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US Planes Bomb Afghan Opposition

20 February 2002

The US is widening the war in Afghanistan, bombing tribal groups opposed to the central government as well as remnants of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

American aircraft have attacked groups engaged in skirmishes with forces loyal to the Hamid Karzai's government, near the southeastern city of Khost. The weekend bombing was believed to be the first time that American air power had been used to defend the Karzai administration against opposition groups.

Until then US forces, in the air and on the ground, had concentrated on searching for and attacking what was left of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

Though no details of the attacks have emerged, they have been confirmed by the US central command and by Pakistani officials close to the border with Afghanistan.

According to the central command statement, "pro-government forces" requested the raids after "enemy troops" fired on them as they tried to pass a roadblock. The statement gave no details of the identity of either force.

Abdul Wali Zadran, brother of Padsha Khan Zadran, a warlord in the region, said the clashes involved two tribal militias, one from the Kochi clan and the other from the Gorboz clan, about 20 miles east of Khost. Both profess loyalty to Mr Karzai.

Faced with fighting between warlords and tribal leaders in northern as well as eastern Afghanistan over the past few weeks, Mr Karzai made it clear he would ask for US help in quashing his opponents.

He is also increasingly concerned about instability in the country outside Kabul, according to western officials. The assassination last week of his aviation minister, Abdul Rahman, at Kabul airport suggests he cannot rely on the loyalty of all the factions which make up his administration.

The Afghan government yesterday appointed two ministers to investigate Mr Rahman's killing. Suspects include senior members of a Northern Alliance faction with close links to the nascent Afghan police force.

Mr Karzai has demanded the extradition from Saudi Arabia of three senior officials in connection with Mr Rahman's killing. They are General Abdullah Jan Tawhidi, the deputy intelligence chief, General Kalandar Beg, a senior official in the defense ministry, and a justice ministry official identified only as Halim.

Mr Karzai said: "I will ask for every measure to bring security to the Afghan people. I will use international forces, Afghan forces, to make life good for these people. There is no way we will let Afghanistan go the way of the past."

What appears to be a new phase in the America bombing campaign comes at time when Mr Karzai is pressing the Europeans to increase the size and extend the deployment of the British-led international security assistance force.

It also coincides with talks between US military officers and the Karzai administration on training an Afghan army. American officials said the US would train about 600 Afghans, who would then train others.

Greek troops arrived in Afghanistan yesterday for the first time since the armies of Alexander the Great 2,300 years ago, their commander, Manolas Christos, said. The 50 troops will join the Isaf force.

Two British paratroopers last night flew to Britain from Kabul to be questioned about their firing on a vehicle carrying a pregnant Afghan woman to hospital, the Ministry of Defense said.

The soldiers, of the second battalion, the Parachute Regiment will be interviewed at their barracks in Colchester by the royal military police. Afghan police are also looking into the incident.

Richard Norton-Taylor
Published in the Guardian © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

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