Taliban, al-Qaida leaders driven out, general says

But intelligence indicates plots hatched in Pakistan

May 28, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan - Almost the entire senior leadership of al-Qaida and the Taliban have been driven out of eastern Afghanistan and are operating with up to 1,000 non-Afghan fighters in tribal areas of western Pakistan, the commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan said yesterday.

Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck said intelligence reports indicate that al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in Pakistan are plotting terrorist attacks, including car and suicide bombings, to disrupt the selection of a national government in Kabul next month.

"We know that they are there and have a capability to do harm to this country," Hagenbeck said.

In New Delhi, India's defense minister said today that fighters from al-Qaida and Taliban fighters from Afghanistan are just across the border in Pakistan's Kashmir territory.

"We have information that the number of terrorists who are on the other side of the border ... [are] people who have fled from Afghanistan, al-Qaida men and Talibanis," Defense Minister George Fernandes said in a television interview quoted by The Associated Press.

Fernandes spoke on independent Star News Television, responding to a speech given yesterday by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in which the Pakistani leader said infiltration of militants across the cease-fire line that separates the Indian and Pakistani portions of Kashmir had stopped.

"For Musharraf to say that infiltration is now no more there, first of all it is an admission that it was there and they were responsible for that," Fernandes said. "But what he has said about the present situation is totally wrong."

A senior Indian security official in Kashmir told The Associated Press that intelligence on the presence of al-Qaida forces in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir has been available since the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

There have been reports from Pakistan that Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida, was seen in the tribal areas as recently as last month. But Hagenbeck said he had no reliable information on the whereabouts of bin Laden or Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader.

In making his remarks yesterday, Hagenbeck was sending two messages. One is that he believes that the U.S-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 al-Qaida fighters.

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

But Hagenbeck also was expressing the view, widely held in Washington, that it is up to Pakistan to move more aggressively against al-Qaida forces in Pakistan.

He said 100 to 1,000 non-Afghan al-Qaida fighters were in the tribal areas.

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