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Afghanistan: ISAF Commander Says Heavy Weapons Must Be Removed from Kabul

The commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan this week called for the removal of heavy weapons from Kabul in comments seen as directed toward the Afghan defense minister and his mostly ethnic Tajik faction. The ISAF commander also is warning of security threats in the capital from what he termed a "new species" of well-trained international terrorists.

Prague, 23 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The commander of the NATO-led International Assistance Security Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has demanded the removal of tanks and other heavy weapons from the capital, Kabul.

German Lieutenant General Gotz Gliemeroth, speaking to reporters in Kabul on 21 October, said the weapons should be collected at special sites on the outskirts of the capital. "ISAF strongly supports the removal of heavy weapons from Kabul," he said,adding that the Bonn agreement indicates very clearly that Kabul should be demilitarized and currently, Kabul is not demilitarized.

Gliemeroth did not identify any group or faction by name, but the order was seen as being directed toward Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim's Jami'at-e Islami faction. Its militia forces still occupy strategic points in and around the city after having fought as part of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime from Kabul in late 2001.

Fahim's critics say he has used his military position in the city to win influential posts for himself and faction members in the new government. They also say he is continuing to strengthen his own militia, while lagging at building up a national army.

Fahim denies that he has a private militia. In a rare interview earlier this month, he said the thousands of mostly ethnic Tajik fighters under his command are the core of a future Afghan national army. He admitted to stockpiling heavy weaponry at his home base in the remote Panjshir Valley, but said those weapons are for the national army -- not a Panjshiri militia faction.

Fahim's militia fighters still play a key role in the U.S.-led coalition as it continues to fight against remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the Afghan provinces.

General Gliemeroth also said what he called a "new species" of well-trained terrorists had infiltrated Kabul and pose a growing threat to an already shaky security situation in the country. The ISAF commander said intelligence reports suggest the terrorists are citizens of Saudi Arabia and Yemen or come from the Russian republic of Chechnya. "Additionally, fighting in the south and southeast has intensified and infiltration of Al-Qaeda...[is increasing]," he said.

He didn't elaborate, but the comments echoed those in recent weeks by U.S. officials in Iraq who say they are also facing a new breed of better-trained and -coordinated terrorists.

Gliemeroth's remarks come as the UN launches a program that aims to disarm and demobilize 100,000 militiamen across Afghanistan during the next two years.

Paul Cruikshank, operations manager for a pilot project called the "Afghan New Beginnings Program," said nearly 200 Afghan militia fighters this week turned in AK-47s and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers to a mobile disarmament unit in the northeastern Afghan city of Konduz.

"The first day, we verified 192 soldiers, we processed and registered 192 soldiers at the mobile disarmament unit, and we collected their weapons. There were 181 weapons collected yesterday because some weapons are entitled to be allocated to more than one soldier," Cruikshank said.

Militia fighters taking part in the project at Konduz are from the 6th Corps of the former Northern Alliance -- a mostly ethnic Tajik unit that ultimately falls under the command of Fahim.

Correspondents in Konduz, however, say that doubts remain about whether some warlords will really cooperate with the United Nations-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program.