- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

The CIA fired a missile from an unmanned Predator in hopes of killing a former Afghan warlord who was plotting to overthrow the new government and was threatening American troops, officials said yesterday.
Former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of a hard-line Islamic group, was targeted Monday near the capital, Kabul, but the missile missed him, defense officials said on the condition of anonymity. The strike is believed to have killed some of Mr. Hekmatyar's followers.
CIA officials declined comment.
An official of the Afghan Defense Ministry, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday that Mr. Hekmatyar was not in the Kabul area.
Mr. Hekmatyar had been making plans to strike the interim Afghan government of Hamid Karzai and perhaps Mr. Karzai himself one Pentagon official said. He also wanted to target U.S. troops, in Afghanistan for seven months to rout out Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda fighters and Taliban figures who supported the terrorist network.
Although he has been a strident critic of the U.S. role in Afghanistan, he was a major recipient of U.S. weapons and support during the war against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s.
The Central Intelligence Agency has played a major role in the Afghan campaign, gathering intelligence and sending in its paramilitary to work with local tribal leaders who mounted their armies against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
In also has operated Predators fitted with Hellfire missiles making it the first war in which the U.S. government has used the unmanned spy plane with weapons on it.
Mr. Hekmatyar has claimed he still has U.S.-made Stinger missiles and controls a loyal militia in his homeland that would be ready to follow him.
His hard-line Hezb-e-Islami party announced in early March that it was ready to cooperate with Afghanistan's U.S.-supported interim leader and sent a delegation to meet with Mr. Karzai in Kabul to iron out differences.
But in April, hundreds of people linked to the group were arrested in Kabul in connection with the reputed overthrow plot. It included plans to set off bombs throughout the capital, officials said at the time.
Documents and other evidence linked Mr. Hekmatyar to the plot, but made no mention of al Qaeda, officials said.
Mr. Hekmatyar was a guerrilla commander in the fight against the 1980s Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan and served as a prime minister in the fractious government that took power after routing of a pro-Soviet Afghan administration in 1992.
Ruthless power struggles between his forces and those of rivals laid waste to whole neighborhoods of the Afghan capital and killed tens of thousands. Mr. Hekmatyar fled to Iran after the Taliban took Kabul in 1996.
Iranian authorities closed Mr. Hekmatyar's offices in the country in February, and ordered him out. The move appeared a gesture toward the United States and Mr. Karzai.
Mr. Hekmatyar called for jihad against the United States in November, left exile in Iran in February and joined some of his armed followers in Afghanistan, said another U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
It's not clear if he has any strong links to al Qaeda or surviving Taliban forces. The official suggested he may be forging an alliance of convenience with them to oust the American-backed Karzai regime.

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