5000 Man Taliban Army Rises
Again To Face US
By Tim Reid in Kandahar The Times - London

A renedage army of 5,000 Taleban soldiers with 450 tanks, armoured carriers and pick-up trucks is locked in a tense stand-off with American special forces in Afghanistan.
The troops fled Kandahar with their commander and more than 100 senior Taleban figures in December after reneging on a surrender agreement. They have regrouped among villages in the mountainous region of Ghazni province, northwest of Kandahar.
Amid growing concern that powerful pockets of resistance loyal to Osama bin Laden remain in Afghanistan, an American soldier was wounded in the foot and 15 Taleban and al-Qaeda guerrillas were killed yesterday in a gunfight north of Kandahar.
The clash, which occurred during a US special forces "search and destroy mission, was triggered when Arab fighters opened fire on the US patrol, US officials said. About 30 men were captured.
The Americans said that most of the detainees were Afghans and appeared to be Taleban, not al-Qaeda, fighters. Officials described them as members of the leadership but would not comment on whether the US had acted on intelligence that Mullah Muhammad Omar was hiding in the area.
In tough negotiations with American forces, leaders of the renegade army in Ghazni are demanding millions of dollars and the guarantee of an amnesty before they will give up their arms. "Extremely delicate and tense negotiations are under way between representatives of Gul Agha Sherzai, Kandahar,s new Governor, US special forces and the Taleban commander in charge of the unit.
"They disappeared the day that Kandahar fell, a senior aide to Mr Sherzai said. "They took with them 450 tanks and vehicles, rocket-propelled grenades, machine-guns and rifles. At present, the Americans do not want to use force, as they are spread among the local people. But there are real fears that if there is one incident of revolt which takes place against the government (of Kandahar, we fear it will have a snowball effect.
In Kandahar,s football stadium yesterday Mr Sherzai addressed 15,000 people after calling a Loya Jirga (National Council). He pledged allegiance to Zahir Shah, the former Afghan King, but renewed attacks on Iran and its growing infiltration with arms and money. It was seen as the first test of Mr Sherzai,s popularity in post-Taleban Kandahar. The stadium was, however, only three-quarters full, with 3,000 of the audience being schoolchildren.
Afghan troops from Kandahar province are on high alert for possible military action against the allegedly Iranian-backed forces of Ismail Khan, the veteran warlord and Governor of the western city of Herat. Tensions between Mr Sherzai and Mr Khan in Herat remain extremely high and are causing grave concern to the Americans.
The growing number of US troops in the country " more than 3,000 are based at Kandahar airport and in Kabul " are being drawn into provincial rivalries. While many in the country welcome the stabilising influence of American troops in the short term, a long-term deployment would be bitterly resented, particularly in the Pashtun south, where Taleban sympathies are still strong.
Mr Sherzai,s commanders, and US Intelligence, have accused Iran of funnelling cash and arms to Mr Khan and his allies to stir up opposition to the new interim administration of Hamid Karzai in Kabul, and to the US presence in the region.
Mr Khan is accused of persecuting Pashtuns in Herat, with reports from refugees leaving the area of Pashtuns being robbed of trucks, jailed and killed. Mr Khan and Tehran deny the allegations.
In the north reports continue of fighting between forces loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum " a man who switched sides no less than six times during the Afghan civil war " and Mohammed Daoud, two rival members of the Northern Alliance, over a remote district near the Tajikistan border.
The conflict has led two other warlords who claim a role in the city " Commander Mohaqaq, a Hazari, and Commander Uftad Ata, a Tajik, to arm refugees loyal to them. "The camps are now punctuated by small-arms fire as rival groups, armed by the warlords, battle each other for territory, Haneef Ata, of the International Rescue Committee, said.
A UN security officer, who asked not to be named, said that the same practice had spread to other cities. The camps around the eastern city of Jalalabad contained large numbers of young men being armed by warlords who were keen to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul, the official said.
Under the terms of the agreement establishing the interim administration there was no provision for the deployment of peacekeeping troops beyond 4,500 in Kabul.
General Ghulam Nassery, Afghan minister in charge of peacekeeping, said: "Unless the camps are disarmed, Afghanistan could once again slide into civil war. I am ashamed to say, we need men who are not Afghans. We need more than 100,000 of them.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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