U.S. envoy warns of `spectacular' attacks by Taliban

Khalilzad also indicates tough line on Pakistan


KABUL, Afghanistan - The Bush administration's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned yesterday that the Taliban movement and its al-Qaida partners in the region may be planning larger or "more spectacular attacks" in Afghanistan as part of a campaign against the reconstruction process.

"There are indications that they are planning even larger attacks, more spectacular attacks," he said at a news conference in the heavily guarded American Embassy in Kabul. He did not give details but suggested that the Taliban might be lashing out after being routed by the U.S.-led coalition force in southern Afghanistan.

"We have seen a surge in activity in recent weeks, but we also see signs that the response has been quite effective," he said. "And I think in desperation they may try, or there are indications that they may try, to do something to get a lot of attention."

Khalilzad, who is awaiting congressional hearings on his appointment as the next ambassador to Afghanistan, is in Kabul for two weeks and is pushing ahead with the administration's new plan to increase assistance and accelerate reconstruction in Afghanistan.

He acknowledged that the resurgent Taliban presents a serious threat to security across the south and east of the country, and not least on the main north-south highway, between Kabul and Kandahar, which is a high-priority project supported by President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Khalilzad indicated a new, tough line against Pakistan, saying that the first priority was for Afghanistan's neighbor to stop cross-border activity and stop providing sanctuary to Taliban and al-Qaida members.

"That is really critical," he said. "Pakistan cannot become a sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida people who want to attack Afghanistan."

He added: "There has to be a decrease, and at best an end, to cross-border attacks by Taliban and al-Qaida people from Pakistan. I welcome the recent actions by the Pakistani government but we would like to see more, in fact a lot more."

The Taliban have exploited a power vacuum in many southern districts, where the central government, because of a lack of money and personnel, has failed to make its presence felt, he said.

A significant part of the extra $1.2 billion that the Bush administration has requested for Afghanistan for this year will go toward increasing the central government's presence in the provinces and its ability to provide security, he said.

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