Friday, April 9, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | The release of a video showing a U.S. soldier held by Afghan insurgents only inspires further efforts to find the man, the NATO command in Afghanistan said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Afghan police said they arrested five would-be suicide bombers Thursday as they tried to enter Kabul, thwarting a major attack and capturing the largest such team ever in the capital.

On Wednesday, the Taliban posted a video of a man identified as Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured in Afghanistan in June. It shows him pleading to be returned home and saying the war in Afghanistan is not worth the human cost.

“The continuing use of Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl as a means of propaganda is a deplorable act and only fuels our efforts to find him and bring him home,” NATO spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said in a statement.

“The insurgents who hold Bowe are obviously using him as a means to ultimately cause pain to his family and friends,” Adm. Smith said. “It continues to reflect the cruel tactics designed to deceive the Afghan people and the international community of their true intentions.”

Pfc. Bergdahl disappeared June 30 in eastern Afghanistan and is the only known American serviceman in captivity.

The seven-minute video, the third released of Pfc. Bergdahl since his capture, shows him doing a few push-ups to demonstrate that he is in good physical condition. But there was no way to verify when the video was shot.

In the would-be bombers case, police said they suspect the five men were sent by an al Qaeda-linked insurgent group based in Pakistan, and their capture follows widespread rumors that militants were planning attacks in the diplomatic quarter of Kabul.

Heavily armed police stopped the would-be bombers about 7 a.m. at a checkpoint in the southeastern edge of the city as they traveled in an SUV with explosive vests hidden beneath the engine block, according to Abdul Ghafar, deputy commander of the Afghan National Police crisis unit.

Mr. Ghafar said police had been given a description of the vehicle and were able to seal off the area. Police said they believed the would-be bombers were headed for a safe house somewhere in the capital to make final preparations for their suicide assault.

“If this team had made it through, it would have been a disaster,” Mr. Ghafar said. “I would call this a major blow to the terrorists.”

Police said the five men - ranging in age from 20 to 25 - refused to give their names or nationalities. But authorities were convinced they were sent by the Haqqani group, a Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban faction with close ties to al Qaeda.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the Taliban was unaware of the apparent plot, insisting “we have no information on these people.”

The Haqqani group has been blamed for other attacks in Kabul, including the Oct. 28 assault on a guesthouse used by U.N. workers. Eleven people were killed, including five U.N. staffers and the three attackers. It may have played a role in the Dec. 30 suicide attack that killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer at a tightly secured CIA base in Khost province.

The network’s ailing leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a hero of the war against the Soviets in the 1980s. A U.S. missile strike Feb. 18 apparently targeted Mr. Haqqani’s son Sirajuddin, who effectively runs the group. Instead the missile killed another son, Mohammed, and three associates.

The last major attack within Kabul occurred Feb. 26, when suicide bombers struck two small hotels in the center of the city, killing at least 16 people, including six Indians. Afghan authorities blamed the attack on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the same group India blames for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 166 people.

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