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Suspected Taliban Supporters Arrested

August 13, 2004

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) _ U.S. and Afghan government troops arrested 26 Afghan security forces manning a highway checkpoint for having suspected links with Taliban militia, an Afghan official said Friday.

The arrests were made late Thursday in Shahjoy district in southern Zabul province, police chief Thor Jan said.

The militiamen who were arrested had been deployed at the post to secure the highway running through Zabul and connecting the southern city of Kandahar with the capital, Kabul.

The commander of the post, Syed Mohammed, fled the raid, Jan said.

While thousands of international troops are keeping the peace in Kabul, security in the outlying regions, particularly the south and east, remains precarious and is largely left to militia forces, who generally cooperate with the government but are loyal to local commanders.

The suspects were in the custody of American forces, Jan said, but it was unclear where they were being held. U.S. military officials were not immediately available for comment.

Jan said the troops also were suspected of involvement in robberies in Shahjoy and of extorting money from travelers.

Zabul is a rugged region where Taliban rebels are active. A number of foreign workers have been kidnapped by insurgents along the highway in the province in recent months.

A program to disarm the militias has been slow to get off the ground and the fledgling Afghan national army only has about 10,000 men as President Hamid Karzai’s government braces for landmark elections this fall.

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