US Bomb Suspected Bin Laden Hideout, as Karzai Ends Row in Kandahar

Published December 9th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

US forces Sunday stepped up efforts to hunt down Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, as Afghanistan's new leader said he had peacefully ended a stand-off between rival anti-Taliban commanders in Kandahar. 

American B-52 bombers targeted the Tora Bora mountain fortress in eastern Afghanistan where bin Laden is believed to be holed up with hundreds of die-hard supporters of his Al Qaeda terror movement. 

An AFP reporter saw huge plumes of smoke rise from the mountains around Tora Bora as the bombers pulverized the positions of Al Qaeda fighters. 

Local Afghan commander Haji Mohammad Zaman said he was "100 percent certain" the Saudi-born dissident was in the area. 

Zaman said he and other militiamen were preparing to launch a ground attack and were convinced bin Laden, wanted for the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, would be captured within days. 

In Washington, General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Sunday the US military believed bin Laden and his erstwhile protector-in-chief, Mullah Omar, had not managed to slip out of Afghanistan. 

"We think we know in general where he is," Myers told Fox News when asked about bin Laden. "To the best of our knowledge, he has not left the country." 

About Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, Myers said: "We think we know where he is in a relatively large area, and we'll continue to hunt for the Taliban leadership, not just Omar." 

The Pakistani daily The News, in an unconfirmed report, said Omar and a band of diehard fighters blazed their way out of Kandahar on Friday and are hiding nearby. 

Taliban forces on Thursday surrendered Kandahar, the last bastion of their fanatical five-year rule in Afghanistan. But a dispute between victorious rival factions had threatened to return the city and province to pre-Taliban chaos. 

Meanwhile, Hamid Karzai, who was named last week as the country's interim leader, said he had brokered an agreement to end the fighting between Mullah Naqibullah, to whom the Taliban surrendered the city, and Gul Agha, a former governor. 

"It was agreed that Gul Agha will be in charge of security and the administration of Kandahar. He will continue his mandate until the nomination of a real administration in Afghanistan," Karzai told AFP by telephone. 

Karzai, the head of a UN-endorsed interim government due to take control of Afghanistan later this month, said that Naqibullah had "himself suggested", given his own age, that Agha take over control of the former Taliban bastion. 

"He (Naqibullah) will obey him and help him if there is a need," he added. 

The meeting, gathering local elders, commanders and other influential figures in the region, took place at the former residence of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. 

The local leaders' dispute took the shine off what was the new power-sharing administration agreed at Bonn's first victory -- the surrender of the Taliban's last stronghold. 

The lawlessness in Kandahar city earlier Sunday was mirrored in some other parts of the country. 

Forces under Noorzai tribal commander Abdul Rahman Jan took control of Helmand's provincial capital Lashkar Gah after a fierce battle with Barakzai tribal commander Hafeezullah Jan, which left about seven dead, the Afghan Islamic Press reported. 

In the southern border town of Spin Boldak, residents said scores of gunmen were roaming the streets as different tribal factions jostled for control of the frontier checkpoint, customs office and security. 

Residents in the capital Kabul pleaded for the rapid arrival of a proposed international peacekeeping force. 

In the month since the Taliban fled Kabul, the soldiers and police of their victorious Northern Alliance foes have become increasingly bolder with their version of instant justice. 

Once-rare beatings are becoming increasingly commonplace on streets bristling with security forces armed with Kalashnikovs. 

Elsewhere, in the northeastern province of Takhar an accident apparently caused by bad weather brought down a helicopter Saturday and killed 21 people. 

The dead included captured Taliban fighters and the family of a senior Northern Alliance commander, said another alliance commander, Daud Khan. 

Three other anti-Taliban militiamen were killed when their position around Tora Bora was accidentally bombed by a US plane around midnight Saturday. 

In one hopeful sign for millions in desperate need of aid, a goods train rolled across the Friendship Bridge from neighboring Uzbekistan on Sunday, the first time the bridge had opened to traffic for four years. 

It carried 1,000 tons of flour and grain provided jointly by the United Nations and the Uzbek government -- KABUL (AFP) 

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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