- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

AROQ, Afghanistan Six governors in the southern part of Afghanistan say they will require the United States to seek permission before carrying out military operations in their region after a U.S. air strike this month was reported to have killed 48 civilians.

Gov. Gul Agha of Kandahar province said the governors would also establish a 500-member rapid-deployment force to hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives in the southern region and would create a separate 3,000-member force to guard parts of the border with Iran and Pakistan.

Mr. Agha said he would inform President Bush of the requirement for prior approval of combat operations when he visits Washington next week.

He said the governors of the provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan, Helmand, Farah, Zabul and Nimroz would establish a commission to oversee the new armed forces and to sign off on any operational plans submitted by the Americans.

"We have already decided the matter," Mr. Agha said. "In the future, the Americans cannot conduct their operations without the approval of the council. They must also take Afghan forces with them."

U.S. special forces are often accompanied by Afghan fighters while searching for members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the Taliban regime that harbored them. However, the governors want to ensure those fighters are loyal to them and not the Afghan Ministry of Defense or regional warlords who have made deals with the Americans to support the war effort.

At the Tampa, Fla., headquarters of American military commanders in charge of the war, spokesman Maj. Ralph Mills said the United States will continue its close cooperation with Afghanistan's government but drew a line at the idea that Afghans will be allowed to control operations.

"We have coordinated with the Afghan government over and over again, and will continue to do so; this doesn't really change anything," said Maj. Mills, of the U.S. Central Command.

"We will continue to do what we can to coordinate. However, if it's a situation of imminent danger, we are going to continue to do what we believe is right and take action appropriately."

After the air strike that killed civilians attending a wedding celebration July 1, Uruzgan Gov. Jan Mohammed Khan complained that the Americans were using Afghan fighters from outside the area. The air strike occurred in several villages in Uruzgan.

The governors do not want the United States to abandon the campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the commission is designed to improve coordination between U.S. and anti-Taliban Afghan forces, Mr. Agha said.

He said Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was hiding in the Uruzgan mountains and that capturing him was a top priority. However, a series of botched U.S. raids and friendly-fire incidents made it necessary for local officials to exert greater authority, he said.

Mr. Agha said President Hamid Karzai was aware of the plans to build a rapid-deployment force and a border-security command, but he did not indicate Mr. Karzai's reaction.

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