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Taliban Threatens New Operation In Southern Afghanistan

September 12, 2007 -- Taliban spokesman Qari Yusef Ahmadi says militants will soon launch an operation in southern Afghanistan led by Mullah Bradar -- a senior Taliban commander who was earlier reported to have been killed.

Ahmadi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the planned offensive in Helmand Province is called Operation Nasrat -- Arabic for "triumph."

Mullah Bradar is thought to be a close relative of supreme Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The Afghan Defense Ministry said in late August that it had killed Mullah Bradar during a joint operation with NATO forces in Helmand Province.

But Counterterrorism Police Chief Abdul Manan Farahi said on September 8 that Bradar's death was not confirmed, and that the Defense Ministry's report may have been mistaken.

Ahmadi's announcement of the operation comes just days after he issued a statement saying the Taliban would be willing to consider negotiations with the Afghan government -- if Kabul made a formal offer. Ahmadi released that statement after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on September 9 that his government is willing to hold talks with the Taliban.

Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, says authorities in Kabul are investigating Ahmadi's statement and the possibility of negotiations.

Hamidzada said Taliban fighters who are sincerely interested in talks to find a "solution for peace" would not be arrested if they came forward.

But he also said the government has not received a formal offer for talks from the Taliban, and that if one were made, Kabul would decide about it "at that time."

Contradictory Offers

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said during a visit to Kabul on September 11 that there are inconsistencies in the Taliban's statement.

"There have been these reports about the Taliban's interest in talking. I think we all need to understand a little bit better what is being suggested because there is contradictory information about exactly what is being proposed," Negroponte said. "We would want to know the view of the government of Afghanistan. Whatever happens...these talks by the Taliban should be handled in such a way by the government of Afghanistan that it does not, in any way, undermine or prejudice all the important political, social, and economic accomplishments that have occurred in this country."

Negroponte also said that Washington is concerned about Chinese and Iranian-made weapons that have been discovered in Afghanistan -- including Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles that have turned up in the possession of Taliban fighters.

Negroponte suggested that the Chinese-made weapons might be arriving in Afghanistan after first being purchased by the government of Iran, and said that he has raised the issue with Beijing.

"We have tried to discourage the Chinese from signing any new weapons contracts with Iran," he said. "We are concerned by reports -- which we consider to be reliable -- of explosively formed projectiles and other kinds of military equipment coming from Iran across the border and coming into the hands of the Taliban."

The U.S. State Department has said in the past that it cannot prove that the Iranian government has sent weapons directly to the Taliban. But it says the large amount of Iranian weapons turning up in Afghanistan suggests that there are links between Tehran and illegal weapons shipments to militants in Afghanistan.

(RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz in Prague, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Saleh Mohammad Saleh in Lashkar Gah and Fariba Zahir in Kabul contributed to this feature.)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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