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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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.