Sunday, December 9, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Forces climb mountains to hunt Laden, target caves
Mullah Omar ‘disappears’

Kabul/Chaman (Pakistan), December 8
Anti-Taliban and overseas forces were climbing the foothills of eastern Afghan mountains in their search for Osama bin Laden today and hunting Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in the south.

US warplanes kept up air strikes on suspected Bin Laden caves and hide-outs in the Tora Bora region, about 55 km south of the eastern city of Jalalabad, CNN reported.

“You could bomb day and night and it won’t make a big difference,” said eastern alliance Commander Hazrat Ali told the station.

“Soldiers have to go in there.”

The Taliban abandoned southern Kandahar, their birthplace and last bastion, on Friday as the movement that held 90 per cent of Afghanistan only a few weeks ago dissolved under pounding from the US air strikes and assaults by Afghan opponents.

Pashtun tribal chiefs jostled for control of the southern city and residents said they had already carved out fiefdoms.

One chief said Mullah Omar had “disappeared”, another said he was still in Kandahar with 1,000 followers, and the US military said it did not know where he was.

The tribal leaders have formed a council to try to resolve their differences, a tribal spokesman said today.

“There is a shura (council) in the city now to try and figure out how to control the situation,” said Khalid Pashtoon, spokesman for Gul Agha Sherzai, a former Mujahideen governor of Kandahar who reoccupied his old headquarters yesterday.

He said the council included Hamid Karzai, appointed to lead Afghanistan’s interim government from December 22, Gul Agha and Mullah Naqibullah, who accepted the Taliban surrender.

“Mullah Naqibullah is also there but that is the biggest obstacle,” Pashtoon said by satellite telephone. “Right now, we have to convince Mullah Naqibullah to stand aside.”

Victorious Pashtun fighters entered Kandahar yesterday amid reports of lawlessness and gunfights between rival groups.

General Tommy Franks, the overall commander of the US military campaign, said the US troops were attacking Taliban forces from the air and on the ground as they fled Kandahar.

“We have seen the surrender of a great many Taliban forces. We have engaged forces who are leaving Kandahar with their weapons,” Franks said yesterday.

Marine Captain Stewart Upton told reporters at Camp Rhino, a desert airstrip near Kandahar, that since the Taliban surrender of the city, the focus was now on Bin Laden’s Al Qaida network.

Aqil Samad, son of tribal commander Wakil Samad, said Taliban fighters who had clung to the Koti checkpoint in the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak had ceded it to Gul Agha loyalists last night.

Life in the town had returned to normal after Friday’s tension and shops had thrown open their shutters. The town’s main gate still bore the inscription of “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (of Taliban)”, but there were no Taliban to be found.

Mullah Akhtar Jan, the tribal official in charge of Spin Boldak, said the Taliban had either gone to their homes or, possibly, to Pakistan.

Franks said Bin Laden was still being hunted in the caves and tunnels that riddle the region. “Tora Bora is an area of interest to us. That area is by no means completely secure and searched.”

At Kandahar airport, Gul Agha’s spokesman said 250 to 300 of Bin Laden’s mainly Arab fighters were refusing to surrender.

“Every Arab has one hand grenade in their pocket. The moment you get closer to them, they’re going to blow themselves up, and you too,” Pashtoon said.

“So the only way you can surrender them is to shoot them. But we are trying. We’re sending the people to convince them to surrender themselves.”

Pashtoon said Kandahar had enjoyed a night of calm, saying its people had rejoiced at the Taliban’s demise. “All the jubilant citizens were dancing after we arrived,” he said.

Before entering the city, Pashtoon said yesterday that Karzai had upset Gul Agha, a Sherzai, because he had not included other factions in negotiations with the Taliban.

Gul Agha’s main complaint was that the city would be handed over to Mullah Naqibullah, a former Mujahideen and Kandahar military commander. Naqibullah was not part of the Taliban but Pashtoon said he had welcomed former Taliban to his fold.

The UN World Food Programme started its biggest ever food distribution in the capital Kabul on Saturday, handing out sacks of wheat to more than three-quarters of the war-ravaged city’s population.

WASHINGTON: Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar has been captured and is in the custody of a warlord sympathetic to the militia, British media reported on Saturday.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar was captured on the night of Friday and is near Kandahar in the custody of warlord Khalid Pashtoon who is sympathetic to the militia. He is being held in a “friendly environment,” The Times daily reported quoting a spokesman for Gul Agha Sherzai, a Kandahar commander.

Britain’s Channel 4 also said that Mullah Omar was being held in Afghanistan by the Pashtun forces.

“The city’s new rulers told Channel 4 News they are holding the Taliban leader Mullah Omar,” the private television network said.

“He is being held in what is described as a “friendly environment”, it said.

The Pentagon said the news of Omar’s capture was “potentially interesting” but added that it had no independent verification from the US special forces.

“In the absence of that we will tend to see what comes out,” a Pentagon spokesman said.

Gen Tommy Franks, commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, said minutes before reports of Omar’s detention that the Taliban leader had “vanished.” He said he did not know where the reclusive leader was, The Times report said.

Leader of the newly-formed interim government in Afghanistan Hamid Karzai had said the whereabouts of the Taliban chief was not known but that he will be arrested if found.

ISLAMABAD: Mullah Mohammad Omar was “definitely” left Kandahar following the militia’s surrender of its former bastion, a Taliban official in Pakistan said on Saturday.

“I can confirm it to you that he is no longer in Kandahar. He is out of Kandahar,” said the official on condition of anonymity. AgenciesBack


Bin Laden heading for Pak?

Islamabad, December 8
Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden was heading for Pakistani border districts along with several diehard Al-Qaida fighters.

Islamabad has moved more military troops close to its border with Afghanistan in Parachinar, Kurram Agency, following intelligence reports that Bin Laden was heading towards Pakistani border districts along with his several fighters. The Nation said today.

“We are not ruling out the possibility of Bin Laden moving towards Parachinar,” senior official sources disclosed to The Nation.

Pakistan’s Kurram Agency borders Nangarhar province of Afghanistan and Tora Bora is situated quite near the Pakistani border town of Parachinar.

“More than 1,300 Arab fighters, fleeing from Tora Bora caves complex, have been observed moving towards the eastern part of Afghanistan,” the newspaper said quoting sources said.

Following intelligence reports from local and foreign agencies Islamabad yesterday ordered the deployment of more military troops to tribal areas bordering eastern provinces of Afghanistan.

The troops have been moved from Peshawar, Chitral, and Swat bases. Immediately after receiving the information Pakistan increased air and ground surveillance keeping a close watch on the border-belt within approachable distance of Tora Bora.

Intelligence gathering in the area is being conducted through satellites, low-flying helicopters, and local ground sources as well. “Night vision equipment is also being used to monitor the border-belt,” the sources said.

TORA BORA, (AFGHANISTAN): Osama bin Laden is hiding in the mountains of Tora Bora and local fighters expect to hunt him down in a matter of days, an Afghan commander on Saturday.

Commander Hazrat Ali said his men were closing in on the world’s most wanted man and his hardcore fighters holed up in the caves of this rugged snow-capped region in eastern Afghanistan.

“Our Mujahedin are willing to fight. Today or tomorrow we are going to launch a big attack and I think they will surrender to us,” he said referring to Laden and his mostly Arab followers. UNI, AFPBack

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