- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

SHAH WALI KOT, Afghanistan A remote valley of Taliban loyalists armed and ready to defend their cause was found in the remote mountains of southern Afghanistan by soldiers on a peacekeeping mission last week, officials said.
Haji Abdul Wahab, the governor of the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province, said villagers in the almost inaccessible Almish valley had been abandoned by their leaders and, cut off from the outside world, remained steadfastly behind the fallen regime.
"Some Afghan soldiers went to the area as part of a disarmament program. They came into this remote valley and found these people who did not want to give up their weapons without a fight," Mr. Wahab said.
"It seems they were Taliban whose leaders had long since escaped. They have been cut off from any kind of support, so maybe they don't know what's going on."
Mr. Wahab said the valley was a 12-hour drive from Shah Wali Kot's administrative headquarters, which is 9.3 miles north of the main southern city of Kandahar.
He said the valley fell on the cusp of Shah Wali Kot and two other districts, Miana Shin and Mizan.
"These people are all villagers from the area; they are not from the outside. They are small people armed with a few Kalashnikov rifles. They have been left behind after the leaders have gone," Mr. Wahab said.
The Taliban regime, which made Kandahar its spiritual center in the five years it dominated Afghanistan, was driven from power in December 2001 by a U.S.-led military coalition against the militia and its al Qaeda associates.
Many extremists are believed to have fled over the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but small pockets of resistance continue to strike back against the international military presence.
Mr. Wahab said U.S. troops operating near Kandahar were aware of the fighting but were not involved.
Heavy fighting erupted earlier this month about 50 miles southeast of Kandahar between U.S.-led troops and extremists believed to be supporters of the anti-government Hezb-i-Islami party led by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. At least 18 rebels were killed in bombing by U.S. and Norwegian planes.
Yesterday, a local security chief said unidentified gunmen attacked a security post in southwest Afghanistan, killing five Afghan soldiers and kidnapping two.
The attackers opened fire on the post in Chotu village, Helmand province, late Friday, security chief Daad Mohammed told Reuters news agency. "Our people were praying when they were attacked," he said.
Officials have warned of strengthening resistance from former Taliban fighters in recent weeks, particularly across the south of the country.
A spokesman at the U.S. military headquarters at Bagram, just north of Kabul, said unidentified Afghan fighters fired four mortar rounds just north of the base early yesterday, although they appeared to be aimed away from the site. No damage or casualties were reported.

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