Sunday, September 23, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

US warplanes land in Uzbekistan

Tashkent, September 22
US warplanes landed in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan late tonight as Russian President Vladimir Putin, after an extended silence, voiced readiness to cooperate with US plans to strike Afghanistan — but only after they are approved by the UN Security Council.

Uzbek military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said today that the US jets were stationed just outside the Uzbek capital Tashkent and were equipped with surveillance devices, presumably aimed at Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia just to the south.

The sources refused to disclose the number of aircraft or when they had arrived, although Uzbek officials had previously denied that they were willing to cooperate with a US attack in reprisal for the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden.

It has further emerged that heavily armed US attack helicopters are still stationed on a military base some 40 km East of Tashkent, following joint NATO-Uzbek military exercises in the region this month.

The use of former Soviet bases has been debated in Moscow, which has pronounced itself ready to join a world anti-terrorism campaign, but still worries that NATO forces will permanently root themselves in the lucrative Central Asian region should Russia agree to a joint attack.

In a sign that the two sides were starting to bridge their positions, Mr Putin and Mr Bush held a 40-minute telephone consultation on the issue late today Moscow time, although the Kremlin refused to disclose any details of the talks.

The Russian leader — whose generals have previously refused to grant US troops any access to Central Asian countries labeled by Moscow as the “near abroad” — emerged from a near-silence at his Black Sea retreat to voice a mixed message for Washington. AFPBack



Spy plane, copter downed: Taliban

A Northern Alliance soldier keeps watch as he guards a helicopter at Khudja Bahaoudin in Northern Afghanistan on Saturday.
A Northern Alliance soldier keeps watch as he guards a helicopter at Khudja Bahaoudin in Northern Afghanistan on Saturday.  — Reuters photo

Islamabad, September 22
Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban today claimed they had downed an unmanned spy plane and a helicopter in areas where Opposition forces reported sweeping advances.

Despite earlier contradictory statements, the Taliban officials said they had established that their forces had downed a pilotless drone aircraft over Tashkurghan with machinegun fire as well as a helicopter near Dara-i-Suf.

Both areas are in Samangan, around 240 km northwest of Kabul, where anti-Taliban commander General Rashid Dostum reported that his force of minority Uzbek fighters had made advances against the Taliban.

Mystery surrounded the origin of the spy plane, but a spokesman for the Opposition Northern Alliance confirmed the helicopter crash — although blaming it on a mechanical fault.

“The helicopter seems to have gone down because of technical reasons,’’ said alliance spokesman Mohammad Ashraf Nadeem, adding that the fate of those on board was unknown.

The Taliban’s Ambassador in Islamabad, Mullah Abdul Saleem Zaeef, told Reuters the spyplane had been downed while taking pictures over northern Afghanistan.

Washington frequently uses “drones’’ to fly observation and spy missions over Iraq, but the aircraft do not generally have defensive capabilities and made up the majority of planes shot down by Baghdad since the Gulf War.

A Pentagon spokesman in Washington would not comment on the report.

“It made two or three rounds in the area before being shot down. It was probably taking pictures,’’ Ambassador Zaeef said, adding that it was not badly damaged in the crash.

Mohammad Ashraf Nadeem, a spokesman for a different wing of the opposition Northern Alliance, said separately that he had heard dostum had lost a helicopter, but said it had crashed because of mechanical problems.

“The helicopter seems to have gone down because of technical reasons,’’ he said, adding that the fate of those on board was unknown. Reuters


Al-Qaeda’s threat

Abu Dhabi, September 22
The international terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden, has threatened to strike at “vital targets” in those Gulf countries which support the proposed US attack on Afghanistan. In a statement faxed to Qatar’s Al-Jazira TV station Al-Qaeda said these operations would be carried out by “forces of the Arabian peninsula.’’ “We call on all governments, above all, the Government of Saudi Arabia, not to lend a helping hand to the USA or give it any assistance on land, at sea or in the air.’’ UNI



UAE snaps ties with Taliban

Dubai, September 22
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) today cut diplomatic relations with Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement, the official UAE news agency WAM reported.

“The government of the United Arab Emirates has decided to cut diplomatic relations with the government of Taliban in the republic of Afghanistan,” WAM quoted an official source at the UAE Foreign Ministry as saying.

It said it had decided the move after unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Taliban government to hand over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, whom the UAE says is a prime suspect in the deadly attacks on Washington and New York, for a fair trial.

The UAE was only one of three countries that recognised the Taliban. The UAE’s decision to snap ties with the fundamentalist regime came a day after the Taliban announced that it would not surrender Bin Laden to the US without hard evidence. ReutersBack

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