The commander of the international security force for Kabul said today he fears an upsurge in terrorist attacks here if the United States attacks Iraq, leading him to order extra security precautions and intelligence work.
"If there is a war in Iraq, there might be many sympathizers throughout Afghanistan," said Maj. Gen. Hilmi Akin Zorlu of Turkey, the commander of the 4,300-soldier International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). "It may cause an increase in terrorist actions against all foreigners including ISAF, U.N., coalition forces and all civilian businessmen coming to Afghanistan."
In addition to the threat of violence caused by a possible war in Iraq, ISAF and American forces are on high alert following a number of high-impact attacks against foreigners in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Zorlu said ISAF is "increasing detection efforts and will take extra security precautions, not only for protecting ISAF but for protecting all foreigners here in Kabul."
Zorlu stressed that he believes Kabul is becoming increasingly stable and peaceful and that ISAF and Afghan forces can control any potential threats. "Security in Kabul improves with each passing day," he said. But he also said his international troops are constantly interrupting potential attacks and confiscating heavy weapons ammunition that they find hidden around Kabul.
For instance, Zorlu said that ISAF forces learned last week of explosives stored in the restroom of a girls school in Kabul and sent a team to dismantle them. Last month, a man threw two grenades at foreigners waiting outside an ISAF compound, killing one Afghan interpreter and wounding two French aid workers. The attacker died after a third grenade exploded on his body.
Zorlu said ISAF investigators have determined that he was an Afghan in his late forties with one wooden leg and that he was carrying religious items. He also said the man may have been tortured in the past, because deep cigarette burns were found on his upper torso.
Several days before the grenade attack at ISAF headquarters, a young Afghan threw a grenade at a jeep carrying American soldiers in Kabul, wounding two of them.
While no group has claimed responsibility for these or other attacks, the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan have called for a jihad, or holy war, against international forces in Afghanistan, as have al Qaeda and the former Afghan prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Zorlu said the threat to Kabul can been seen in the arsenal that ISAF forces have discovered in the city. In all, he said, ISAF has found and destroyed 108,000 rounds of ammunition for antitank and antiaircraft weapons, rockets and mines. He said ISAF forces recently discovered a large cache of ammunition in a house in Kabul and that much more remains in the city. It is unclear, he said, whether the ammunition was brought into Kabul during the long years of war or since the fall of the Taliban last year.
Zorlu made his comments at a monthly ISAF news conference at its headquarters in Kabul. The ISAF force is made up of soldiers from 22 nations with the mandate to bring security to Kabul and its surrounding area. The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai has asked that the ISAF force be expanded and deployed throughout the country, but ISAF member nations have declined the request. The German and Dutch governments are scheduled to assume leadership of ISAF next month; they agreed to do so only if the ISAF mission remained limited to Kabul.
Rafael Robillard, executive director of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an umbrella group for aid organizations, said there is a feeling among relief workers "that insecurity is increasing, but targeted at the military." He said that if there is a war in Iraq, "Muslims will be unhappy . . . and anyone who looks American could be targeted."
About 850 to 1,000 foreign aid workers are in Afghanistan, Robillard said, in addition to about 1,000 foreign staff for the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. About 10,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, in addition to the ISAF troops.