- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan Retreating Taliban forces flooded into the dusty town south of Kandahar over the weekend, frightening residents who fear this sleepy market town will soon come in for the attention of American bombers.
"The U.S. hasn't bombed Spin Boldak yet, but the large presence of the Taliban here makes us a target," said Abdul Karim, an auto dealer who fears for his showroom of shiny new Toyota Corollas, pickups and Land Cruisers.
Within the past three days, an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Taliban fighters have flooded into Spin Boldak in the face of an offensive along the road to Kandahar by opposition troops belonging to former provincial Gov. Gul Agha. Among them are many fanatical Arab disciples of terror kingpin Osama bin Laden.
The rag-tag Taliban troops instantly doubled the population of this collection of one-story mud and brick buildings where a bazaar offers everything from laptop computers to gasoline smuggled from Iran.
Before the war, Pakistanis would flock to Spin Boldak to buy goods and bribe Pakistani border guards to let them bring home their wares duty-free.
More recently, residents say, it is Arab supporters of the Taliban who are bribing the Pakistani border guards to let them cross in groups of a half-dozen or so, escaping the dragnet set up by U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan.
What frightens the residents of Spin Boldak is not the Arabs who escape but those who remain and are determined to fight to the death.
Some of them are reportedly pressuring the Taliban leaders, including supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, to fight to the end in Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. Spin Boldak provides their one remaining gateway to the outside world.
The Taliban last week rejected a plan to turn Spin Boldak over to local tribal commanders as it has done in Pashtun tribal regions throughout eastern Afghanistan. Instead it named its notorious interior minister, Mullah Abdul Razak, as military commander for the town.
In recent years, Mullah Razak has earned a reputation as the Taliban's chief torturer. But he is most famous for leading the 1997 conquest of Mazar-e-Sharif in a decisive battle that ended with his troops massacring an estimated 20,000 civilians.
The move to assert control over Spin Boldak came amid negotiations between the Taliban and local tribal commanders in Kandahar region.
In exchange for giving up control of the city, the Taliban is demanding that it be given a voice in the new national government whose formation is being discussed in Bonn. The Taliban also wants safe passage to Pakistan for its Arab fighters, according to a source in the Pakistan border town of Chaman, which faces Spin Boldak.
Neither Pakistan nor the United States is likely to seriously entertain any plan that would send Arab terrorists across the Pakistani border.
Meanwhile black-turbaned Taliban fighters ride through the streets of Spin Boldak on pickup trucks with rocket launchers and machine guns, making their presence obvious to everyone who ventures outside.
But the biggest fear is from U.S. bombing. Men anxiously gaze up at the white vapor plumes from passing fighter jets, relieved when they move harmlessly toward the horizon.
Entering Spin Boldak, one immediately sees an anti-aircraft gun mounted atop the City Hall and another on the roof of the army headquarters. Fighters sit atop other buildings with machine guns trained on the streets in anticipation of a ground attack on the town itself.
Only a U.N. building, with a blue steel gate protecting its outer courtyard, is without guns.
Another merchant, Sultan Mohammed, fumed inside his one-room, open-air shop full of new Chinese and Japanese radios and tape recorders, brought in through the mountains on ancient trade routes traveled by Marco Polo.
"There aren't any customers," he said. The Taliban has outlawed music, meaning Mr. Mohammed's only customers are those who come in better times from Pakistan.
"Please tell the United States that Osama is not here in Spin Boldak, that we are not his supporters and not to bomb us," Mr. Mohammed said.
President Bush began the air war on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

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