- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

American military forces turned down requests from Afghan opposition leader Abdul Haq for air-strike support against Taliban militia, which then captured and executed him, U.S. government officials said yesterday.

The U.S. Central Command told Mr. Haq, a veteran fighter against the occupying Soviet army during the 1980s, that it could not provide air cover for him inside Afghanistan near Jalalabad because of worries about injuring civilians in any bombing strikes against pursuing Taliban forces, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The command, which is in charge of military operations in Afghanistan, told representatives of Mr. Haq it would intervene to support the anti-Taliban leader only if he was being chased by armored vehicles, the officials said.

The Taliban forces that captured him Thursday in an area between Jalalabad and Kabul traveled by non-armored vehicles, the officials said.

He was reportedly executed yesterday after a short trial in Kabul, according to news reports from the region.

The Pentagon's deputy director of operations, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, told reporters yesterday that he had no information on any U.S. forces knowing about or aiding Mr. Haq.

"I have no reports that the Central Command in any way was aware of this, much less responded to it," Adm. Stufflebeem said.

A spokesman for the Central Command near Tampa, Fla., also said he had no information about the incident.

Adm. Stufflebeem also said he had no information about a news report from Kabul that a U.S. helicopter was in the area when Mr. Haq was captured.

According to other U.S. officials, Mr. Haq entered Afghanistan from Pakistan on Sunday and traveled to Jalalabad.

Lightly armed and traveling with only a few security guards, Mr. Haq had asked through intermediaries in the United States for the American military to conduct air strikes on roads between the town of Isaroq and Jalalabad. The requests were turned down.

Later he fled on horseback and was encircled and later captured near the town of Sorodi, the officials said.

Officials said he was working to create a southern front against the Taliban by rallying local tribesmen against the extremist Taliban regime.

Mr. Haq also was trying to prompt defections among the Taliban militia.

He may have run afoul of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service, which is said to be close to the Taliban and wary of any opposition forces that might create instability along Pakistan's northern border with Afghanistan.

Mr. Haq was a member of the majority Pashtun tribe and officials said it was hoped he would play a role in a future post-Taliban government.

By contrast most of the Northern Alliance anti-Taliban forces are Uzbeks and Taijiks, ethnic minorities in Afghanistan.

One U.S. official said Mr. Haq was not a major opposition figure and that his loss was not a setback.

Another official also questioned the utility of the U.S. government backing Mr. Haq since he recently urged Taliban leaders not to defect and said he would negotiate an end to U.S. bombing raids. "That had a real negative impact on our operations," this official said.

Mr. Haq is the second Afghan opposition leader killed in the past two months.

Last month, suicide bombers posing as a television news crew killed Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood as he prepared for an interview.

Adm. Stufflebeem said he did not know what effect Mr. Haq's death would have on U.S. efforts to oust the Taliban militia from power.

He said U.S. military forces bombed several terrorist training camps and caves during raids on Thursday, and also fired several cruise missiles.

Britain's government, meanwhile, announced yesterday that it is sending 600 special-operations commandos to Afghanistan.

The commandos will target Taliban supplies, military positions and key officials as well as Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

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