- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan An Afghan rebel leader yesterday said that his forces have allied with Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives, and that a "holy war" would be stepped up to target international forces and peacekeepers.
"We are together" with the fugitive fighters, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said in a Pashto-language message distributed in Pakistan by his followers.
European intelligence sources say Hekmatyar's operatives have purchased vehicles that may be used for bomb attacks to try to destabilize Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.
Hekmatyar was a key guerrilla commander during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan. In the civil war that paved the way for the Taliban takeover, Hekmatyar's men pounded the capital of Kabul with daily rocket barrages. He lived in exile in Iran during the five years of Taliban rule. He returned after U.S.-led forces ousted the hard-line militia, and Western intelligence agencies suspect he is getting money from Iran.
His following among ethnic Pashtuns is considered to be fairly significant. There is no accurate assessment of his forces, but the U.S. forces say he is a threat and consider him a target.
U.S. Special Forces are combing the rugged mountains of Afghanistan's northeastern Kunar province looking for fugitive al Qaeda fighters and followers of Hekmatyar, who are believed to be there in significant numbers. Special Forces in Kunar have come under regular rocket attacks, many of them believed to be staged by Hekmatyar's men.
"Hezb-e-Islami will fight our jihad (holy war) until foreign troops are gone from Afghanistan and Afghans have set up an Islamic government," Hekmatyar said. Hezb-e-Islami is the name used for his forces.
International forces in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan have come under increasing fire in recent days. A U.S. soldier was killed during a firefight in eastern Paktika province last week.
In Kabul, two U.S. Special Forces soldiers were wounded when a grenade was hurled at their vehicle. Two Afghans died in Kabul when grenades were thrown at a base for international peacekeepers.
In southern Kandahar, one Afghan soldier died and several others were injured Sunday in a remote-controlled bombing. In Kunar province, a U.S. soldier was hurt when rockets were fired at his base.
Afghan and Pakistani sources said two weeks ago that suicide squads were being trained in neighboring Pakistan.
The nephew of Abdul Kabir, once the No. 3 man in the Taliban, said the training camps were in Pakistan's Bajour region, bordering Kunar province, and in the Mansehra area, also in the deeply conservative North West Frontier Province.
While he wouldn't give more details, his disclosure of suicide-training camps came just before the spate of attacks in Afghanistan and the arrests in southern Karachi of men police there said were planning suicide attacks.
Four men, who belonged to the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group, said they were recruited by two men of Middle Eastern origin and given money to buy explosives and weapons in Pakistan's tribal regions, where such material is readily available.
"There will be more attacks, not just in Afghanistan, but here. In the tribal regions there has been a lot of buying of weapons in recent months," Mr. Kabir's nephew said.
In the tribal belt, owners of several arms shops who did not want their names used said large quantities of Kalashnikov rifles and grenades have been bought in recent months by Afghans and Pakistanis.

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