Bumps on Afghan road to peace
The first foreign peacekeeping troops arrived in Kabul yesterday, but military factions remain in the capital.
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Another US bombing raid in Paktia province reportedly killed Qari Ahmadullah, the Taliban's chief of intelligence, late last week. The Monitor had interviewed Mr. Ahmadullah from a "guesthouse" near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan on Dec. 27. Ahmadullah is believed to be the highest official in the hard-line Taliban militia to be killed in the US-led campaign.Skip to next paragraph
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Meanwhile, the US and Afghan forces are intensifying their hunt for Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's leader, who is reportedly hiding out in Baghran, a mountainous region north of Kandahar.
The US sent 200 Special Operations troops in search of Mullah Omar Tuesday, while Afghan military leaders have been negotiating for two days with Baghran's loya jirga, or grand council of tribal leaders, for Omar's surrender.
But local tribal leaders and the country's interim defense minister, Mohammed Fahim, have demanded that the US bombing campaign end. Mr. Fahim says Mr. bin Laden has probably fled to Pakistan and that his fighters are too thinly dispersed and on the run to warrant continued bombing.
Fahim's criticism suggests key rifts in the interim government regarding the war on terror.
But Minister of Information and Culture Mahdoum says in an interview with the Monitor that he was sure the bombing in Paktia was an accident. "American targets are terrorist bases, and regardless of some of the mistakes that happen everywhere, their goal is to destroy terrorist bases in Afghanistan," he says. "If they destroy a civilian building, I'm sure it is by mistake."
The ISAF forces are being warmly welcomed by Afghans, who say they cannot see peace working without international help. But just setting up shop for the peacekeepers presents enormous logistical hurdles. The peacekeepers have to fly in their own food, water, generators, fuel, and virtually every other item needed to support their mission. The force is still scouting for empty buildings suitable to house the troops. In the meantime, the troops will be sleep in winterized tents.
"These buildings have been occupied on a gypsy-like basis, with fires in the rooms," says Colonel Barron, gesturing to a windowless, half-burned building that has housed a gamut of soldiers: the Taliban, the mujahideen before them, and Soviet soldiers before them.
"The real concern is power and light and water," says Maj. Gen. Rob Magowan, a planning officer with the Royal Marines.
But perhaps the greatest handicap for the ISAF is its "narrow air bridge." Kabul airport is just beginning to function, with the one commercial airplane that survived the war restarting domestic flights to Herat in western Afghanistan. There is at least one 500-pound bomb embedded on one taxi-way and one deeply embedded in the runway.
Demining continues, however, and an engineering officer says ISAF hopes to have the main runway cleared and open for traffic in 10 days.
Outside the main ISAF base, across the street from the recently reopened US Embassy, the average Kabuli does not know any foreign peacekeepers have arrived.
Yesterday, about 200 Afghan soldiers could be seen doing a modified goose-step into the Interior Ministry. They, and their equipment will have a significantly different look from the 17-nation ISAF, which doesn't include any US soldiers but has 30 US communications officers.