UN Monitors Warn of Afghan Missiles


By Colum Lynch

Washington Post
January 24, 2002

The head of a U.N. committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban said today that remnants of the Islamic movement and its al Qaeda supporters may possess surface-to-surface missiles capable of delivering conventional or chemical weapons.

Michael Chandler, a British official who heads the U.N. Monitoring Group on Afghanistan, said the Taliban had acquired at least 100 Scud missiles and four mobile Scud launchers before it was driven from power. Chandler also cited unspecified "reports" that the Taliban may have acquired stockpiles of weapons containing the nerve agents sarin and VX.

"They were there. Where are they now?" Chandler said. "Someone needs to go and find and catalogue these nasty things and either blow them up, demobilize them so they can't be used again or put them in somebody's safe hands."

While U.S. officials believe that the Taliban and al Qaeda have sought to acquire chemical and nuclear weapons, they have never contended that the groups have actually obtained any.

Chandler's agency told the 15-nation Security Council last week that it has not been able to verify what happened to the weapons.

In a report to the council, Chandler's sanctions panel said the Taliban may possess an unspecified number of Scud-B (R-17) missiles with a range of up to 180 miles and Frog 7 missiles with a range of up to 43 miles. It voiced concern that they could be used against a British-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

"These missiles may be fitted with conventional, chemical or nuclear warheads," the report said.

The Security Council has not formally responded to the report.

The sanctions panel was established last October to help the council enforce an embargo on the Taliban militia then ruling Afghanistan. Its mandate has since been broadened to help the council crack down on the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

It frequently relies on confidential information provided by U.N. members, foreign intelligence agencies, and international law enforcement and arms control agencies, diplomats said. Its report provided little evidence to back the suspicions that the Taliban and al Qaeda had acquired chemical weapons.

U.S. officials, however, say that the Taliban and al Qaeda have moved aggressively in seeking to obtain chemical and nuclear weapons. U.S. officials have provided journalists with copies of al Qaeda manuals containing instructions for the production of chemical weapons.

Jamal Ahmed Fadl, a former associate of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, told a New York jury last year that he had tried to buy a cylinder of uranium from a retired Sudanese military officer. He also said that al Qaeda and the Sudanese government had cooperated in an effort to develop chemical weapons in a Khartoum factory between 1993 and 1994.

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