makers" as defined by the Koran.

The appeal was made in an advertisement placed by the Interior Ministry in the mass-circulation Urdu-language daily Jang, offering confidentiality for informants, but no reward. The advertisement was placed days after the first Pakistani military casualties in a clash with suspected militants of bin Laden's al Qaeda network in a remote tribal area of Pakistan near the Afghan border.

Pakistan, which played a key role in supporting U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, has previously denied speculation that bin Laden could have taken shelter in Pakistan after his suspected Afghan hideouts were heavily bombed.

Ten Pakistani soldiers and two suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in a firefight on Tuesday near Wana town in South Waziristan tribal area. Pakistani troops are now hunting the fugitive militants with the help of helicopters. Washington accuses al Qaeda of masterminding the September 11 attacks.

"These people are dangerous religious terrorists," said a headline over the pictures of bin Laden, his senior lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri and 16 other alleged militants. The advertisement quoted verses of the Koran, one of which read "Allah does not like mischief-makers".

This was the first advertisement issued by the Pakistani government seeking bin Laden's arrest. It assured potential informants their identities would kept secret and army officers would take their calls on special telephone lines.

It offered no cash reward, unlike an advertisement placed in several national dailies on Saturday that carried photographs of 10 alleged militants suspected of carrying out recent bombings in the port city of Karachi and offered rewards totalling 20 million rupees ($320,000).

Former Taliban chief describes ignorace of radioactive material


KABUL, Afghanistan — With 10 capsules of "uranium" stuffed into a sock, Taliban officials once drove off in search of buyers or ideas for what to do with the smuggled material, a former Taliban intelligence chief says.

"The Taliban had no experience with such things. They were simple mullahs," said Mohammed Khaksar, himself a mullah, or Muslim cleric.

In an interview, Mullah Khaksar told of former colleagues in the 1996-2001 government selling supposed uranium to one another, and said he advised supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar to stay out of the trade because the goods appeared fake.

Mullah Khaksar, a former deputy interior minister, painted a picture of Afghan ignorance and bumbling in the business of nuclear weapons. Other reports suggest a more serious pursuit:

•In October 2000, a Russian Security Council official told an international conference the Taliban had tried but failed to hire a former Soviet nuclear specialist.

•The U.S. indictment of Osama bin Laden, who was shielded by the Taliban in Afghanistan , said his al Qaeda network had sought the elements of nuclear weapons since 1993.

•Captured al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah told U.S. interrogators the Afghanistan-based terror group was working on a "dirty bomb," a conventional bomb that would scatter radioactive material, U.S. officials said.

Only sketchy evidence has emerged inside Afghanistan : a crude diagram of how a nuclear weapon works, said by U.S. intelligence officials to have been found in an al Qaeda location in Kabul ; and the travels of two Pakistani nuclear scientists to Afghanistan during Taliban rule.

Mullah Khaksar recalled mullahs passing around capsules of something they believed to be uranium, material weighing 4 to 5 pounds that he understood came from ex-Soviet Central Asia .

The former Taliban aide said one government official bought a capsule of the material for the equivalent of $55 in local currency, and then sold it to his own higher headquarters for many times that amount.

"I don't think it was real uranium," Mullah Khaksar said. Even if it was, it would need to have been highly enriched with the uranium-235 isotope — a rare commodity — and weigh several times that amount to be of likely weapons use.

At one point, Taliban officials "put 10 capsules into a sock and drove to Kandahar ," Mullah Omar's base, Mullah Khaksar said. "I think they wanted to sell it. I think Mullah Omar was intent on selling it. One day I told him: 'Don't spend money on this stuff. I don't think it's real.'"

Another circumstance suggests less than intense interest: Cobalt-60 and other radioactive substances, potentially useful for a "dirty bomb," sat at a hospital and a university physics lab in Kabul throughout the Taliban period, without being tampered with. International authorities secured the substances three months ago.

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