Advertisement

Archive for Sunday, December 9, 2001

U.S. hunts down terrorists

December 9, 2001

Advertisement

— Armed with photographs of wanted terrorists, U.S. Marines scoured the roads of southern Afghanistan on Saturday for Taliban and al-Qaida leaders who might have slipped out of Kandahar as the former ruling militia abandoned its last stronghold.

Kandahar was reported to be tense, with the rival armed groups that replaced the Taliban jockeying for control of key parts of the city and occasionally exchanging gunfire. Talks were reportedly under way to set up a civil administration and avoid an explosion of factional fighting.

Tribal officials, speaking by telephone from Pakistan, said more than 200 Arabs loyal to Osama bin Laden were still holding out at the Kandahar airport and refusing to surrender.

Afghanistan's new interim leader called on the Afghan public to join the hunt for bin Laden and supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, whose whereabouts were unknown. And Pakistan sent more troops and helicopters to its border with Afghanistan to prevent Taliban or al-Qaida fighters from entering that country.

"We will make sure we will get rid of terrorism. We want to finish terrorism in Afghanistan and in the world," said Hamid Karzai, the leader of the U.N.-backed interim council that will run the country for six months.

Looking for bin Laden

Meanwhile, American warplanes bombed the remote mountains around the Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex where locals believe bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks, could be hiding. However, the bombing was far less intense than in recent days.

Karzai, who takes office Dec. 22, said he was asking village elders to tell their people to help find bin Laden and Omar. He pledged to deliver the two leaders to international justice.

"We don't know where Osama is. We are looking for him," Karzai told The Associated Press. "I am asking villagers around Kandahar to look around the clock and stop him or any Arab they may see."

The Marines were looking as well, patrolling key roads around Kandahar carrying photographs of "key terrorists," spokesman Capt. Stewart Upton said at their base southwest of the city. Upton said they were generally leaving alone Taliban fighters who have blended back into the civilian population.

U.S. sailors and Marines in the Arabian Sea have searched some 200 vessels in the last two weeks for fleeing pro-Taliban fighters, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Lapan.

Pakistan's chief spokesman, Gen. Rashid Quereshi, said the country had sent extra troops and helicopters to border posts to cut off possible escape routes. He denied speculation that bin Laden and Omar could have slipped into Pakistan.

Other developments:

l John Walker, an American captured along with Taliban fighters, is being held by Marines in Afghanistan and will be handed over to U.S. civilian authorities as soon as possible, though it has not been decided how his case will be handled, the Pentagon said.

However, at the base in southern Afghanistan where Walker is being held, Upton, the Marine spokesman, would only say, "Walker is a battlefield detainee. He is being held pending disposition instructions from higher headquarters."

l Pakistani police seized a border area, moving a mile past the frontier crossing at Chaman, south of Kandahar. Pakistan says the area belongs to it but that it withdrew during the wars of the 1980s to create a buffer zone.

l The family of Ayman al-Zawahri, the top aide to bin Laden, published a death notice in Egypt's top newspaper Al-Ahram saying his wife and children were killed in Afghanistan. They were reportedly killed in a U.S. airstrike.

l Secretary of State Colin Powell and Uzbek President Islam Karimov said the "Friendship Bridge," a route across the Uzbek-Afghan border vital for speeding humanitarian aid into Afghanistan, would reopen within days.

l In Kandahar, rival factions some under former governor Gul Agha and others under Kandahar powerbroker Mullah Naqibullah took control of parts of the city, waiting for a tribal council to sort out a new administration. "Everything is ready for a commission of tribesmen," Karzai said.

Agha, whose men took over the city hall and governor's residence, has refused to recognize the authority of his rival, Naqibullah.

A Kandahar resident, Abdul Mateen, said armed men were roaming the streets and that many residents stayed indoors, fearing an outbreak of fighting. The currency exchange market and virtually all shops were closed Saturday, although a few food stores and small restaurants remained open, Mateen said.

Pakistani border guards refused to let journalists cross into southern Afghanistan, saying the situation was too volatile.

Andrew Card, President Bush's chief of staff, said Friday that U.S. officials were "pretty sure" Omar was still in Kandahar, which the Taliban agreed to surrender on Friday, then fled before the opposition took control.

Khalid Pashtun, a spokesman for Agha, claimed Omar was under the "protection" of Naqibullah. But Karzai said reports that Omar had been captured were "all lies."

Naqibullah and Karzai jointly negotiated the Taliban surrender of the southern city, but Agha felt he had been cut out of the deal. Agha's tribesmen had been fighting around the Kandahar airport and controlled part of the road to Pakistan.

Agha and Naqibullah have had strained relations for years since Naqibullah refused to side with Agha against the Taliban in the early 1990s.

Heroic funeral

Also Saturday, U.S. Marines buried an Afghan anti-Taliban fighter with a 21-gun salute after he was killed by an errant American bomb.

The Afghan, who was not identified, was one of six anti-Taliban fighters killed on Wednesday when an Air Force B-52 dropped a one-ton satellite-guided bomb that also killed three Army Green Berets soldiers. Twenty Americans and 18 Afghans were wounded.

"This is not a man we knew, or a man we served with, but we are tied together by a common goal freedom," Marines intelligence officer Maj. Beau Higgins said in a eulogy.

Four of the Americans wounded in the accident spoke to reporters at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where they were being treated.

Capt. Jason Amerine of the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group said his team had been on a hilltop directing airstrikes against a Taliban position about two miles away when the bomb hit. "Out of the blue, our position exploded," the 30-year-old Honolulu native said. "I was thrown over the side of the hill."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.