Three Suspected Al Qaeda Militants Killed in Afghanistan

Published November 17, 2005

| Associated Press

Security forces have killed three Al Qaeda suspects, a provincial governor said Thursday, while the country's defense minister warned that militants have smuggled explosives, weapons and cash into Afghanistan for a resurgent terror campaign.

Two other suspected militants from Usama bin Laden's terror network have been arrested during joint Afghan-U.S. military operations in Kunar, a rugged mountainous eastern province on the border with Pakistan, said Gov. Assadullah Wafa.

He said the identity of the two, as well as the three killed during air strikes late Tuesday, was not immediately known.

Asked about the operation in Kunar, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said, "Our offensive operations are ongoing and we are constantly going after the enemy in several areas across Afghanistan." He declined to elaborate.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said intelligence indicates that a number of Arab members of Al Qaeda and other foreigners have entered Afghanistan to launch suicide attacks.

His comments came after an unprecedented spate of assaults — the latest on Wednesday when a bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy in the southern city of Kandahar, killing three civilians.

Wardak said that besides explosives, the weapons smuggled into Afghanistan include remote-controlled timing devices and other computerized detonators for bombs. He declined to give a specific amount of smuggled money, but said it was in the millions of dollars.

"There has been ... more money and more weapons flowing into their hands in recent months," Wardak said. "We see similarities between the type of attacks here and in Iraq."

He said Al Qaeda militants were increasingly teaming up with local rebels from the ousted Taliban movement to undermine President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government because they have realized their influence is waning.

"There is no doubt that there is a connection between Taliban and Al Qaeda and some other fundamentalists," he said. "In most cases, the suicide bombers are foreigners ... from the Middle East, from neighboring countries. ... It is a new trend."

It has long been believed that the Taliban and Al Qaeda maintained ties after U.S.-led forces ousted the regime in 2001 for harboring bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. But the recent bombings, and Wardak's comments, reinforce fears that they've merged some of their forces.

Until two months ago, suicide bombings had been relatively rare in Afghanistan, with only a few reported in the past year, unlike in Iraq.

But nine such assaults have occurred nationwide starting on Sept. 28, when a uniformed man on a motorbike detonated a bomb outside an Afghan army training center where soldiers were waiting to take buses home, killing nine people.

A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the intelligence, said 22 would-be suicide bombers are believed to be in Afghanistan waiting for orders to attack.

On Monday, suspected Arab militants crashed two explosive-filled cars into NATO peacekeepers in the capital, Kabul, killing a German soldier and eight Afghans.

Though the Taliban claimed responsibility, the police blamed Al Qaeda, saying the terror group was the only organization able to carry out such a coordinated assault.

A Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan, Mullah Ahmadullah Jan, told the AP this week that several Arab fighters with links to Al Qaeda have joined the ranks of the rebels recently.

The surge in suicide bombings comes amid the deadliest year of militant violence in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime, with about 1,500 people killed. At least 87 U.S. military personnel also have been killed or died in accidents this year.

Asked about media reports that some insurgents from Iraq have come to Afghanistan to teach militants new tactics, Wardak said it was only speculation and no evidence had been found to support it.

Security forces have killed three Al Qaeda suspects, a provincial governor said Thursday, while the country's defense minister warned that militants have smuggled explosives, weapons and cash into Afghanistan for a resurgent terror campaign.

Two other suspected militants from Usama bin Laden's terror network have been arrested during joint Afghan-U.S. military operations in Kunar, a rugged mountainous eastern province on the border with Pakistan, said Gov. Assadullah Wafa.

He said the identity of the two, as well as the three killed during air strikes late Tuesday, was not immediately known.

Asked about the operation in Kunar, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said, "Our offensive operations are ongoing and we are constantly going after the enemy in several areas across Afghanistan." He declined to elaborate.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said intelligence indicates that a number of Arab members of Al Qaeda and other foreigners have entered Afghanistan to launch suicide attacks.

His comments came after an unprecedented spate of assaults — the latest on Wednesday when a bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy in the southern city of Kandahar, killing three civilians.

Wardak said that besides explosives, the weapons smuggled into Afghanistan include remote-controlled timing devices and other computerized detonators for bombs. He declined to give a specific amount of smuggled money, but said it was in the millions of dollars.

"There has been ... more money and more weapons flowing into their hands in recent months," Wardak said. "We see similarities between the type of attacks here and in Iraq."

He said Al Qaeda militants were increasingly teaming up with local rebels from the ousted Taliban movement to undermine President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government because they have realized their influence is waning.

"There is no doubt that there is a connection between Taliban and Al Qaeda and some other fundamentalists," he said. "In most cases, the suicide bombers are foreigners ... from the Middle East, from neighboring countries. ... It is a new trend."

It has long been believed that the Taliban and Al Qaeda maintained ties after U.S.-led forces ousted the regime in 2001 for harboring bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. But the recent bombings, and Wardak's comments, reinforce fears that they've merged some of their forces.

Until two months ago, suicide bombings had been relatively rare in Afghanistan, with only a few reported in the past year, unlike in Iraq.

But nine such assaults have occurred nationwide starting on Sept. 28, when a uniformed man on a motorbike detonated a bomb outside an Afghan army training center where soldiers were waiting to take buses home, killing nine people.

A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the intelligence, said 22 would-be suicide bombers are believed to be in Afghanistan waiting for orders to attack.

On Monday, suspected Arab militants crashed two explosive-filled cars into NATO peacekeepers in the capital, Kabul, killing a German soldier and eight Afghans.

Though the Taliban claimed responsibility, the police blamed Al Qaeda, saying the terror group was the only organization able to carry out such a coordinated assault.

A Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan, Mullah Ahmadullah Jan, told the AP this week that several Arab fighters with links to Al Qaeda have joined the ranks of the rebels recently.

The surge in suicide bombings comes amid the deadliest year of militant violence in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime, with about 1,500 people killed. At least 87 U.S. military personnel also have been killed or died in accidents this year.

Asked about media reports that some insurgents from Iraq have come to Afghanistan to teach militants new tactics, Wardak said it was only speculation and no evidence had been found to support it.

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