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Archive for Saturday, March 30, 2002

Burst of fire strikes close to German peacekeepers

March 30, 2002

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— For the first time in a month, international peacekeepers came under fire while patrolling in an otherwise peaceful Afghan capital, the peacekeeping force reported Saturday. The gunfire was believed to have come from a compound housing pro-U.S. militiamen.

No one was hurt when the burst of automatic fire struck the ground and a wall just 30 meters (yards) from an armored patrol of German peacekeepers, said spokesmen for the multinational force.

The incident Friday afternoon occurred near a compound of the northern alliance, a militia composed largely of Tajiks and other northern Afghan minorities that was aligned with the U.S.-led coalition in the war that toppled the Taliban government last fall.

The more than 10 rounds that were fired, in a quiet industrial district of east Kabul, were clearly intended for the dozen-member patrol but were not aimed to hit them, said Lt. Col. Ludwig Gedicke, a spokesman for the German peacekeeping contingent.

Flight Lt. Tony Marshall, a British spokesman for the force, said the shots were believed to have come from the northern alliance compound. Gedicke said, "It may be, but we're not sure."

The soldiers quickly deployed from their three or four small armored vehicles, searched all rooms of the nearby compound, and found only an old man and no militiamen, Gedicke said.

He said Afghan police were investigating.

Such attacks on the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, have been rare since it was established by the U.N. Security Council last Dec. 20. The six-nation, 4,500-member force, led by the British, is responsible for maintaining security in the capital.

In two earlier incidents, in late February, British peacekeeping troops came under fire briefly from gunmen in western Kabul. No peacekeepers were injured; the gunmen were not apprehended.

The northern alliance captured this capital city last November in a prelude to the final fall of the Taliban government. The original deployment plan for ISAF envisioned relocating northern alliance forces outside Kabul, but the militia ignored that and kept thousands of its fighters in east Kabul. Its leaders have been reluctant to release their hold on the capital.

Marshall, the ISAF spokesman, was asked whether Friday's episode raised new concerns about having a large armed Afghan faction inside the capital.

"I don't think we are overly concerned," he said. "By and large it has been extremely quiet. The northern alliance have been extremely disciplined with their weapons."

The peacekeepers have been more concerned about potential attacks from remnants of the defeated Taliban and their allies of the al-Qaida terrorist network. Most recently, last Monday, Marshall said a plot had been uncovered, involving suspected Taliban and al-Qaida members, to blow up a half-dozen car bombs near ISAF patrols. He said no arrests had been made, however.

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