Afghan official: Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts still threaten country

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) _ Afghanistan's foreign minister warned Saturday that the country's security still is threatened by holdouts of the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Foreign Minister Abdullah issued his warning after Friday's surrender by the former Taliban foreign minister.

Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil surrendered to authorities Friday in Kandahar, the southern city that was the spiritual heartland of the fundamentalist Islamic militia that once controlled most of Afghanistan.

He served as foreign minister until the Taliban were driven from power last autumn after a U.S.-led bombing campaign and is the highest ranking official of the country's former ruling militia to surrender.

``It is very important that the leadership of the Taliban is in safe hands and is not allowed to undermine the stability of the interim government of Afghanistan,'' Abdullah, who uses one name, told The Associated Press in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

``The pockets of al-Qaida or the Taliban that are left can pose a threat.''

Muttawakil was considered a relative moderate. After his surrender, he was taken to the U.S. base at the Kandahar airport for interrogation.

A U.S. Army spokesman at the base, Maj. A. C. Roper, said he could not comment on the detention.

In Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan's main city, the head of the new government-backed security force warned all militia factions on Saturday to consolidate their fighters in barracks outside the city or risk being disarmed by the force's patrols.

Security force officials say all factions complied with a Friday deadline to ban their fighters from the Mazar-e-Sharif streets. But some militiamen still remained in compounds inside the city.

``The security force is in complete charge of the city,'' its top commander, Mohammad Isa Eftakhouri, said on regional Balkh radio.

The withdrawal of militias from volatile Mazar-e-Sharif was an important step in attempts by the interim national government of Hamid Karzai to spread his authority across a country where local warlords still have substantial power.

Along with factional fighting, such as the two days of battles that killed more than 60 people last week in the eastern town of Gardez, Afghanistan's security also is threatened by remnants of the Taliban and the al-Qaida network. The United States has continued to launch attacks against suspected holdouts.

At a news conference Friday in Islamabad, Pakistan, a reporter challenged Karzai about how long he would tolerate the ``futile'' attempts to find al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Karzai responded sharply.

``The war against terrorism is not over, ma'am,'' he said. ``We will have to go look for them in their hide-outs, in their caves, wherever they are ... The fight against terrorism will go to the very end of it.''

Concern about civilian casualties in the continuing U.S. campaign has grown recently. Three people unconnected to al-Qaida died in rocket strikes in Paktia province this week, said Ghulam Gilani, a son of regional faction leader Bacha Khan, citing reports of local residents.

It was not clear whether these reports referred to a U.S. missile strike on Monday in which a suspected high-ranking al-Qaida figure was rumored to have died.

More than 50 U.S. soldiers were at the site to investigate, according to Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Paktia's main town is Gardez, where the most serious factional fighting since the fall of the Taliban exploded last week. It pitted fighters allied with the Gardez shura, or council, against the forces of Bacha Khan, who wants to take his seat as governor of Paktia.

He was appointed to the post by Karzai's government, but is adamantly opposed by the shura, who say he is bloodthirsty and unscrupulous. A delegation from Gardez went to Kabul, the capital, on Friday for talks aimed at ending the crisis but no indication of a resolution emerged.

Bacha Khan's side was represented by his brother Amanullah Zadran, Afghanistan's minister of border and tribal affairs, said deputy borders minister Mirza Ali.

In other developments:

_The United Nations health agency said Friday it is planning to fly in emergency medical supplies to Afghans cut off by heavy snow in Ghor province in west central Afghanistan.

Valery Abramov, spokesman for the World Health Organization, said it wasn't certain whether medical teams would accompany the supplies, which will include antibiotics and other drugs to treat acute respiratory infections like pneumonia.

_The International Organization for Migration said Friday it planned to close all 19 camps for displaced people around Mazar-e-Sharif because most of the people there are only pretending to be homeless.

Spokeswoman Niurka Pineiro said about 180,000 people have set up tents in the camps, even though they live only a few miles away, in the hope of receiving food.