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Afghanistan: Attacks Against Troops, Foreigners Not Seen As Linked To Iraq War

  • Farangis Najibullah

A rocket attack on ISAF headquarters in Kabul on 30 March was the latest in a series of attacks against foreign troops and international aid workers in Afghanistan during the past few days. In interviews with RFE/RL, however, both Afghan authorities and ISAF officials say they believe the attacks are not connected to the ongoing U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Prague, 1 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul says an investigation is under way to find out who was behind the 30 March rocket attack on its compound in the Afghan capital.

A building was damaged but no one was injured in the incident.

Afghan authorities and local residents blame remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network for the attack. Mark Whitty, an ISAF spokesperson, said no one has yet claimed responsibility. "We are still investigating into what happened, what type of weapon it was, etc., which should give us a better indication of where it came from," he said.

ISAF headquarters is located near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The rocket strike was the latest in a string of attacks aimed at foreign soldiers and international aid workers in Afghanistan in the past few days.

Ricardo Munguia, an aid worker for the International Committee of the Red Cross, was shot and killed in southern Afghanistan on 27 March. His attackers have not been identified.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and another critically injured in an ambush in the southwestern province of Helmand on 28 March.

The U.S. Army says rebel fighters fired more than a dozen rockets and mortars at U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan on 30 March. The same day, a rocket was fired at the Kabul Military Training Center. No injuries were reported.

The U.S. military says two attackers who fired mortar rounds at a base in southeast Afghanistan on 30 March are presumed to have died after U.S. forces bombed their position.

Western news agencies have raised the possibility that the attacks against foreigners in Afghanistan may be linked to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

ISAF says it has increased its patrols in Kabul in response to the incidents, but ISAF spokesman Thomas Lobbering said he does not see a direct connection to the events in Iraq, even as ISAF soldiers braced themselves for possible violence. "We do not expect any general deterioration of the security situation here in Kabul due to the ongoing Iraq war. But on the other hand, of course, we have been prepared for such attacks, and we even expected them," Lobbering said.

Afghan authorities also dismiss speculation about a connection between the recent attacks and the war in Iraq. They say that remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda network, as well as armed groups loyal to former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, were destabilizing Afghanistan long before the war in Iraq.

Sayeed Fazl-Akbar, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Transitional Authority, told RFE/RL that the latest attacks should not be considered part of a new and sophisticated plan connected to the Iraqi crisis. He said antigovernment groups use every opportunity they can to attack transitional government officials, international peacekeepers, and aid workers. "I think those who are opposed to peace, stability, and democracy in Afghanistan have always wanted to destabilize the country, and their aims have nothing to do with the Iraqi case. As soon as the new Afghan government was established, these sorts of people voiced their opposition and said that they will fight against the government," he said.

Fazl-Akbar expressed hope that the international community will not forget Afghanistan as it focuses on the war in Iraq and the following reconstruction period. "Of course, when someone is engaged in several places, his attention will be divided. However, I don't think that the international community and the U.S. -- who came to Afghanistan to fight against terrorism -- would decrease their attention to Afghanistan. Because if they did so, it would mean that the U.S. is paying less attention to its own interests. If they do not complete their mission in Afghanistan, terrorist attacks like the one on September the 11th might be repeated," Fazl-Akbar said.

Meanwhile, coalition troops and Afghan forces has been continuing their crackdown on fugitives of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda network.

Afghan authorities say they arrested around 80 Taliban fighters in Ghazni Province and 50 more in the provinces of Kandahar and Hilmand in recent days.

A spokesman for Kandahar Province says Afghan forces also detained Mullah Abdul-Razzaq, the trade minister of the former Taliban regime. The defense minister of the Taliban regime was also named Mullah Abdul-Razzaq. He is still at large.

Local authorities also say that Asadulloh Sarwarzai, a former deputy minister of education under the Taliban, was detained in a crackdown that began on 24 March.