- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Gunmen fired AK-47 assault rifles at international peacekeepers patrolling the Afghan capital, provoking a firefight with the security force, peacekeepers said yesterday.
No one was injured in the exchange late Friday in western Kabul between about 30 gunmen and a British contingent of the force, said force spokesman Lt. Col. Neal Peckham.
The gunmen fired 10 rounds at two checkpoints of the 18-nation, 4,500-strong International Security Assistance Force, which has been responsible for security in Kabul after the ouster of the Taliban regime last year.
"We responded robustly," Col. Peckham told reporters.
Peacekeepers said 30 armed men fled after the gunfight but seven with assault rifles were later arrested. Of those arrested, five were wearing police uniforms, one was in combat fatigues and one was in civilian dress. All were handed over to the Afghan Interior Ministry that day.
Col. Peckham said he did not know if the police uniforms meant the gunmen were policemen or if they were in disguise. He said their motives for firing on peacekeepers were not clear.
However, he said it is possible they were a band of criminals seeking to "carry out some sort of lawless activity." It's also possible they were working for the interim administration and that the clash was caused by communications failures within Afghanistan's fledgling government, he added.
In the southern city of Kandahar late Friday night, unidentified assailants fired a rocket at the office of Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha but missed their target, a local police official said. The rocket exploded on the grounds of a nearby mosque, but there were no injuries.
A group of U.S. Special Forces members are staying in the governor's compound. A team of U.S. Army reservists involved in humanitarian projects also is working out of the complex.
Afghan police said they detained several suspects for questioning.
Attacks on international peacekeepers and the interim government have been occurring frequently. In the last week, two Chinese-made rockets were fired at a peacekeepers' compound, and the defense minister was targeted in a bombing in southern Afghanistan that killed five persons and injured more than 50.
Factional fighting erupted Friday in the hills just west of Kabul the latest in a series of Afghan power struggles ahead of a planned national council that will choose a new government.
North of the capital, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram air base said yesterday that U.S. and Afghan forces had found several caches of explosives including weapons, mines and rockets the previous day. Capt. Steve O'Connor would not say where the munitions were found but said they were turned over to local Afghan officials.
Also Friday, explosives experts destroyed 600 or more 107 mm rockets and more than 30 missiles at a storage facility outside Kandahar, Capt. O'Connor added.
On Thursday, U.S. forces reported seizing several other ammunition caches and capturing many al Qaeda suspects but did not provide details.
Meanwhile, residents in northern Afghanistan used shovels, picks and bare hands yesterday to search for survivors in the rubble of an earthquake on Friday that officials said left at least 50 persons dead and 200 injured.
Gen. Haidar, the senior military commander of Baglan province, appealed for aid, especially bulldozers and other heavy equipment, to help dig bodies from the rubble and to search for survivors.
He said much of the area some 100 miles northeast of Kabul had been destroyed. The magnitude-5.8 earthquake on Friday morning followed a more intense tremor on March 25 that killed up to 1,000 people.
He said the quake destroyed several villages and brought down part of a mountain near Khost Freng, blocking a valley road in the Hindu Kush mountains.
Aid workers confirmed at least 30 dead and said the worst destruction was in Doabi, a village of about 3,000 people.

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