Taliban express doubt that bin Laden is dead

Published 11:12 am Tuesday, May 3, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban cast suspicion Tuesday on the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, saying they would not believe the al-Qaida leader was dead until they had seen proof or received confirmation from sources close to him.

Though U.S. officials have said they confirmed bin Laden’s identity both with face-mapping software and DNA tests, the lack of photos of the body and its burial at sea have raised doubts in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the man who evaded American detection for so long has actually been killed.

“This news is only coming from one side, from Obama’s office, and American has not shown any evidence or proof to support this claim,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed to journalists. “On the other side, our sources close to Osama bin Laden have not confirmed or denied the news.”

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“Until there is news from sources close to Osama bin Laden it will be too early to provide any reaction,” the statement said.

Afghans have reacted with emotions ranging from joy to fear that the head of al-Qaida has finally been eliminated. Some have voiced hope that this will make it easier to bring the al-Qaida-allied Taliban to the negotiating table. Others have worried that it may mean the U.S. will leave Afghanistan before the fight against the insurgency is over.

On Monday, Afghanistan’s president pointed out that the successful strike on bin Laden in Pakistan shows that he was right all along to urge Americans to focus more of their military might in the neighboring country. Karzai has repeatedly criticized international forces for putting their energy into trying to route militants from Afghan villages when the leaders of the insurgency are residing in Pakistan.

In Kabul on Tuesday, few Afghans doubted that bin Laden was dead, but some echoed President Karzai’s sentiments.

“Osama bin Laden was found by Americans in Pakistan and poor people are getting killed by bombings in Afghanistan,” said Samiullah Khan, a shopkeeper in the capital. “The government should ask when the terrorist was found in Pakistan why NATO is bombing places in Afghanistan.”

Others said they didn’t expect bin Laden’s death to change anything about their long-running war.

“The situation here is not related to Osama’s death,” said Sayed Karim, a 50-year-old retired teacher. He argued that the Taliban’s goal is to bring strict Islamic rule to the country, and any change in their relationship with al-Qaida would not alter that.

There were, however, fears about reprisal attacks in a country where suicide bombings and roadside explosives have become commonplace. A district police commander in Kabul said that the city is on alert.

“The Kabul city police are ready to react and stop any possible activities by al-Qaida or other enemies of this country to disturb the security,” said Gen. Farooq Hassas, chief of police for Kabul’s district four.

Both U.S. officials and their Afghan counterparts have said that there is still a powerful terror network to fight in Afghanistan even after bin Laden’s death and that their military strategy remains unchanged.

And the war in Afghanistan has continued uninterrupted.

NATO forces on Tuesday launched an airstrike against a group of private security guards who were contracted to protect military supply convoys along an eastern Afghan highway, killing one of the guards, Afghan police and the company said.

NATO confirmed that an airstrike was called in by forces in Ghazni province, but said its initial reports suggested the strike was on “suspected insurgents.”

The international coalition said it authorized the strike after its forces observed the suspected insurgents setting up an ambush site in Gelan district — activity that was confirmed by the air weapons team. They later found several machine guns, a rocket-propelled grenade and four AK-47 assault rifles.

Afghan officials said there were no insurgents involved.

“The Watan Risk guards came under attack on the road,” said Zirawer Zahid, the Ghazni police chief. He was referring to Watan Risk Management, a private company that supplies guards for convoys, offices and international organizations.

Zahid said the strike killed one guard. A representative for Watan confirmed that one of their guards had been killed and another five wounded when they came under attack while moving from one checkpoint on the road to another.

“Our guards are all along this road. If we aren’t here, no supply convoy can reach its destination. I don’t know why the Americans targeted us,” said Qudartullah Khan, who oversees Watan’s operations in southeast Afghanistan. He shouted into the phone, letting go a barrage of insults at the international military coalition that contracts Watan to protect the road.

“We are constantly under threat from militants in this area, and now the Americans are also targeting us?” he said. Five of his employees were detained by American forces, he said.

Also Tuesday, a NATO service member was killed in a pre-dawn bomb attack in the east. There were no further details on the attack or the nationality of the deceased.

More than 150 international service members have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan.