AFGHAN rebel forces loyal to radical commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have captured a Scud missile site from militia forces. Videotape taken by an Afghan emigre shows the site, three miles south of Jalalabad in eastern Nangarhar Province, containing about eight missiles and 15 warheads.
The emigre, Aziz Safi, who now lives in the United States and who gained access to the site through old family contacts in Jalalabad, says the site is guarded by rebel troops from the Hezb-e-Islami (Khales) faction, a splinter group of Mr. Hekmatyar's party.
Commanders the Hezb (Khales) faction in control of Jalalabad earlier pledged their loyalty to Hekmatyar in his fight against the militia that once supported the Soviet-backed Kabul government.
"If the militia [forces] don't get out of the city, we will go to Kabul to fight against them," says Comdr. Mohammad Sidiq of the Mahaz-e-Islami faction in Jalalabad. Other commanders, including Mohammad Farooq Moosa of Hezb-e-Islami (Khales), say they would use their 15,000 troops in Jalalabad to back Hekmatyar too.
The eyewitness took a video of the site which clearly shows mujahideen troops in charge of the missiles. The mujahideen also captured the Scud technicians, enabling them to use the computerized Soviet missile technology. The film shows the interior of one of the launch control vehicles, which appears to be undamaged and fully functional.
Sources close to Hekmatyar's party, Hezb-e-Islami, confirmed that it controls several missile bases inside Afghanistan, whose weapons include Soviet-built Scuds, and the smaller Uragan and Lunar missiles.
From the present site, the missiles could hit Peshawar, Pakistan, but the video also shows a mobile missile launcher at the site. With a mobile launcher, Hekmatyar's forces could move the missiles throughout Afghanistan, increasing their range to include the militia forces in Kabul, or even targets in Afghanistan's other neighboring countries.
A spokesman for the US consul in Peshawar says he is worried that sophisticated weapons, including Scuds and other "air assets," are being divided out to groups that are still fighting each other. "It would worry us for the internal stability of Afghanistan," he says. "It has a potential spillover into the other states in the region."
Even if Hekmatyar decides not to use the Scuds against the militia, the prospect of any government in Kabul armed with medium-range missiles of the kind used by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a security consideration for its neighbors.
The Scuds were supplied by the Red Army to the Soviet-backed government in Kabul during Afghanistan's 14-year civil war. They were armed with conventional warheads and used against mujahideen positions along Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan. Pakistani journalists believe the remaining Scuds are held near Kabul by troops loyal to the Shiite group Hezb-e-Wahdat, which was based in Iran during the war.
Since April 26, Jalalabad has been run by an elected coalition council of mujahideen groups dominated by Haj Abdul Qadir of the Hezb (Khales) party.
Hekmatyar's forces are at present observing a cease-fire agreement signed last Wednesday with president designate Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul. Reports from his base at Sirobi suggest that he might be preparing for another attack on militia positions in Kabul.
Pakistani government officials commented that Hekmatyar has little choice but to use force if he wants a real say in Kabul. "Hekmatyar is boxed into a corner," said one government official in Peshawar. "He has been left out of power in the interim government."