CIA Fails in Bid to Kill Afghan Rebel With a Missile
By Walter Pincus and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 10, 2002; Page A24
The CIA fired a missile from an unmanned Predator aircraft over Afghanistan Monday in an unsuccessful attempt to kill a factional leader who has vowed to attack U.S. service personnel and oust the interim Afghan government of Hamid Karzai, according to administration sources.
The targeting of a meeting of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his top aides outside Kabul was based on information he was plotting attacks against Americans, officials said.
Hekmatyar is a Pashtun who, as leader of a hard-line Islamic party, Hezb-e-Islami, has frequently changed his loyalties over the past 20 years. Anti-Americanism has been one of his few lasting positions, sources said. U.S. officials and Afghanistan's interim leadership allege Hekmatyar has ties to al Qaeda.
The CIA missile strike against Hekmatyar represented an escalation in a confrontation that has been brewing for the past two months between the United States and Hekmatyar. It came a week after British forces established a field operating base on Hekmatyar's home turf of Logar province, to the southeast of Kabul.
Hekmatyar's presence in the area worries the U.S. military because of the threat it presents to the weak central government in the capital and because it is in the same region as U.S.-led military operations against al Qaeda and Taliban fighters along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.
CIA operators of the Predator were trying to hit "a group of people from his organization, not specifically aiming to kill Hekmatyar," a senior administration official said. "Sadly," the official added, "he survived."
The attack, which was first reported in yesterday's New York Times, was planned without any consultation with the Karzai government, one administration source said.
Hekmatyar returned to Afghanistan in February after years of exile in Iran. He had been asked to leave by Iran, which was about to play host to Karzai and his senior cabinet members. On the eve of Karzai's visit, Hekmatyar called for the removal of the interim leader and for Afghans to attack Americans.
In the last two months, Hekmatyar worked to revitalize his party and is "thought to have developed links to al Qaeda and Taliban groups," according to a Bush administration official. He has been accused of being behind a series of bombings in Kabul in March aimed at destabilizing the Karzai government in advance of the return of the exiled former Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah.
He also was said to have been involved in the attempted assassination of the interim Afghan defense minister, Mohammed Fahim, last month. That attack, in which a bomb detonated as Fahim's convoy passed, killed four bystanders and wounded 18. An Afghan defense ministry spokesman said at the time that the Karzai government has not made any direct links between Hekmatyar and the attempted assassination. "But there's no doubt that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has a close relationship with al Qaeda and the Taliban," the spokesman said.
In the 1970s, Hekmatyar formed his hard-line Islamic group with aid from Pakistan's intelligence services. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, he gained increased funding and arms for anti-Soviet guerrilla operations from Arab countries and the United States through Pakistani intelligence and the CIA. He was one of the most influential factional leaders and during this time had contact with Mohammad Omar, who emerged as an enemy of Hekmatyar when he became leader of the Taliban after the Soviets were defeated.
During the 1980s, Hekmatyar was accused of fighting the Soviets as well as some of his supposed allies from the Northern Alliance, particularly the group's Tajik commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud. He served as prime minister briefly in 1995 before going to Iran.
The U.S. military in Afghanistan sees Hekmatyar as an ally of al Qaeda. "He has been actively involved in trying to undermine the political process in Afghanistan," a State Department official said yesterday. "Hekmatyar has never been a force for stability in Afghanistan," said Haron Amin, the senior Afghan diplomat in Washington.
Gul Haidar, an ethnic Tajik who commands the Kabul government's forces in southeastern Afghanistan, where Hekmatyar appears to be strongest, said in an interview earlier this week, "Al Qaeda and Hekmatyar are the same to me."
In Afghanistan yesterday, British forces said they discovered a large weapons cache in caves in eastern Afghanistan, apparently belonging to al Qaeda or the Taliban.
British Royal Marine Lt. Col. Ben Curry said engineers opened one of four caves and found about 30 truckloads of 12.7mm machine gun ammunition and 82mm mortar shells, the Reuters news service reported. Antitank ammunition was also discovered.
The caves were in the mountains of Paktika province, where British forces have been hunting for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters for 10 days.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company