11 September 2001>News Stories>Afghan Warlord's Rivals Link Him to U.S. Attacks

Afghan Warlord's Rivals Link Him to U.S. Attacks

Amy Waldman . NYTimes . 03 January 2002

Pacha Khan Zadran, a warlord from southern Afghanistan, who has been accused of directing airstrikes against his political enemies.

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 2 — He described himself as the most powerful and important commander in southeastern Afghanistan, but insisted that the Americans bombing the region have never contacted him for guidance on targets. He said he did not know who was providing the Americans with intelligence about where to bomb, but insisted the bombings have been absolutely precise.

This anti-Taliban commander, Pacha Khan Zadran, is only the latest Afghan official to emerge and seek control of a fief — in his case the southern provinces and sub-provinces of Paktia, Paktika, and Khost. But controversy has clouded Mr. Zadran's emergence, with his opponents accusing him of providing information for American airstrikes last month on a convoy of tribal leaders that was traveling to Kabul from Paktia to pay homage to the new government.

Mr. Zadran denied in an interview today that he had ever given the Americans information about who or where to bomb. He said that he was unaware of any American Special Operations forces in the area, and that he could not explain how America was zeroing in on targets as specific as a house or convoy of cars. "I have no idea who gives the report to target one place, but I can say they target precisely," he said. "In my opinion, America has not made any mistake in its bombing."

He included in that assessment a bombing over the weekend in the village of Niazi Kala near the city of Gardez. He said villagers had taken a Taliban weapons stock from Gardez to their houses, and Americans had rightly bombed those houses. "They were not Al Qaeda people," he said, "but maybe they were supporting them."

Pentagon officials have said that targeting information comes from many sources and that they are confident in the accuracy of the process.

An incident report by international aid workers suggested that Taliban fleeing Kabul had indeed stashed weapons in the area, although it also said the Taliban had subsequently moved on, leaving only unusable weaponry.

While Mr. Zadran said he felt that the people in his domain would put up with civilian casualties as long as the bombing targeted Taliban and Al Qaeda, the report provided a far more chilling account of the human cost of destroying the weapons stash.

The report said that the air raids began about 3 a.m. Saturday and continued for two hours, flattening five fortlike compounds — with a number of quarters inside — and presumably killing the occupants.

"The villagers, mostly the relatives of the victims and a number of other people from the neighborhood were removing the rubble, using spades and tractors, to pull out the dead bodies," the report said. "What have been pulled out so far are parts of human bodies torn apart so badly that it is almost impossible to identify them."

The villagers reported that after the first raid, some survivors, including women and children, ran north of the village to hide. They said two or three helicopters arrived soon after to track the survivors, using powerful lights, as a B-52 flew overhead. All were killed in the subsequent bombing, the villagers said.

The report noted that so far villagers had found the remains of "17 men, 10 women and 25 children."

Mr. Zadran and other Paktia leaders were summoned to Kabul via helicopter on Tuesday by Hamid Karzai, the chairman of the interim authority, to discuss the Gardez bombing. But today, Mr. Zadran said he had simply come to congratulate Mr. Karzai and firm up his own appointment as governor of Paktia, Paktika and Khost. After a few more meetings with top government officials, he said he expected to be officially appointed by week's end.

Mr. Karzai's spokesman could not be reached tonight.

The interview with Mr. Zadran, like conversations with other leaders from Paktia over the past 10 days, offers a window into a world where local rivalries and global aims seem to feed off each other.

As in any country where several small factions are pursuing their own goals, Mr. Zadran's camp suspects almost everyone of being linked to Al Qaeda. It is also not shy about accusing political opponents of supporting terrorism, regardless of the evidence. His opponents, fearful of bombing and in some cases their Taliban pasts, are eager to play down the existence of any terrorists, past or present, in the Paktia area, although it is clear Al Qaeda had a substantial presence there.

Mr. Zadran, 58, is from a large, well-known southern tribe and a well-connected family. He is a supporter of the former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who lives in exile in Rome. He was also a delegate to the conference in Bonn last month that laid down the framework for the interim government. His younger brother, Amanullah Zadran, 44, is the minister of borders and tribes in the new government.

Even some of Mr. Zadran's friends have suggested that he has fed tensions in the southeast by refusing to share power. Asked why he should rule single-handedly over three provinces, he said it was the "request of the people." He paraphrased their sentiments: "You have been in contact with the people during 23 years of war in Afghanistan. You have been struggling for us. It is your right. There is no need to have three or four commanders. You are enough."

Mr. Zadran acknowledged that support for his rule was not unanimous. Last week, a tribal council from Gardez came to Kabul to ask for a halt to the bombing and to say definitively that they believed that the strike against the Paktia convoy had been a mistake. Two days later came the bombing near Gardez.

Mr. Zadran labeled the group "the opposition," and said they were Al Qaeda supporters. The leader of the council was the "No. 1 Al Qaeda supporter," he said. "They are with Al Qaeda people in Gardez. There are Arabs, Chechens."

Mr. Zadran said if he thought that the Al Qaeda network was finished and the bombing was no longer needed, he would tell Mr. Karzai.

And did he think that moment was near?

"Inshallah," he replied.