BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan - The remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban's senior leadership are attempting to build ties to a militant Islamic leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with the goal of attacking U.S.-led forces and undermining the interim government in Kabul, senior U.S. and British military officials said yesterday.
Since returning to Afghanistan this year after several years of exile in Iran, Hekmatyar and his predominantly Pashtun party, Hezb-i-Islami, have been considered a threat to the government led by Hamid Karzai and to coalition troops.
But while coalition officials initially thought Hekmatyar was plotting to seize power for himself - as he brutally but unsuccessfully tried to do in the 1990s - they say they have information indicating that he is also building alliances with al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Having been pushed out of eastern Afghanistan into the semiautonomous tribal areas of western Pakistan, al-Qaida and Taliban officials are now thought to be trying to use Hekmatyar and his organization in Afghanistan to begin terrorist attacks to disrupt the selection of a new national government in Kabul next month, coalition officials said.
"He has links to al-Qaida and Taliban," a senior coalition military officer said. "He could be used by them to create a vector for them to return to power."
The CIA attempted to kill Hekmatyar this month with a Hellfire anti-tank missile fired from a Predator drone outside Kabul. He survived the attack, and coalition officials said they do not know whether he is still in Afghanistan or has fled into Pakistan, where he once enjoyed wide support.
Also yesterday, British forces here announced that they had begun a new sweep for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the mountainous borderlands with Pakistan, their fourth major mission in that region in two months. In the previous three, the marines did not exchange fire with enemy forces once.
About 300 British Royal Marines arrived by helicopters and trucks yesterday at a forward base near the town of Khost, a few miles from the border. British military officials said the marines would break up into smaller units that will fan out into that area.