U.S. planes today continued bombing trapped fighters loyal to suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in eastern Afghanistan, while the whereabouts of the Al-Qaeda leader remains a mystery. Also today, the United States is due to release a video of bin Laden which U.S. officials say prove he knew about the 11 September terrorist attacks days before they happened.
Prague, 13 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. aircraft today blasted the eastern Afghan mountain hideouts of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda fighters as a fresh deadline for their surrender expired.
After several days of bombing, U.S. planes have cornered the remaining fighters in a barren region near the village of Tora Bora about 40 km south of Jalalabad.
One Western security adviser familiar with the road that heads to Tora Bora from Jalalabad speculated that anti-Taliban forces may be preparing for a push on the Al-Qaeda hideouts to follow up the U.S. bombing. Pakistani military helicopters hovered at the border with Afghanistan and hundreds of soldiers patrolled the narrow mountain trails on 13 December to try to stop Al-Qaeda members from escaping into Pakistan, the Associated Press reported.
Surrender negotiations on 12 December between unidentified Al-Qaeda members and anti-Taliban military leaders Hazrat Ali and Haji Mohammad Zaman came to nothing. CNN quoted Ali as saying his forces would resume their assault unless Al-Qaeda agreed to hand over bin Laden and his 20 top aides in return for free passage for foot soldiers by 13 December.
The whereabouts of bin Laden and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar remain a mystery. The U.S. Defense Department says it is not clear if terror suspect bin Laden is with the Al-Qaeda fighters in the cave complexes. Conflicting newspaper reports, based on interviews with bin Laden aides, claim the militant has either fled to neighboring Pakistan or remains in the Tora Bora mountains.
The United States today released a videotape of bin Laden that officials say provides compelling evidence that the Saudi-born militant knew about the 11 September attack days before it happened. U.S. Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the tape during an interview late yesterday on CNN's "Larry King Live." He said: "The tape is a smoking gun, in itself incriminating of bin Laden." Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee viewed the tape earlier this week.
In Kabul, Hamid Karzai, the head of the new interim government that is to guide Afghanistan over the next six months, met ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani and members of the new cabinet. Karzai arrived in the Afghan capital last night from Kandahar, where he had overseen the surrender of the Taliban stronghold. A spokesman for Rabbani told reporters that he and Karzai "discussed the general situation, especially the situation in Kandahar."
Yesterday, Rabbani, who along with several other Northern Alliance opposition figures had been sidelined by the Bonn accord on a post-Taliban power-sharing deal, accused foreign powers of imposing an unrepresentative government on Afghanistan. He said the way the deal was struck was a "humiliation of the nation":
"When [the Northern Alliance] delegates went [to Bonn] for negotiations, they were not supposed to sign any agreement. But since there was pressure and [the UN brokers] said if we do not sign the agreement the pressure of the international community will increase, [the delegates] signed the agreement just because there was pressure."
However, Rabbani added he fully supported the choice of Karzai to head the new interim government, which is due to come to power on 22 December, after which a council of tribal elders will appoint a transitional government. Rabbani, who on 11 December also met with the UN's special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said yesterday that the UN-orchestrated Bonn accord deprived his successor, Karzai, of the traditional right to appoint his own cabinet:
"As I explained to [Brahimi], it is the normal system that whenever a prime minister is appointed, he be authorized to name his own cabinet. But you [the UN] appointed the cabinet by yourself without him deciding it. Maybe Karzai doesn't even know most of the cabinet members."
Brahimi today travels to New York, where the UN Security Council is struggling with a resolution to authorize a multinational force for Afghanistan. The Security Council's resolution, originally expected to be adopted on 14 December, may not be voted on until the next day or the following week
German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said any multinational force for Afghanistan should have at least 8,000 peacekeepers and be well-armed. But many details about the force have yet to be fixed and only a small number of troops are expected to be on the ground by the 22 December transfer of power.
Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, told reporters: "We need more discussions for a day or two with the United States and others. The important thing is getting the coalition together and having a reasonable response from the Afghans."
Participants at the last day of an international conference in Tokyo on rebuilding Afghanistan today called on the world not to forget the war-ravaged nation once the fighting is over, and asked for sustained assistance. Japan said it was already considering an increase in its official development assistance budget for the next fiscal year to help reconstruct the country.
Non-governmental organizations urged the international community to provide long-term assistance. In a joint statement issued at the end of the three-day meeting, organization representatives said: "The sustainability of a program is not about giving huge amount of aid at only one time, but it is [also] about consistent and sustained commitment."