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Afghanistan: Attempted Attack On ISAF Base Seen As Possible Move To Destabilize Country

Soldiers from the International Security Assistance Force today found four rockets aimed at one of their bases in the Afghan capital Kabul. The discovery follows an incident yesterday in which two missiles were fired at the ISAF base. Those missiles missed their target, but the security force says the attack is part of an effort to destabilize the Afghan capital.

Kabul, 8 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Soldiers with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) today found four rockets aimed at one of their bases in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The rockets were discovered at the same site from which two other rockets were fired at the ISAF base Sunday. The rockets fell short of their mark, but ISAF is calling the incident the most serious attack against the multinational force since they deployed to the country last December.

An ISAF spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Neal Peckham, said yesterday the two rockets fired were Chinese-made 107-millimeter rockets, which have a range of up to 10 kilometers. They landed just to the north of ISAF's engineering headquarters, which is located near the forces main base on a road leading east out of Kabul.

Peckham said the missiles landed in an uninhabited area and that there were no injuries or damage.

The rockets discovered today were on primitive launchers attached to a timing device allowing them to be fired without anyone at the site. A second ISAF spokesman, Tony Marshall, said today the rockets were disarmed and the area was cleared.

Also today, an explosive device went off close to a convoy carrying Afghanistan's interim defense minister in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Afghan officials said General Mohammed Fahim, who was on a trip to meet with local leaders to discuss a new campaign to eradicate poppy harvesting, was not hurt in the blast.

The incidents come just a few days after the Afghan interim government said it had arrested hundreds of people suspected of loyalty to warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Two weapons caches were also apparently seized during the government crackdown.

The interim administration says Hekmatyar and other powerful warlords are looking to eject Western forces from Afghanistan and destabilize the country ahead of the Loya Jirga traditional conference scheduled in June. The conference is tasked with appointing an 18-month transitional authority to lead the country to democratic elections.

ISAF spokesman Peckham said there has been an upsurge in armed robberies and murders in parts of Kabul. Such incidents, together with the recent missile attacks, may be part of a larger design to increase tension in the country. "It's too early to say whether there is any direct linkage. The interim administration has been carrying out a number of arrests linked with their reports that there are attempts to destabilize the current peaceful situation prior to the Loya Jirga. It is possible that this [rocket attack on Sunday] may be associated with that."

Peckham said yesterday's rocket attack was similar to one attempted in early March at Kabul airport. Peckham said five of the same rockets used in yesterday's attack were found on launchers set up at the airport. They had been triggered, but had failed to leave their launchers.

The ISAF spokesman added that the meter-long missiles were fairly inaccurate, but capable of causing considerable destruction: "We now have a similarity of weapons system here, and given the recent activities, it might be linkable with an attempt to destabilize the current peace process."

Peckham said ISAF is working with the interim administration to try to find out who was behind yesterday's attack. He would not say if any particular group was suspected. Peckham said ISAF is also working to tighten up security at its bases throughout Kabul. "This is the first attack against one of our bases. It is an attack that has been successful. The fact that it didn't hit us is not the point. The point is that it was an attack against a base, and we take it extremely seriously and we are going to review our current posture specifically against this weapons system which we have indications has been used twice."

Also on Sunday, United Nations spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the international organization was investigating suspected mass murders after large graves were located in an area some 100 kilometers northeast of Kabul.

He said that on 5 April, minority Hazaras from the area told the UN they had discovered three mass graves near the Bamiyan airport. Bamiyan is the former site of the ancient Buddha statues destroyed last year by the Taliban regime.

The Hazara community, which belongs to the Shia branch of Islam, was persecuted by the Taliban and other groups belonging to Afghanistan's Sunni Islam branch. De Almeida e Silva said a team of experts flew to the area on Sunday to investigate the graves. "Representatives of the Hazara community in Bamiyan believe that the graves hold bodies of members of their community killed, by their estimates, approximately one month before the fall of the Taliban."

He said that the local community wanted to exhume the bodies for traditional Muslim burials, but that they were also eager to see that a proper forensic examination is conducted first.