KABUL, 20 March 2004 – International peacekeepers in the Afghan capital have been warned of the risk of “magnetic bombs” being placed on their vehicles, an Afghan intelligence official said yesterday. About 60 of these bombs have been made in Pakistan and smuggled into Afghanistan by militants belonging to the Hizb-e-Islami movement, the official said, requesting anonymity.
The bombs, which carry between 0.5 and 2 kilograms of explosives, can be detonated by remote control and are attached by a magnet to the body of a vehicle. The sophisticated devices would be used to target vehicles belonging to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force charged with maintaining security in Kabul, he added.
They could also be used against cars belonging to the United Nations and foreign organizations by militants loyal to the Hizb-e-Islami movement of former Afghan premier, fugitive Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, or other insurgents, he warned. ISAF has informed its personnel of the dangers of these devices and taken the necessary measures, the source said. ISAF spokesman Cmdr. Chris Henderson refused to comment on the devices, citing security reasons.
Meanwhile, US forces called in airstrikes against suspected Taleban positions yesterday after two US soldiers and at least five militants were killed in a clash in central Afghanistan, the US military said.
Clashes erupted Thursday afternoon in Tarin Kowt district of Uruzgan province, about 110 kilometers north of the main southern city of Kandahar. “Early this morning we re-engaged the enemy forces with direct fire and with fire support from US Air Force aircraft,” US military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said.
US and Afghan forces have beefed up activity in the region under Operation Mountain Storm, a new US offensive launched March 7 against Al-Qaeda leaders.
The campaign is also targeting southeastern Afghanistan and the border with Pakistan, as Pakistani troops on their side of the frontier stage their bloodiest battles to date with Al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.
“Certainly we have operations along the border, we position our assets in order to complement the Pakistan and Afghan operations,” Hilferty said. “We continue combat and combat-support, civil affairs type operations on the Afghan side of the border where we believe that the remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taleban are operating.”
US and Afghan National Army soldiers came under fire on Thursday while on patrol in a village in Tarin Kowt, Hilferty told reporters. Hilferty said the US soldiers were from the 10th Mountain Division, but did not identify them.
“Coalition and ANA operations continue in this area,” he said. “Early this morning we re-engaged the enemy with direct fire and fire support from US aircraft.” Hilferty did not give details of the latest engagement or say whether it had inflicted any casualties. He said the area was one in which Taleban guerrillas were active.
Britain has sent about 100 special forces to Afghanistan as the hunt for Al-Qaeda leaders Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri hots up, an airport official said yesterday.
The British soldiers arrived at Kabul International Airport on March 10 and left the same night for an unknown destination, the official, who asked not to be named, said. British special forces “looking like SAS” embarked from their plane and waited on the tarmac until nightfall before taking off in their vehicles, the official told AFP, referring to Britain’s elite Special Air Service.