- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan — American troops on Afghanistan’s eastern frontier have seen a tripling of attacks since a truce between the Pakistani army and pro-Taliban tribesmen that was supposed to stop cross-border raids by militants, a U.S. military officer said yesterday.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry rejected the U.S. assertion and said home-based insurgents were behind the violence in Afghanistan, where at least 25 militants were reported killed in fighting yesterday.

Raising further questions about the cease-fire, a Pakistani political leader maintained that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar approved the deal. A government official denied that.

The developments came amid a public feud between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who had dinner last night with President Bush at the White House.

The U.S. officer said the cease-fire that began June 25, cemented by the signing of a peace accord Sept. 5, contributed to the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan. He said ethnic Pashtun insurgents are no longer fighting Pakistani troops and are using Pakistan’s North Waziristan border area as a command-and-control hub for attacks in Afghanistan.

Pakistani tribal elders brokered the truce between Gen. Musharraf’s government and militants, which ended years of unrest in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

But the agreement appears to have bolstered Taliban infiltrators, with the number of attacks in eastern Afghan provinces rising threefold since July 31, said the U.S. officer, who agreed to discuss the situation only if not quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“That’s why they had the chance to rest and refit, because they were in a sanctuary,” he said, referring to a surge in Taliban attacks over the past several months but without giving specific numbers for incidents before or after the truce.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry rejected that view, insisting Afghan insurgents get no help from inside Pakistan.

“We don’t agree with this. These are just excuses,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said. “Whatever is happening, it is deep inside Afghanistan and is not because of Pakistan.”

Pakistan turned over several Taliban fighters to the Afghan government after the accord, Mrs. Aslam said.

The U.S. officer acknowledged that the truce, championed by Gen. Musharraf, is not the only factor behind Taliban attacks in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika, Khost and Paktia provinces.

The Army’s 10th Mountain Division has been pressing its own offensive, Operation Mountain Fury, sparking firefights and bombings that otherwise might not have occurred, the officer said.

Meanwhile, Latif Afridi, a top official in Pakistan’s Awami National Party, said he received a letter containing Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s approval of the North Waziristan peace deal.

He said the letter also claimed that Pakistani militants who back the Taliban in North Waziristan would fall under the command of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a front-line Taliban commander.

It was not immediately possible to verify Mr. Afridi’s contentions. Government spokesman Shah Zaman dismissed them as “baseless.”

Since the U.S.-led offensive that ousted the Taliban in late 2001, many of Afghanistan’s former rulers are thought to have found sanctuary in Pakistan.

Some 30 members of the Taliban’s top leadership, including Mullah Omar and the group’s 10- to 12-member Shura Council, are thought to be in Pakistan, mainly Quetta, Miran Shah and Peshawar, the U.S. officer said.

Gen. Musharraf has said Mullah Omar is not in Pakistan, and that he is more likely to be in his former power base of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

The U.S. officer said the Taliban’s connections with Pakistan run so deep that wounded fighters seek treatment on the Pakistani side of the border and even carry their dead to Pakistan for burial.

Some of the suicide bombers in Afghanistan have been recruited in Pakistan, including a 17-year-old boy who blew himself up in front of a U.S. military convoy in Kabul this month, killing a bystander and wounding three American soldiers, Afghan police say.

The border region is also thought to harbor top al Qaeda fugitives Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, the U.S. officer said, discounting reports that bin Laden may have died from typhoid or that his trail has gone cold.

“No, I don’t think he’s dead. The overall assessment is that they’re still in Pakistan,” the officer said.

In Afghanistan yesterday, insurgents attacked an Afghan police checkpoint in southern Helmand province and “at least 25 insurgents” were killed in the ensuing clash with international troops, the NATO-led force said.

Three Italian soldiers attached to the NATO force and one civilian were wounded yesterday when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in the western Herat province, the Italian Defense Ministry said.

The attack was the latest in a spree of bombings in previously calm western Afghanistan, where NATO and Afghan officials have reported an increase in Taliban activity. Four Italian soldiers were wounded Sept. 8 by a roadside bomb in neighboring Farah province.

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