Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Taliban and Qaeda Believed Plotting Within Pakistan

Taliban and Qaeda Believed Plotting Within Pakistan

Author: James Dao
Publication: The New York Times
Date: May 28, 2002

Virtually the entire senior leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been driven out of eastern Afghanistan and are now operating with as many as 1,000 non-Afghan fighters in the anarchic tribal areas of western Pakistan, the commander of American-led forces in Afghanistan said today.

The commander, Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, said in an interview that intelligence reports indicated that the Qaeda and Taliban leaders now in Pakistan were plotting terrorist attacks, including car and suicide bombings, to disrupt the selection of a new national government in Kabul next month.

"We know that they are there and have a capability to do harm to this country," General Hagenbeck said. "Our job is to deny them the freedom of movement and sanctuary."

Though he suggested two months ago that coalition forces might cross the border in pursuit of Qaeda and Taliban fighters, General Hagenbeck said today that he did not expect that to happen, largely because Pakistan had developed its own plans to drive Al Qaeda and the Taliban from their mountain sanctuaries.

But he echoed a concern voiced in Washington that tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir could delay Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas. The Pakistan government said last week that it intended to move some of its troops from the Afghan border to the Kashmir region.

General Hagenbeck also said several recent raids on compounds in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's spiritual base, had been intended to break up groups that had been plotting terrorist attacks against coalition forces and their Afghan allies.

Residents of those villages have asserted that the American forces were mistaken about the presence of terrorist groups, and say innocent people have been killed or taken into custody in the raids.

General Hagenbeck, the commander of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, would not say whether Pakistan had begun pulling back troops from the border. But he expressed confidence that President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan would fulfill a pledge to eliminate the Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in the tribal region, which historically has resisted the rule of Islamabad.

"I have no concern that they are not going to do what they've said they will do," General Hagenbeck said in his office at this former Soviet base, now the headquarters for more than 10,000 allied troops in Afghanistan. "They are interested in ridding western Pakistan of Al Qaeda." He added, "With what is currently going on in India, I don't know what the timing's going to be."

There have been reports from Pakistan that Osama bin Laden, the head of Al Qaeda, has been seen in the tribal areas as recently as last month. But General Hagenbeck said he had no solid information on the whereabouts of Mr. bin Laden or Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader.

In making his remarks today, General Hagenbeck was sending two messages. One is that he believes that the American-led coalition, which includes British, Canadian and other forces, has effectively cleared the rugged mountains southeast of Kabul of all but the smallest groups of Taliban and Qaeda fighters.

A major offensive into the Shah-i-Kot Valley in March killed as many as 700 Taliban and Qaeda fighters, the Pentagon says, though Afghan officials have said the number may have been lower.

But on a second level, General Hagenbeck was expressing the view, widely held in Washington, that it is up to Pakistan to move more aggressively against the Qaeda forces, which are considered particularly fierce and well disciplined.

He estimated that 100 to 1,000 non-Afghan Qaeda fighters were in the tribal areas, including Chechens and Uzbeks, as well as Uighurs from western China.

Northwestern Pakistan, which is heavily populated by Pashtuns, the ethnic group from which the Taliban came, is a semiautonomous region that has long been hostile to attempts by the central government to police, regulate or tax it.

Officials in Washington have said they are deeply concerned that tensions between India and Pakistan may severely disrupt the American campaign to destroy the remnants of Al Qaeda's leadership, which until recently had been thought to be operating on both sides of the porous Afghan border.

"We could be getting a lot more help from the Pakistanis if there were not the tense situation with respect to the two countries," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week. "They have forces along the Indian borders that we could use along the Afghan border."

Before tensions with India increased recently, Pentagon officials said the Pakistan military seemed to be gradually building up its troop presence in the tribal areas. There was also talk of a coordinated operation in which Pakistani forces would push Qaeda and Taliban fighters westward toward waiting American-led forces at the border.

In June, General Hagenbeck will be relieved as commander of ground forces in Afghanistan by one of his superiors, Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C. General Hagenbeck, who has been in Afghanistan for six months, will remain in Bagram for a while to assist in the transition, military officials said.

Though much of the senior Taliban leadership seems to be operating in Pakistan's tribal areas, General Hagenbeck said intelligence reports showed that a few Taliban leaders had returned to Afghanistan to try to establish guerrilla operations. Their goal, he said, would be to undermine a meeting of elders in Kabul next month that is to select a permanent national government.

"They are looking for something that will gain them a lot of publicity," he said. "They are looking to do something violent that would be, in their eyes and internationally, so spectacular that it would convince the local populace who are now sitting on the fence or supporting us that they need to re-embrace the Taliban."

General Hagenbeck said recent raids by special operations forces on compounds in southern Afghanistan were intended to break up groups that were thought to be plotting just such attacks.

But residents in one of those villages, Bandi Temur, said that a raid last Friday caused a 3-year-old girl to plummet to her death down a well while trying to flee and that a tribal elder had died in American custody. More than 50 villagers were taken into custody in that raid.

General Hagenbeck said American forces had shot and killed three men who had fired on them first and that he knew of no other casualties in that raid. He said about half of the detainees had been released, while the rest were still being interrogated. At least two of the prisoners have been found to be Taliban or Qaeda officials, he said.

General Hagenbeck acknowledged that civilians might sometimes be killed. But he asserted that Taliban and Qaeda officials had gone into villages after American raids and exaggerated civilian casualties to sow discontent against the American forces and their allies in Kabul.

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