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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 18:34 GMT
Profile: Leader of al-Qaeda's last stand
American soldiers in Afghanistan
US casualties have boosted Mansoor's reputation
The United States military and its Afghan allies are engaged in heavy fighting against Taleban and al-Qaeda forces in eastern Afghanistan. The BBC's Rahimullah Ysufzai looks at the background of the man some say is commanding the regrouped al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.

Saif-ur-Rehman Mansoor was an almost unknown son of a famous father until a week ago.

But he became famous himself overnight when US warplanes started bombing his mountain hideout in Shah-e-kot near Gardez in Afghanistan's southern Paktia province last Friday.

The fierce resistance being put up by his men despite, being outnumbered and outgunned, has created a lot of interest in the young man.


Mansoor was so simple and naive that anyone could mislead and use him

Former Taleban diplomat
Mansoor's father Maulvi Nasrullah Mansoor was a well-known Afghan mujahideen commander who fought the Soviet occupation troops in the 1980s.

He died in a car bomb explosion in 1993 while driving between Gardez and his native Zurmat district near Shah-e-kot.

Some of his supporters believed he may have been killed on the orders of a rival mujahideen leader, Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, though his family and party never pressed the charges.

Mr Hekmatyar, whose whereabouts are unknown after his expulsion from Iran last week, always denied the allegation.

Base revival

Unlike his late father who backed the government of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the young Mansoor joined the Taleban and served as the deputy commander of the military garrison at Kargha near Kabul until the fall of the regime last year.

He returned to his native Zurmat and soon afterwards revived his father's Shah-e-kot base, which had served the mujahideen well during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Map
Many Taleban fighters and some al-Qaeda men and their families are said to have flocked to Shah-e-kot to avoid arrest by the US military authorities and their Afghan allies.

Some of the anti-Taleban military commanders, including Badshah Khan Zadran, had alleged several weeks ago that Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters were regrouping at Shah-e-kot and elsewhere in Paktia province.

'Simple and naive

Mansoor, in his early 30s, reportedly held negotiations with tribal elders sent by Paktia's new Governor, Taj Mohammad Wardak, who wanted him to give up his base and announce support for the Hamed Karzai-led interim government in Kabul.

B-52 above mountains near Gardez
B-52 heavy bombers have been pounding the area
When the talks failed to yield an agreement, Wardak accused Mansoor of lying to him while Mansoor's supporters claimed he was ready for a reconciliation but wanted guarantees of an amnesty and safe passage before abandoning his base.

A former Taleban diplomat, who requested anonymity, said Mansoor was a pious and emotional man who was never able to complete his education and lacked vision.

He said Mansoor was so simple and naive that anyone could mislead and use him.

He claimed certain former mujahideen leaders opposed to the Karzai government had written to Mansoor to seek his support in their endeavours to return to power.

He also doubted Mansoor's ability to lead so many men in battle against the US-led coalition forces.

Despite these doubts, Mansoor's reputation has grown following the killing of eight American and several Afghan soldiers in the fighting.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | South Asia
Fierce battle for al-Qaeda stronghold
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
UN seeks to end Afghan abuses
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda 'executed US serviceman'
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda may use internet to regroup
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Operation Anaconda
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