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British Peacekeepers Move Into Kabul

December 21, 2001

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ British peacekeepers were moving quietly into the war-routed capital Friday to safeguard the beginning of its rebirth, but an explosion in the country’s north sounded a warning that Afghanistan’s violent struggle may not be over.

The arrival of the first of 200 British troops marked the launch of a six-month international mission that was approved unanimously by the U.N. Security Council Thursday even though some Afghan leaders challenged it’s mandate.

Some members of the interim Afghan government, due to be sworn in Saturday, say the peacekeepers will not be permitted to use military force, disarm belligerents or interfere in Afghan affairs.

The Security Council, however, authorized the use of ``all necessary measures″ to allow the new government and the troops themselves ``to operate in a secure environment.″

In eastern Afghanistan, U.S. special forces and Afghan fighters were going from cave to cave in Tora Bora trying to pick up the trail of Osama bin Laden after his al-Qaida fighters fled the mountainous region.

On Thursday, 53 British Royal Marines landed at Bagram air base north of the Kabul, part of the vanguard of a force expected to grow to 3,000 to 5,000 men.

Many Kabul residents welcomed the peacekeepers, but said they wanted them to stay only as long as necessary.

``They should leave Afghanistan when we are sure of peace,″ said Ghulam Dastigir Khan.

``We don’t want them to stay forever. We are Muslims. They are not,″ said Khan, a cigarette vendor who hopes the soldiers will boost his income of about a dollar a day.

Leaders of Afghan factions from around the country began congregating in Kabul for Saturday’s installation ceremony for the 30-member interim government under Hamid Karzai, a southern Pashtun tribal leader who carries the blessings of exiled King Mohammad Zaher Shah.

In northern Afghanistan, there were conflicting reports about the cause of a fragmentation grenade blast at a busy market in Mazar-e-Sharif that wounded about 100 people.

Some reports said it was thrown into the crowd. ``It could be those who are still close to the Taliban who don’t want the northern alliance to be in power,″ said Mohammed Anwar Akhjoh, head of a prominent Shi’ite party that was a key partner in the alliance of northern Afghan factions the seized Mazar-e-Sharif last month.

But a senior police officer said the explosion may have been an accident.

``The bazaar was very crowded,″ said Gen. Shujaddin, who uses only one name. ``A grenade fell off of a soldier accidentally, and some people were injured. This was not terrorism. This was an accident.″

After initial reports that security had been stepped up, reporters said Mazar-e-Sharif appeared normal Friday, the Muslim day of prayer.

The commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Gen. Tommy Franks, was considering sending hundreds of Marines to Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan to help the several dozen U.S. special forces searching the caves, a defense official in Washington said on condition of anonymity.

The whereabouts of bin Laden, alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, are unknown.

Increasingly cold and snowy weather has complicated the search for al-Qaida fighters who survived the U.S. bombing campaign that crushed al-Qaida’s defenses in Tora Bora. Abandoned caves and bunkers may be booby-trapped or mined, and Pentagon officials believe some fighters may still be around to ambush search parties.

But the caves also may hold the bodies of al-Qaida fighters _ possibly bin Laden himself _ or contain documents useful in the investigation of Sept. 11 and other terrorist actions against U.S. interests. There were also reports that some al-Qaida fighters moved their wives and children into the area before the bombing.

Across the border in Pakistan, paramilitary troops searched for a third day for seven al-Qaida fighters who escaped during transit to prison. They were among 156 Arabs and other foreign volunteers captured on Tuesday as they fled the Tora Bora region.

At least 16 people were killed in the escape and the subsequent manhunt in the craggy border region, including seven Pakistani guards.

Authorities believed the seven men still missing were surrounded in a cave in near-freezing temperatures with four Kalashnikov rifles, little ammunition and no food.

Also in Pakistan, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, visited that country’s army headquarters Thursday, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

The news agency gave no details of his meeting with Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, head of the committee of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff. Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Update hourly