Kabul kills Taliban chief freed from Guantanamo

By Nick Meo in Kabul

The Independent

27 September 2004

A former Guantanamo Bay detainee who became a Taliban commander after his release from US detention in Cuba has been killed by Afghan forces conducting a security sweep before next month's presidential election.

Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar was held at Guantanamo for eight months after he was captured in northern Afghanistan in 2001 but later returned to his homeland.

Jan Mohammed Khan, the governor of Uruzgan province, said Ghaffar had been a senior commander who had been leading a guerrilla campaign.

Dozens of people captured by the Americans after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 were later deemed to have had no involvement in terrorism and were allowed to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the governor claimed Ghaffar had been deeply involved with the Taliban and had resumed fighting for them on his return. Ghaffar had been planning attacks when he and three other men were killed on Saturday in a raid in the southern village of Pishi, where they had been hiding, Mr Khan said.

The past few weeks have seen an upsurge of violence across the south as security forces have cracked down on Taliban insurgents who have vowed to wreck the election. Elsewhere, the Taliban have launched successful attacks.

Guerrillas killed a government official, Wali Jan, in the lawless Uruzgan province on Saturday when they ambushed US and Afghan forces, also seriously injuring two Afghan soldiers. No American soldiers were hurt in the attack. The rebels escaped into the mountains.

In Kabul, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, denied reports that he pressured a leading rival of Hamid Karzai, the US-backed President, to stand down before the vote. The claim has fuelled controversy over America's role in the election and bolstered the view that Mr Khalilzad, as the President's informal campaign manager, is trying to manipulate an election success for Mr Karzai from behind the scenes.

Mr Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan and rose to become the State Department's highest-ranking Muslim after arriving in America as an exchange student, is said to be the power behind Mr Karzai's throne and is nicknamed the Viceroy.

His admirers believe he is the architect of a new US policy to nation-build in Afghanistan after initial strong resistance in Washington to becoming involved in the country's treacherous politics.

Mr Karzai's rival, Mohammed Mohaqiq, a warlord, claimed that the ambassador had asked him to drop out of the race during a friendly chat.

"They have been doing the same thing with all the candidates," he told The Los Angeles Times. "That is why all people think that not only Khalilzad is like this but the US government is the same. They all want Karzai - and this election is just a show." The ambassador denied making any intervention and insisted America did not endorse any candidate.

Afghans widely see Mr Karzai as America's man, although that has not stopped him from being favourite to win the 9 October poll. The perception is fuelled by Mr Karzai's American bodyguards and his use of US military aircraft for campaign trips.

Mr Khalilzad was a lobbyist for the Taliban when he worked for the oil company Unical and it sought to run a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan.