- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Afghanistan's new interim leader, Hamid Karzai, appointed prominent warlord Rashid Dostum as deputy defense minister yesterday, aiming to defuse a potential disruptive force by bringing him into the two-day-old government.
Meanwhile, U.S. B-52 bombers repeatedly hit a munitions bunker north of Kandahar, a military spokesman said yesterday. Cmdr. Dan Keesee of U.S. Central Command said U.S. forces also dropped leaflets over six Afghan cities on Sunday.
"They did multiple strikes," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ken McClellan, a Pentagon spokesman. "Apparently, they hit an ammo dump. So there were a lot of secondaries," or follow-on explosions.
In eastern Afghanistan, tribal commanders said they have investigated most of the caves at Tora Bora, al Qaeda's former base, which was overrun last week by tribal forces backed by U.S. bombing and special forces.
U.S. officials say the caves may contain valuable information as they search for fleeing al Qaeda members, including mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek who controls the largest northern city, Mazar-e-Sharif, with his own private army, had been angry because the key ministries of defense, foreign affairs and the interior all went to an ethnic-Tajik group from the Panjshir Valley.
"I have just signed the letter naming him deputy minister of defense," said Mr. Karzai, who is a member of Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. "It is the first step toward a national army."
Since he took office Saturday, Mr. Karzai has vowed to bring security and development to this war-torn nation, where leaders of armed factions often command more loyalty than a central government does.
Mr. Dostum, 47, was a key partner in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, made up mostly of Afghanistan's ethnic and religious minorities, including Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Shi'ite Muslims. But he also has a long history of bad blood with many Northern Alliance commanders.
His large army of well-trained fighters fought side-by-side with U.S. special forces troops last month in taking Mazar-e-Sharif, the first major Taliban city to fall under the pressure of relentless American air strikes.
A whiskey-drinking former general in the communist Afghan army with a persistent reputation for ruthlessness, Mr. Dostum also fought alongside Soviet troops who occupied Afghanistan throughout the 1980s. He later defected from the government army and joined the Afghan guerrillas.
He will work under Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, who is from the Northern Alliance and said yesterday that international peacekeepers were welcome in Afghanistan for no longer than six months.
Mr. Karzai quickly countered by saying the foreign troops will stay "as long as we need them, six months as a minimum." Their presence in Kabul "is a commitment to peace in Afghanistan, to stability in Afghanistan, and once that is accomplished, they will go," he said.
The first contingent of British Royal Marines is patrolling government buildings. The British-led force is expected to number 3,000 to 5,000, including 1,200 troops pledged by Germany and 1,500 by Britain.
Meanwhile, a top local leader said yesterday that some 350 members of al Qaeda remain in eastern Paktia province, where U.S. planes struck a convoy of trucks on Friday. Amanullah Zardran said that fellow tribesmen who witnessed the convoy attack told him that local officials and Taliban and al Qaeda members were on board.
On the humanitarian front, elements of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and other U.S. forces are upgrading airfields and infrastructure at Mazar-e-Sharif and Bagram so they can be used for large-scale aid distribution in Afghanistan, Col. McClellan said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide