Karzai to Call for Change in ISAF Mandate

Agence France Presse
February 18, 2002

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai will call for a "stronger role" for the international security force in Kabul if violence continues to escalate, as the troops came under attack from gunmen for the first time since they were deployed. Karzai said Sunday he would ask for a change in the mandate of the force if violence increases, following what he called the assassination of his aviation minister and tribal clashes in the east of the country.

The deterioration of the security situation in Kabul comes as US President George W. Bush touched down in Tokyo for a six-day tour of Japan, South Korea and China. Up to seven people, including two security officials, were killed or wounded in an armed clash between two Afghan tribes in Khost province, the Afghan Islamic Press reported. Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman was killed at Kabul airport on Thursday.

"If the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve further, we will make sure the international security forces are asked together with the Afghan forces to take a stronger role," he said, without going into detail. "I will ask for every measure. I will use international forces, Afghan forces, to make life good for these people," he said.

Karzai was also to meet Sunday with a Saudi representative to ask for the extradition of Rahman's alleged assassins. He said he would ask the Saudi diplomat for the extradition of three people he said were behind the killing, which he claimed was not politically motivated, and who flew to Saudi Arabia along with pilgrims to Mecca.

Colonel Richard Barrons, chief of staff of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said soldiers of the 2nd Parachute Battalion returned fire after their post in Kabul came under attack Saturday and the gunmen fled in a car. Barrons said the incident marked the first attack on ISAF soldiers since they were deployed in the war-ravaged capital just days before the interim administration was sworn into office on December 22 for a six-month period.

Australia also suffered its first fatality of the war on terrorism with the death of a Special Forces soldier in a landmine blast. The man, a member of the Perth-based Special Air Service Regiment, died of injuries he received when his vehicle ran over an anti-tank mine late on Saturday.

Bush's tour of Asia, designed to rally support for his war on terrorism, begins as Arab leaders expressed their concern over his toughening stance on Iraq. Bush said in his January 29 State of the Union address that Iraq, Iran and North Korea formed an "axis of evil" and were seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. He also accused Baghdad of continuing to "support terror."

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that Washington was determined to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and will act alone if necessary to change the regime in Baghdad. Reacting to these developments, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned the United States that an attack against Iraq would result in a dramatic strategic shift in the region.

In an interview with the London-based Arab daily Al-Hayat to be published Sunday, Saleh said that "in the event of a strike against Iraq, America will lose Arab sympathy and support in its war against terrorism." He also predicted "alliances would change in the region," if Washington carried out its threat to launch a military operation to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.

In a bid to avert strikes on its own territory, Yemen has been working closely with US authorities in the crackdown on suspected members of chief terror suspect Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Saudi Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdel Aziz also added his voice to the chorus of those concerned.

"We hope it won't happen. If it does, the kingdom will not, in any case, be in favor of any war against an Arab country," Prince Nayef told reporters, when asked about Riyadh's position in the event of an US military operation against Iraq. "The kingdom is against settling issues through war. It supports all problems in the world being solved through legitimate means," he added.

Meanwhile, Britain's Sunday newspapers reported Islamic extremists had been involved in weapons training with assault rifles at a London mosque, while intelligence agents had foiled several attacks by Osama bin Laden including a ship-bomb in capital's docklands area.

The British press also said a former Russian air force officer had supplied weapons to al-Qaida and its allies. Pakistan's finance minister, returning from a trip to Washington, reported the country will charge America 60 million dollars a month for logistical support it has provided to the war on terrorism.

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