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Afghanistan: Taliban Claims Tactical Shift As Police Arrest Three After Bomb Blast

Afghan security agents say they have arrested three suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives thought to be planning suicide attacks in Kabul. Authorities suggest the men may have links to two men who carried out a suicide bombing near Kabul airport on 28 December that killed five security officers.

Prague, 30 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Police in Kabul yesterday arrested three suspected terrorists with explosives packed into metal cooking pots, amid Taliban claims that it has 200 operatives ready to conduct suicide attacks in urban areas of Afghanistan.

National security agents say one of those arrested in a crowded district of Kabul was a man from Pakistan who was wearing a red dress and hiding beneath a burqa -- the all-encompassing veil that was mandatory for women in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban and which is still widely worn.

The agents say a second Pakistani man and an Afghan also were detained. They say the three claimed to be working for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and were allegedly planning attacks similar to a suicide bombing that killed five Afghan security agents, including intelligence chief Abdul Jalal, near Kabul airport on 28 December.

A security official who declined to give his name told RFE/RL that the explosion was caused by a bomb hidden in a cooking pot -- the same kind of improvised explosive device discovered with the suspects arrested yesterday.

"A group of terrorists were being watched by security officials. After one of the terrorists was arrested and transferred to a car, the car was driven toward the security office [near the airport]. On the way, a bomb that was hidden in a pressure cooker exploded," the official said.

Afghan authorities have refused to say why a suspected terrorist was allowed to carry a bomb into a crowded police car. When asked by reporters yesterday, Kabul garrison police chief Dil Agha said authorities are not sure where the bomb came from.

"We need to investigate this to determine who was behind this, whether [the bomb] was placed in a car or whether somebody outside of the car threw it. It is very early to say anything about it now," Agha said.

An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said today that the 28 December attack appears to have been the work of two attackers -- one more than initially reported. He said one suspect was carrying explosives in a cooking pot and that another had set off explosives that were wrapped around his body. He offered no further explanation about why the suspects were not properly searched before they got into the police car.

Kabul police officer Abdul Jamil says the bodies of both suspects were not identifiable after the blast. But he said he thinks both men were either Arabs or Pakistanis.

From somewhere in Afghanistan's mountainous south, the Taliban's deputy operation commander, Mullah Sair Momin, told Reuters in a satellite-telephone interview that 200 Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters have recently penetrated cities in Afghanistan.

Momin claimed that some 130 trained Taliban are now in Kabul and are ready to conduct suicide attacks against Afghan government buildings, foreign troops in the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition, United Nations employees, and aid workers from nongovernmental agencies.

Momin also said that although Taliban fighters have limited resources, they are able to manufacture powerful improvised bombs like the one that caused the Kabul blast.

Analysts say that if Momin's claims are true, the switch in tactics by the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda could cause concern for the 12,000 foreign coalition soldiers and nearly 6,000 members of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Most of the deadly guerrilla attacks in Afghanistan since the summer have been in remote parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition forces said today they have completed a major military operation to clear rebel elements from southern and southeastern Afghanistan. U.S. spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty told reporters in Kabul that Operation Avalanche was the largest coalition operation to date, both in the number of troops -- 2,000 -- and size of the tactical area -- 233,000 square kilometers.

Hilferty said the operation uncovered caches of rifles, pistols, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, howitzers, plus rockets, artillery shells, land mines, and other ammunition. He said more than 100 suspected "enemy" personnel were arrested by coalition forces and that 10 had been killed.