- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Armed with photographs of wanted terrorists, U.S. Marines scoured the roads of southern Afghanistan yesterday for Taliban and al Qaeda leaders who might have slipped out of Kandahar as the former ruling militia abandoned its last stronghold.
Kandahar was reported to be tense, with the rival armed groups that replaced the Taliban jockeying for control of key parts of the city and occasionally exchanging gunfire. Talks were reportedly under way to set up a civil administration and avoid an explosion of factional fighting.
Tribal officials, speaking by telephone from Pakistan, said more than 200 Arabs loyal to Osama bin Laden were still holding out at the Kandahar airport and refusing to surrender.
Afghanistan's new interim leader called on the Afghan public to join the hunt for bin Laden and supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, whose whereabouts were unknown. And Pakistan sent more troops and helicopters to its border with Afghanistan to prevent Taliban or al Qaeda fighters from entering that country.
"We will make sure we will get rid of terrorism. We want to finish terrorism in Afghanistan and in the world," said Hamid Karzai, the leader of the U.N.-backed interim council that will run the country for six months.
Meanwhile, American warplanes bombed the remote mountains around the Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex, where locals believe bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks, could be hiding. However, the bombing was far less intense than in recent days.
Mr. Karzai, who takes office Dec. 22, said he was asking village elders to tell their people to help find bin Laden and Mullah Omar. He pledged to deliver the two leaders to international justice.
"We don't know where Osama is. We are looking for him. I have a map now in front of me, and I am asking to tell their people to help find bin Laden and Mullah Omar. He pledged to deliver the two leaders to international justice.
"We don't know where Osama is. We are looking for him. I have a map now in front of me, and I am askingvillagers around Kandahar to look around the clock and stop him or any Arab they may see," said Mr. Karzai. "I have asked the people now, not just our forces, to arrest any Arabs they find."
The Marines were looking as well, patrolling key roads around Kandahar carrying photographs of "key terrorists," spokesman Capt. Stewart Upton said at their base southwest of the city. Capt. Upton said they were generally leaving alone Taliban fighters who have blended back into the civilian population.
"We are searching for members of the al Qaeda, not regular Taliban soldiers," Capt. Upton said in reference to bin Laden's group of foreign fighters. "We hope the Taliban lays down his arms and goes his merry way."
U.S. sailors and Marines in the Arabian Sea have searched some 200 vessels in the last two weeks for fleeing pro-Taliban fighters, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Lapan.
Yesterday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the United States would track bin Laden and Mullah Omar relentlessly.
Mr. Wolfowitz, in New York for the commissioning of the guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley, said U.S. forces would not hunt down every Taliban fighter, but added, "Clearly Mullah Omar and the top leaders are in a different category, and we'll be going after them wherever they are."
The U.S. strategy toward bin Laden is "to keep hunting him everywhere he might go and to make sure every country understands that they would be making an absolutely fatal mistake to harbor him. We are looking for him in Afghanistan, we are looking for him out of Afghanistan, including at sea," said Mr. Wolfowitz.
Pakistan's chief spokesman, Gen. Rashid Quereshi, said the country had sent extra troops and helicopters to Afghan border posts to cut off possible escape routes.
He denied speculation that bin Laden and Mullah Omar could have slipped into Pakistan.
In Kandahar, rival factions some under former Gov. Gul Agha and others under Kandahar powerbroker Mullah Naqeebullah took control of parts of the city, waiting for a tribal council to sort out a new administration.
"Everything is ready for a commission of tribesmen," said Mr. Karzai.
A Kandahar resident, Abdul Mateen, said armed men were roaming around the streets and that many residents stayed indoors, fearing an outbreak of fighting.
The currency exchange market and virtually all shops were closed yesterday, although a few food stores and small restaurants remained open, said Mr. Mateen.
Mr. Agha, whose men took over the city hall and governor's residence, has refused to recognize the authority of his rival, Mullah Naqeebullah.
Pakistani border guards refused to let journalists cross into southern Afghanistan, saying the situation was too volatile.
Khalid Pashtun, a spokesman for Mr. Agha, claimed Mullah Omar was under the "protection" of Mullah Naqeebullah.
But Mr. Karzai said reports that Mullah Omar had been captured were "all lies."
Mullah Naqeebullah and Mr. Karzai jointly negotiated the Taliban surrender of the southern city, but Mr. Agha felt he had been cut out of the deal. Mr. Agha's tribesmen had been fighting around the Kandahar airport and controlled part of the road to Pakistan.
Mr. Agha and Mullah Naqeebullah have had strained relations for years since Mullah Naqeebullah refused to side with Mr. Agha against the Taliban in the early 1990s.
Also yesterday, U.S. Marines buried an Afghan anti-Taliban fighter with a 21-gun salute after he was killed by an errant American bomb.
The Afghan, who was not identified, was one of six anti-Taliban fighters killed on Wednesday when an Air Force B-52 dropped a 1-ton satellite-guided bomb that also killed three Army Green Berets. Twenty Americans and 18 Afghans were wounded.
"This is not a man we knew, or a man we served with, but we are tied together by a common goal freedom," Marines intelligence officer Maj. Beau Higgins said in a eulogy.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide