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Allied Forces Clash With Terrorists

April 14, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) _ After weeks of no reported combat with al-Qaida or Taliban fighters, American-led forces clashed with ``terrorists″ and several of them were believed killed, the U.S. command said Sunday.

Rockets were also fired at a U.S.-controlled airstrip in southeastern Afghanistan, stark reminders that this country’s struggle to overcome 23 years of war is far from over.

There were no casualties among U.S. special forces or their Afghan allies in the Saturday skirmish, which erupted after a joint patrol came under fire, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Bryan Hilferty said. Hilferty said troops called in air support from an AC-130 airborne gunship but would not say where the clash took place.

Hilferty said the troops could not confirm the death toll among the attackers but said the patrol believed it had ``killed several terrorists″ because ``the AC-130 saw them, fired, and then didn’t see them any more.″

The second attack took place outside Khost, a southeastern city near the Pakistani border. Khost is believed to be one of the last Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds in Afghanistan since the Islamic militia was toppled from power in December.

Accounts of what happened there varied. A local leader contacted by satellite phone said unidentified attackers fired three rockets at the airstrip around midnight. A building was hit, injuring three Afghans, according to Fazal Mir.

In Kabul, however, Tribal Affairs Minister Amunalah Zadran said two BM-12 missiles exploded about four miles from the airport and no one was hurt.

Maj. David Rasmussen, a U.S. Army operations officer, said people at the scene heard what sounded like rockets or mortars hit the southwest end of the field early Sunday, but said no buildings were hit and there were no injuries. No American troops were at the base at the time, he said.

Rasmussen said al-Qaida and Taliban forces are believed to be behind several recent attacks on international forces and their Afghan allies. But many Afghans in the Khost area blame recent clashes on U.S.-funded warlords vying for supremacy.

The attacks underscored the challenges facing interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai’s administration as it prepares for the return of the country’s exiled king to convene a June loya jirga, or grand council, to select a new government. But there were also shaky signs of peace Sunday.

Fighting west of Kabul ceased as an emissary was sent from the capital to broker a truce between rival commanders engaged in a two-day turf battle.

No governor has been appointed in Wardak province, where fighting broke out Friday between two ethnic Pashtun commanders around Khoja Kotkai, 30 miles west of Kabul.

The emissary, Gov. Taj Mohammad of Kabul province, played down the conflict, saying it was an ``internal problem″ between the two men and neither was trying to challenge the interim government.

The fighting erupted just days before the expected return of Afghanistan’s deposed king, Mohammad Zaher Shah, who is widely seen as a unifying figure.

A spokesman for Karzai said the interim leader would travel to Rome on Tuesday to meet the 87-year-old former monarch and bring him back Wednesday or Thursday after nearly three decades in exile.

In other developments Sunday:

_ The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan met with local leaders in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif to discuss security there following the slaying of a U.N. aid worker.

Lakhdar Brahimi was also expected to travel Monday to Mardyan, west of Mazar-e-Sharif, to observe as local officials begin selecting a council that will choose delegates for the loya jirga.

_ Residents fled a devastated region of northern Afghanistan after the third earthquake in six weeks struck Friday. U.N. officials said at least 50 people were killed in the latest quake _ 80 percent of them children.

_ Spanish authorities announced the arrest Saturday of an Algerian suspected of being al-Qaida’s chief financial officer in Spain.

The Interior Ministry said Ahmed Brahim, 57, may have been involved in the financing of the August 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. He said Brahim was hunted down with the help of U.S., German and French police after a seven-month investigation.

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