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Al Qaeda and Taliban Have Faded, Afghan Leader Says

Times Staff Writer

Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared Thursday that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are no longer effectively operating in the country, despite a series of recent attacks, including one on Wednesday that killed five aid workers.

“Everything that happens in Afghanistan is not terrorist-related,” Karzai told reporters during a visit by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “There is banditry too. There is theft too. There is armed robbery too. Now, every act that is committed with a Kalashnikov is not an act that is committed either by the Taliban or Al Qaeda.”

Glancing at Rumsfeld, Karzai added with a smile, “Probably we are more secure here than you are in Washington in terms of security on a daily basis.”

Karzai’s comments came after Wednesday’s lethal attack on an aid convoy in Sarobi, about 40 miles northeast of Kabul, the capital.

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The employees of the Sanayee Development Foundation are believed to have been killed by Islamic militants, foundation officials said.

“At the beginning, the staff thought they were thieves,” said Raz Mohammed Dalili, head of the foundation. “Two gunmen told them to get out of the car, asked what their mission was and where they were from. They shot the driver first and then opened fire on the others.”

The recent assaults have appeared to parallel those of insurgents in Iraq. However, Karzai and Rumsfeld strongly rejected the comparison.

“The situations are so different that to equate them is probably not a good idea,” Rumsfeld said. “On the other hand, terrorists are terrorists.”

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Efforts to hunt down remnants of the Taliban militia and the Al Qaeda terrorist network are focused on the border with Pakistan.

U.S. soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division are pursuing the rebels on the Afghan side, while Pakistani troops have launched a similar operation on the other side.

Defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have confirmed plans for a major spring offensive designed to capture guerrillas in an area where Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is believed to be operating.

Asked whether a net is being closed around Bin Laden, Rumsfeld said, “I would hope so,” but added, “Close doesn’t count.”

Visiting Kabul and Kandahar at the end of a six-day tour that also included stops in Iraq, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, Rumsfeld would not say whether the Pentagon was shifting more special operations forces from Iraq to Afghanistan to aid in the hunt for Bin Laden.

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Times special correspondent Hamida Ghafour in Kabul contributed to this report.


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