- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Tens of thousands of citizens streamed yesterday from Afghan cities — Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Herat —in anticipation of a massive U.S. attack in retaliation for the harboring of the man suspected in the attacks on the United States last week.
Even some Taliban officials were reported to be fleeing Kabul amid fears that the city was about to come under a thunderous assault.
Some 25,000 Taliban militiamen, armed with Scud missiles, reportedly gathered near the Khyber Pass, the historical graveyard of British and Russian military adventures in the region, to fend off the anticipated attacks, although U.S. intelligence officials said they had no evidence of any such deployment.
And Afghanistan's leaders said they had called a council of senior Islamic religious leaders to Kabul to discuss the fate of Osama bin Laden, the man identified by the United States as the prime suspect in last week's attacks.
"The decision and edict of the clerics is important and compulsory, and the government will implement it fully," said Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutamaen, as reported in the Afghan Islamic Press.
He gave no indication that Afghanistan was ready to surrender the suspected terrorist leader from Saudi Arabia.
"I think they will find some way of pleasing us minimally without compromising the sovereignty of Afghanistan," said Stephen Cohen, Central Asian Scholar at the Brookings Institute. "They may offer to give him up and then say they cannot find him."
News reports from the region said bin Laden, his wives and children and top commanders had scattered from Kandahar, which is the center of the Taliban movement and home to Afghanistan's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Mullah Omar, whose daughter is one of bin Laden's wives, called the clerics' meeting to prepare for the defense of Afghanistan against a U.S.-led international coalition being assembled to destroy the Islamic terror network based in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, a small team of Pakistani officials held talks in Kandahar with Mullah Omar, the one-eyed cleric who leads the Taliban, to deliver an American demand for the surrender of bin Laden.
While the Taliban called the meetings "positive," they were inconclusive, and the delegation stayed in Afghanistan an extra day to continue discussions, according to the Pakistani government.
The Taliban yesterday directed all international airlines to stop using its airspace, warning it would act against anyone defying the order.
"For security reasons and because of America's probable assault, we have informed them all that Afghanistan's airspace is no longer safe," said Taliban Aviation Minister Akhatar Mohammad Mansoor.
Pakistan state television reported that 20,000 Afghan refugees had already crossed into Pakistan. While the crossing is officially closed, the rugged mountainous terrain makes it easy to slip across the porous 870-mile border.
The exodus was heading out of Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad toward Pakistan, and from Herat westward into Iran, which is already home to some 2 million Afghan refugees. Those unable to leave are trying to stock up on already scarce food supplies.
In response to international demands that the Taliban hand over bin Laden, Afghanistan has said that bin Laden is a "guest" and under Islam rules of hospitality, it cannot ask a guest to leave, or turn him over to enemies.
Afghanistan further says it is a poor country, emerging from two decades of civil war, without the capacity to create an international plot to train pilots and bring down the World Trade Center towers.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell dismissed those denials yesterday, saying that in the investigation into who was responsible for last week's attack: "All roads lead to [bin Laden] and his location is in Afghanistan."
cThis story is based in part on wire service reports.


LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide