Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

Coalition forces blow up more ordnance in hunt for al-Qaida, Taliban

Ariana resumes flights to Pakistan

May 12, 2002


— Coalition forces discovered - and blew up - more stashes of rockets, mortars and other weapons Sunday as they scour the desolate mountains of eastern Afghanistan for remnants of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

The weapons cache was discovered about 2.5 miles south of four caves in Paktia province that were jam-packed with tens of thousands of rockets and other ordnance, and which British military engineers obliterated Friday in what they described as one of their largest controlled explosions since World War II.

Lt. Col. Ben Curry, of the British military, said the new find contained about 60 107 mm rockets, 100 82 mm mortar rounds and 12 boxes of 12.7 mm heavy machine gun ammunition.

"This cache was destroyed this morning by the bomb disposal team," he told reporters at Bagram, the main base for the U.S.-led coalition.

A few rocket-propelled grenades and some small-arms ammunition found in a culvert under the main road linking two cities in the province, Khost and Gardez, were also destroyed in a controlled blast, he said.

The 3-week-old British-led mission, known as Operation Snipe, is part of Operation Mountain Lion, the U.S.-led search for Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts in eastern Afghanistan. The mission is backed by Afghan forces, U.S. special operations troops and U.S. air support.

Coalition searches have sometimes been hampered by factional fighting among rival warlords in the area, but the interim government in Kabul, aided by U.S. troops, reportedly was trying to calm one province, Khost.

A former governor, Mohammed Ibrahim, was appointed deputy governor of the province in an effort to resolve his differences with the present governor, Mohammed Hakim Taniwal, according to the Afghan Islamic Press.

Supporters of Ibrahim, who is loyal to warlord Bacha Khan Zardran, had refused to vacate the governor's house and radio station. But Afghan security forces, aided by U.S. troops, took over the radio station Saturday, dismantling some of the equipment to make it unusable, AIP said.

Bacha Khan, a Pashtun tribal leader whose tribe is based in Khost, has been working with U.S. Special Forces since last December. He wanted to be appointed as a governor in the area as well but faced strong local opposition. Lucrative smuggling routes pass through the area into Pakistan.

Also Sunday, Pakistani police said they had arrested more than 400 Afghans in a major crackdown on illegal immigrants, amid suspicions that last week's bombing of a bus full of French naval engineers may have been carried out by radicals linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida network from Afghanistan.

And the Afghan national airline flew its first regular service to Pakistan since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

One of only two serviceable planes owned by Ariana, a Boeing 727, landed at Islamabad airport more than an hour late because of a delayed departure from Kabul.

The 19-member official delegation on board was to meet with Pakistani Commerce Minister Abdul Razzaq Dawood and Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz to discuss trade and aid.

"Afghanistan wants to improve trade relations with Pakistan," said Afghan Trade Minister Mustafa Kazmi at a news conference at Islamabad airport. "We need technical assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan."

Initially, service will be limited to one flight a week.

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