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Things appear to be going from bad to worse for the US Military campaign against the Taleban and Al-Quaeda network in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON/KABUL, 27 October — Things appear to be going from bad to worse for the US and its campaign to oust from power the Taleban and Al-Quaeda network in Afghanistan, and civilians are again the ones paying the price. US forces yesterday snuck into Kabul Abdul Haq, a key opposition figure, apparently so he could persuade Pashtun tribesmen to join moves to create a broad based alternative Afghan government.

Such small-scale operations are supposed to form the foundation of the US strategy in the ground offensive. This time, it all went horribly wrong when the Taleban captured, tried and executed Haq, and sent at least one US soldier scurrying for his life. A US search-and-rescue operation to bring him out was repelled. At the same time, US airstrikes continued unabated, and continued to be devastatingly inaccurate — destroying civilian homes and yet another Red Cross warehouse.

Haq was an ally of Afghanistan’s exiled king said to have returned from exile to foment rebellion against the Taleban regime. Haq’s brother confirmed that he had been captured and an aide to exiled King Muhammad Zahir Shah said in Rome that it appeared he had been killed.

US jets began a 20th straight night of bombing, and the Red Cross confirmed that US bombs had hit one of its aid depot for the second time in ten days, destroying three of the remaining warehouses in the Afghan capital and wiping out stocks of food and cooking oil intended for widows and the disabled people. The warehouse was ablaze, with trucks upturned and sacks of humanitarian supplies such as wheat and peas scattered among the debris.

The International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Mario Musa said at least two warehouses were directly hit by bombs or missiles, but three were destroyed in the fire. He said there were no reports of casualties. Mulla Muhammad Omar, supreme leader of Afghanistan’s ruling militia, called on the supporters of the militia to hold worldwide rallies within 72 hours. Taleban forces said they seized on a break in US bombing of their front lines north of the capital Kabul to recapture the town of Marmul from Northern Alliance opposition fighters.

Along with fresh reports of widespread civilian casualties in the bombing and controversy over the US use of cluster bombs, yesterday’s errors are a public relations nightmare for the US as it pursues its “war on terrorism”. Taleban information official Abdul Hanan Hemat said that Haq and two others were spreading US propaganda and “trying to encourage people to rebel.”

“Based on a Ulema warrant which calls for the death penalty for anyone spying for the United States, they were shot dead,” the official told AFP. Taleban officials said that Haq had been cornered in the eastern town of Azro, in Logar province, and arrested after a two-day standoff.

“After a while, two helicopters and one American jet came into the area and started firing rockets,” Hemat said, “The helicopters tried to land and rescue them but they failed.” Hemat said Haq had been carrying several satellite phones a large amount of cash, in dollars, and documents containing the names of his supporters.

In the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Abdul Haq’s older brother Haji Din Muhammad confirmed Haq’s capture. A Taleban spokesman told the Afghan Islamic Press that another 50 of Haq’s supporters — including “foreigners” — had also been surrounded. “We have not arrested any foreigners but there is a possibility that there may be some foreigners among the 50 people under siege,” he told AIP.

US special forces and intelligence agents are known to be working with some Afghan opposition leaders. Abdul Haq won fame and respect in the fight against the 1979-89 occupation by the Soviet Union. He is not a member of the main opposition force, the Northern Alliance, which is dominated by Afghanistan’s Uzbek and Tajik minorities. But he is a hero to Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group which supplies the bulk of Taleban forces.

Opposition officials and a foreign intelligence source said he had returned to Logar province to set up a tribal revolt against Taleban rule. “Abdul Haq was very close to us,” said Zalmai Rassoul, private secretary to Zahir Shah in Rome. “He went into the region to contact the tribes and to gather them around the peace plan.”

Of the reported execution he said: “It’s very difficult to confirm, but the convergent information points to that.” A foreign intelligence source in northern Afghanistan told AFP: “If he has been captured, it is a huge setback to this idea of dividing the Taleban.” A Pentagon spokeswoman refused to comment on the reports.

In Kabul, US bombers killed five civilians yesterday. Warplanes dropped up to 10 bombs in night raids on the capital, killing five people and terrifying residents who cowered in their homes, witnesses and a Taleban official said. The Taleban’s intelligence chief warned leaders such as Haq who support Zahir Shah not to enter the country. “We advise the supporters of Zahir Shah not try to enter into Afghanistan and to give up your nefarious motives. Otherwise you will face dangerous consequences,” AIP quoted intelligence chief Qari Ahmadullah as saying.

In Quetta, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, doctors told AFP they were treating between 60 and 70 injured civilians every day as beleaguered Afghans streamed out of their cities to escape the US bombardment. The Taleban claim that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the US strikes, a claim hotly denied by Washington.

The regime attempted to capitalize on disquiet over the US use of cluster bombs in their air campaign after a UN spokeswoman said Thursday that an attack had killed nine civilians and forced villagers out of their homes. “The international human rights organizations should put pressure on the Americans not to use cluster bombs,” Taleban Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told reporters.

“They are contaminating our farm lands and destroying our villages. It is very dangerous for civilians to try and remove these bombs.” At least one of the civilians who died on Monday did so after picking up an unexploded bomblet left by a strike near the western city of Herat, UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said.

Former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar claimed yesterday to be in talks with the Taleban and his one-time enemies in the Northern Alliance on a united front to “defend” Afghanistan from the US campaign.

“We are in negotiations with the Taleban, in Kabul, Kandahar, Baraki, Jalalabad, but also in Peshawar (Pakistan) to create a united front. (Taleban leader) Mullah Omar is being kept up to date on the progress,” said the head of the hard-line Islamist Hezb-e-Islami, who lives in exile in Tehran. “We are also in contact with the Northern Alliance forces, with all those in the interior and exterior of Afghanistan, who are involved in the conflict. The leaders of the Northern Alliance had hoped for the collapse of the Taleban in the first days, even the first hours, of the American attacks,” he said.

“They have now understood that was not easy.” Hekmatyar added that the “object of these discussions was to rally all those who want to defend our country,” but did not explicitly name which opposition leaders he had contacted.

“It is not a question of already distributing ministerial posts (in a post-Taleban government), or of who will control the region,” he said.

Cluster bombs

European Parliament President Nicole Fontaine was among those who criticized the use of cluster bombs. She warned that international support for the US campaign, “is not a blank check and could be weakened if this type of weapon continues to be used.”

UN Mine Action Program Afghanistan technical adviser Peter Le Sueur told reporters the bombs had a notorious history of killing civilians.

“Afghans have never seen these types of weapons before,” he said, “They are a bright yellow color and look quite innocuous so they are very attractive for children... Just picking them up could cause them to detonate.”

The US Defense Department has not confirmed the incident reported by the UN but has acknowledged using cluster bombs in its campaign against the Taleban.

The United States had earlier launched its campaign in a bid to hunt down Osama Bin Laden.

US President George W. Bush yesterday signed into law an anti-terrorism bill that expands police and surveillance powers in response to Sept. 11 attacks. “This legislation is essential not only to pursuing and punishing terrorists but also preventing more atrocities,” Bush said before signing the measure, dubbed the “USA Patriot Act,” in a White House ceremony.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation yesterday released Saudi student Khaled Sami Hasanain without bail after the FBI had picked him up from a Santa Monica college. An official source at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles told Asharq Al-Awsat that the release showed that there was no case against him.

Source: Arab News©



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