Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan

Afghanistan hands over intel.; Pakistan will catch them "if they are here."

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 25, 2006 03:40
4 minute read.
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afghan desert 88. (photo credit: )

 
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President Hamid Karzai has handed intelligence to Pakistan that indicates Mullah Mohammed Omar, supreme leader of the Taliban regime ousted by US-led forces, and key associates are hiding in Pakistan, a senior Afghan official said Friday. The intelligence was shared during a visit by Karzai to Islamabad last week, and comes after a wave of suicide attacks that have fueled Afghan suspicions that militants are operating out of Pakistan. Afghanistan also provided information about the locations of alleged terrorist training camps along the border and in Pakistani cities, said the official, who is familiar with the information shared with Pakistan. He declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. Omar has been at large since the Taliban was ousted by US-led forces in late 2001 for sheltering al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. The US government has offered a US$10 million (€8.4 million) reward for information leading to Omar's capture. Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on terrorism, renounced its support of the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, and denies offering a haven for Taliban leaders or fighters. Earlier this week, Pakistan's interior minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, confirmed that Afghanistan had handed over information about Taliban suspects. On Friday, he declined comment. He said, however, that Pakistan would capture them "if they are here." Militants from Taliban, al-Qaida and other groups are all believed to operate along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Officials on both sides have often claimed that fugitives are likely hiding on the other's soil. "We have passed on the intelligence that we have about Mullah Omar and a number of his close associates to Pakistan," said the Afghan official. "The intelligence is about those members of the Taliban leadership who we believe are in Pakistan." The official said other suspects believed to be in Pakistan included Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's head of operations in southern Afghanistan; and Ahktar Mohammed Usmani, a former commander in Kandahar. The official refused to give details about where in Pakistan they were thought to be hiding. A Pakistani intelligence official said that during his visit, Karzai had mentioned that Omar could also be hiding somewhere in Pakistan as he keeps changing his location along the border. But he said Karzai gave no details on Omar's whereabouts. A senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official said it was easy to make the allegation, but asked, "Do they have any evidence?" The alleged presence of Taliban militants in Pakistan has become a source of tension in its relations with Afghanistan, particularly following 25 suicide attacks in recent months - an apparent shift in tactics by insurgents. Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told The Associated Press that Afghanistan had shared with Pakistan "whatever we considered was credible intelligence. They promised they would look into it." He declined to give details, other than that the information included "the presence of Taliban leaders, the presence of training camps and other security-related issues." He said Pakistan had handed over intelligence reports to Afghanistan and expressed concern about weapons allegedly being smuggled from Afghanistan to militants in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. Abdullah said some weapons may be smuggled from Afghanistan, but denied the Afghan government was behind it. A senior Afghan counterterrorism official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said Afghanistan had given Pakistan information about 150 suspects, including senior and second-tier Taliban commanders. "A lot of Taliban are living in Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi," he said, referring to three major Pakistani cities. He said Afghanistan gave specific information to Pakistan, including some addresses. The counterterrorism official said the suspects included Mullah Dadullah and described him as the top operational commander in the Taliban insurgency. He claimed Dadullah moved between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Dadullah spoke to the AP in a satellite phone interview in December, maintaining that 200 Taliban were willing to be suicide attackers against US forces and their allies. He said he was in Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence agencies helped create the Taliban militia that swept to power in the mid-1990s after years of civil war in Afghanistan. After the September 11 attacks, Pakistan's government stopped supporting the Taliban. But Afghan officials say they suspect elements within Pakistan's intelligence services still help the militants. Pakistan denies that, and says it does all it can to flush militants from its soil with more than 70,000 troops deployed along the Afghan border. It has arrested hundreds of al-Qaida suspects, including masterminds of the September 11 attacks. The senior Afghan official said the arrest of Taliban leaders was less important to Afghanistan than closing terrorist training camps which he claimed were located in Quetta, Peshawar, Karachi and the border region of Waziristan. He said suspects captured in Afghanistan and interrogated have led authorities to believe that militants were indoctrinated and given practical training at the camps in making bombs, handling weapons and launching suicide attacks.

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