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Afghanistan: Interior Ministry Begins To Clear Kabul Of Illicit Arms

The interim government in Afghanistan is stepping up measures to seize weapons still held by people not part of official security forces here. A weapons-gathering operation launched yesterday in Kabul intensified today, with hundreds of armed Interior Ministry troops fanning out across the Afghan capital in search of illicit weapons.

Kabul, 30 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- More than 600 Afghan Interior Ministry troops spread out in the capital Kabul today in an operation designed to confiscate illegal weapons and take into custody any remaining Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters left in the city. White-helmeted soldiers armed with machine guns and rocket launchers poured out of the Interior Ministry on lorries and pickup trucks as an Afghan army helicopter circled the city. People waved and called out to the troops as they passed through the crowded streets of Kabul. For many, it is the first sign the interim government is serious about bringing security and stability to Afghanistan.

In addition to looking for illicit weapons, the troops are ordered to remove any tinted film on car windows that obscures the view inside the vehicles. The commander of the operation, General Din Mohammad Jura'at, spoke about the progress to date:

"Our operations are going successfully. The Interior Ministry has announced the program for three days, every day now. All military groups should leave Kabul and they have. Now, according to the interior minister (Yunus Qanooni), we are under orders to seize arms from people who do not have permission [to bear arms] and to remove tinted film from the windows of vehicles."

Kabul is a city of weapons and military uniforms. It is sometimes impossible to tell who is working for the government or the police, and who is part of an illegal armed group.

Major Mohammad Taher Popal is part of the Interior Ministry force conducting the searches and weapons seizures. He says official troops carry special cards, although it is unlikely that civilians will feel comfortable asking armed men to show identification. Popal also says the weapons-gathering operation has been a success so far.

"The checkpoints along roads are there to collect weapons and other property left by Al-Qaeda. These things are in the hands of irresponsible people at the moment. The intersections are blocked [and checks are being conducted] in order to prevent [these people] from creating disorder in the city."

General Jura'at said the operation's first day saw a number of weapons seized.

"Yesterday we seized about 300 weapons from irresponsible people and more than 400 vehicles had their window film removed."

As Interior Ministry troops were leaving their compound today on the operation's second day, an officer from the German forces serving in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) entered to speak with Afghan commanders.

Jura'at said ISAF has not been as helpful in this operation as the Interior Ministry hoped, and that the ministry is already seeking help for the operation from other parties.

"ISAF gave us two trucks and we expected them to give us more. They promised, but have not done it yet. We have requested international aid organizations to help us in this task. We asked them for vehicles and walkie-talkies, but they have not given us a positive answer yet."

Jura'at declined to name any specific international organization.

Major Popal said the operation in Kabul would last about one week and would then spread to other cities in Afghanistan.