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U.S. Wants Deposed Taliban Officials

January 10, 2002

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) _ Afghan officials have set free the former justice minister and six other high-ranking Taliban officials despite U.S. officials wanting Taliban leaders turned over to them.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad told reporters Wednesday that the government was determining whether the Taliban officials were ``war criminals.″

In Pakistan, a U.S. military tanker plane crashed into a mountain, killing seven Marines, the Pentagon said. It was the worst U.S. casualty toll of the Afghanistan campaign, and included the first woman killed since U.S.-led Afghan bombing began in early October.

The Taliban leaders included Nooruddin Turabi, the one-eyed, one-legged justice minister, who drew up the militia’s repressive version of Islamic law _ including restrictions on women _ and created the religious police to enforce it.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said senior Taliban officials should be in U.S. hands. ``We would expect that to be the case with these individuals,″ Richard Boucher said in Washington.

Negotiations on the surrender of ex-Taliban figures have recently frustrated the U.S.-led coalition as it pursues the remnants of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network. Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar reportedly escaped during surrender negotiations after being surrounded in the mountainous north of Kandahar.

The cause of the crash of the U.S. military KC-130 aircraft was unknown, but Pentagon officials said there were no signs that the plane was brought down by hostile action. U.S. and Pakistani recovery crews converged on the site Thursday.

The plane crashed about three miles from Pakistan’s Shamsi air base, which has been used for operations by the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan. It is located in a remote area of the southwestern province of Baluchistan, a mountainous, desert area.

Khawar Jamal, who lives near the base, spoke of hearing a ``deafening noise″ as the plane struck the mountain. ``Then we saw flames of fire,″ he said.

In other military activity, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press agency cited unidentified sources as saying that several American helicopters carrying about 50 troops arrived overnight at Khost, bringing the total to about 100 to 150.

U.S. ground forces and warplanes have gone into operation against a complex of caves, tunnels and buildings used as an al-Qaida training camp at Zawar Kili, near Khost, in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

The seven Taliban leaders were let go after they recognized the government of Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and promised to stay out of politics, said Jalal Khan, a close associate of Kandahar’s governor Gul Agha.

``Those men who have surrendered are our brothers, and we have allowed them to live in a peaceful manner. They will not be handed over to America,″ Khan said.

The government was trying to determine who the seven men freed in Kandahar were and whether the decision to let them go was ``appropriate,″ Samad said. He said so far there had been no U.S. request for their handover.

But Pentagon officials have said the new Afghan leaders are fully aware of the U.S. desire to have custody of certain Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.

Also among the seven men was Abdul Haq, formerly the Taliban’s security chief in the western city of Herat, Samad said. The identity of the others was unclear.

As justice minister, Turabi drew up the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, including bans on music and restrictions on women. His religious police roamed the streets beating women considered not properly covered, as well as men who trimmed their beards or cut their hair.

Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban movement in the early 1990s, and Omar remained based there even after the militia took power in most of the country in 1996. It was the last major Taliban-held city to fall, with the militia’s leadership agreeing to abandon the city in early December.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to bolster the new government’s authority in the capital, Karzai ordered armed men to leave Kabul’s streets and return to their barracks within three days or be put in jail, Interior Minister Younus Qanooni said.

The order allows only uniformed police on Kabul’s streets, where fighters from various Afghan factions bristling with rocket launchers and automatic weapons have moved freely since the Nov. 13 departure of the Taliban. International peacekeepers in the city are also armed.