- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

Hundreds of Chechen fighters and their families are arriving in Afghanistan, where they have set up an embassy and training camps for terrorism, said the foreign minister of the main faction resisting Taleban control of Afghanistan.

"The latest reports are that hundreds of families came from Chechnya through Pakistan and settled in Afghanistan. It's an ongoing thing," Abdullah Abdullah said during a visit to Washington this week.

"The reality is that from the Middle East to the Caucus to Central Asia, terrorists from all over the world are given sanctuary by the Taleban in areas of Afghanistan under their control."

The diplomat's claim dovetails with reports in the Russian media, which say several hundred Chechen families are encamped near the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Sharif and a military training camp has been set up nearby.

Russia Thursday renewed a threat to bomb the training camps despite warnings from Pakistan and the United States that an attack could destabilize Central Asia.

"The military is prepared in case it is given this assignment by the country's leadership," said Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev.

Mr. Abdullah, who serves with the U.S.-recognized rump government headed by President Burhanuddin Rabbani, warned that bombing the Chechen training camps in Afghanistan would prove futile.

"Thousands more will take their place," he said.

In Russia, which lost 15,000 dead during its 1979-1989 war in Afghanistan, the threats of air strikes brought fears of a return to the mysterious bomb blasts that hit Moscow and other cities before the Russian army crushed the separatist Chechen fighters last winter.

"Air strikes could upset the entire fragile balance in Central Asia and trigger conflict throughout the whole region," said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Moscow-based military analyst.

Yury Gladkevich, an expert with the AVN military news agency, predicted air strikes "would push the Taleban into launching counterattacks in Uzbekistan or in Tajikistan, where Russian soldiers are based."

In Kabul Thursday, the Taleban warned Tajikistan and Uzbekistan against allowing Russian planes to fly over their territory to attack Afghan territory.

"If Russia carries out its threatened strikes against Afghanistan, this attack will take place through the air space of Afghanistan's neighbors," a statement by the Taleban foreign ministry said. "Such countries will be considered enemies by the Afghan people."

Mohammad Eshaq, the permanent representative in Washington of the Afghan resistance, said that in recent years Afghanistan has been used by Pakistan as a training base for groups attacking India in Kashmir. Now the training phenomenon has spread to groups seeking to overthrow governments from Chechnya to western China, he said.

Mr. Eshaq said the Chechens set up an embassy in Kabul three months ago and have been collecting money in mosques in Pakistan.

Mr. Abdullah, who has been meeting with U.S. officials, said there are 5,000 Pakistanis training in Afghanistan for guerrilla war and terrorism in Indian-held Kashmir.

A Pakistani official in Washington denied his government had supported terrorist training in Afghanistan. "It is completely untrue," said the official, who refused to be identified. "It has no basis in fact whatsoever."

Besides the Pakistanis, Mr. Abdullah said, another 5,000 guerrillas come from the Middle East, Chechnya, the Philippines and other areas where Muslim extremists are seeking power.

Many of the fighters get to cut their teeth in warfare with the Taleban, which controls about 85 percent of Afghanistan, against Mr. Abdullah's resistance government, which controls areas northeast of the capital, Kabul.

The resistance is still recognized as the legitimate Afghan government by the United States and the United Nations, which has imposed sanctions on the Taleban for refusing to hand over accused terrorist Osama bin Laden.

"Bin Laden still leads his special brigade called 005 in the Rishkhore training camp south of Kabul," said Mr. Abdullah, who made light of reports that the Saudi was suffering kidney disease and was near death.

"There is no decrease in his activities or restrictions on him. He is well and riding horses he moves around a lot since the American Tomahawks [cruise missiles] hit his camps" in 1998.

He spends time around Jalalabad, Kabul and Kandahar, but also at a resort, Urozgan, north of Kandahar, which is the birthplace of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, Mr. Abdullah said.

The resort is far from any borders, offering some security from any attempt to kidnap him and bring him to trial for the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 258 persons, including 12 Americans.

Mr. Abdullah said the main training bases for the Chechens, Pakistanis and even Uighurs from western China are at Char-asiab and Rishkhore, about eight miles south of Kabul.

"We captured people from Pakistan, some Arabs, people from Burma, Uighurs from China and some Central Asians," he said.

Muslim terrorists from the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf group is holding some two dozen Western tourists and Filipinos hostage, also have been captured fighting against the resistance, according to Western sources.

Mr. Abdullah said the key to ending terrorism based in Afghanistan is Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency. "The ISI is behind all these activities," he said.

Meanwhile, his own movement has been receiving weapons and aid from Russia and Iran through Tajikistan.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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