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Afghanistan: Foreign Investigators Help Probe Qadir Assassination, Air Strike

Foreign military authorities in Afghanistan are now investigating two violent incidents that have shaken the stability of the country's transitional government: a U.S. air strike last week that killed dozens of civilians in the central province of Oruzgan and the 6 July assassination of Afghan Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir. From Kabul, RFE/RL reports on what the foreign investigators have to offer Afghan authorities.

Kabul, 9 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan last night agreed to a formal request from the Afghan government for help investigating the assassination of Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir.

Qadir was shot dead 6 July by two gunmen as his car was leaving the gates of the Ministry of Public Works in Kabul, where his office was located.

So far, Afghan authorities have detained 10 security guards from the ministry and accused them of negligence. Two men have also been arrested after they were stopped at a checkpoint in Kabul while riding in the same kind of car used by the gunmen to escape.

Afghan Transitional President Hamid Karzai told RFE/RL that he would ask for help from foreign criminal investigators in order to speed up the probe into the assassination and capture the culprits.

British ISAF spokeswoman Angela Herbert explained that the decision to bring ISAF specialists into the investigation was made yesterday by Karzai's cabinet. "There was a full consensus within the Transitional Authority. All ministers agreed to ask for ISAF's help to catch the perpetrators of the assassination of one of the vice presidents. What ISAF is now doing is making plans to offer full support to the Transitional Authority. We are going to operate within a joint commission with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry for Justice. And ISAF will offer such support as is warranted by them," Herbert said.

Herbert told RFE/RL today that it has not yet been decided exactly which of the 19 countries within the ISAF will be involved in the investigation. But she said those details could be worked out as soon as tonight. "The sort of support we could offer -- and this [has] not yet been agreed and is still being planned -- is things like specialist equipment, specialist forensic assistance. We can offer assistance with trained professional investigators who can plan a coherent investigation to look at all avenues to try and catch the perpetrators of this crime," Herbert said.

The countries within the ISAF that currently have police units on the ground in Kabul include Germany, Turkey, and Britain. But a German press officer, Captain Thorsten Klottig, and a Turkish military spokesman, Major Murat Pekgulec, both told RFE/RL today that their police forces are trained for routine security operations rather than criminal investigations.

Members of the Special Investigations branch of Britain's Royal Military Police are the best-trained for handling a criminal investigation into the assassination of a key political figure like Qadir.

Herbert said today that despite the withdrawal of most British troops from Afghanistan after London handed over the command of ISAF to Turkey late last month, criminal investigators from the Royal Military Police are still posted in Kabul.

Herbert also said that if it is deemed necessary, Britain would bring in more special investigators and equipment to help in the probe. "Within the Royal Military Police in the U.K. forces, we have a Special Investigations branch. We have lots of specialist facilities. We have Scenes of Crime officers. They obviously would go to the scene of the crime and gather all the evidence. There might be things like fingerprints, blood, ballistics, investigations -- that sort of thing. And there are also specialist investigators in terms of interviewing potential witnesses and interviewing [suspects]. That facility, I'm sure, will certainly be offered to the Transitional Authority," Herbert said.

Much of the initial probe into the assassination already has been conducted by authorities from Afghanistan's Interior Ministry. That includes the collection of bullet-shell casings from the AK-47 automatic rifles used by the killers, as well as initial interviews with street vendors who witnessed the assassination.

Key evidence may have been compromised, however, due to the failure of Afghan authorities to secure the crime scene in the hours immediately after Qadir's death.

In one instance, a Western television journalist broadcasting from the crime scene on 6 July picked up some of the shell casings to show viewers.

In addition, the vehicle that Qadir was riding in at the time of his death also remained in front of the Ministry of Public Works for more than 48 hours after the killing. And although streets had been blocked off to vehicle traffic on the day of the murder, there were many pedestrians who managed to get close to Qadir's car.

Afghan authorities have said publicly they suspect the assassination was carried out by Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists in an attempt to destabilize the government. But the list of suspects that has appeared in the Afghan and international press is a long one. Qadir had many potential enemies in business and politics within the eastern province of Nangarhar, where he had been governor.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials say they are launching a second, more formal investigation this week into a U.S. air strike that Afghan officials say killed 48 civilians and injured more than 100 eight days ago at an engagement celebration in the central province of Oruzgan.

An initial joint investigation by Afghan authorities and U.S. military officers was completed last week. U.S. General Dan McNeill, the commander of the multinational antiterrorism coalition forces in Afghanistan, told journalists that the new investigation will include U.S. authorities outside of the military in order to make the probe more independent.

On 6 July, McNeill became the first U.S. official to confirm publicly that Afghan civilians had been killed by U.S. ordnance in the incident. McNeill also revealed that Afghan troops had been involved in a joint operation near the engagement party that was aimed at hunting down remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The assassination of Qadir and the U.S. air strike in Oruzgan Province have presented Karzai with another political challenge. Both Qadir and the victims in Oruzgan Province were ethnic Pashtuns, who have felt shut out of a coalition government heavily influenced by ethnic Tajiks from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

Qadir's assassination, in particular, has raised serious questions about the ability of the Transitional Authority to maintain security within the Afghan capital.

Ongoing factional fighting in parts of six northern provinces, tensions in Jalalabad over Qadir's death and continuing U.S.-led military operations in the southeastern provinces of Paktia and Khost also underscore the fact that, without a functioning national Afghan army, the Transitional Authority is relying heavily on foreign troops to bring security to Afghanistan.