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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 01:22 GMT 02:22 UK
Soldiers face 'bounty' threat
Meagre earnings make cash rewards a powerful weapon
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By Terence White in Afghanistan

A bounty offered for the capture or killing of foreigners based in Afghanistan is a provocative reminder that despite the defeat of the Taleban and their al-Qaeda allies, they still pose a very lethal threat to outsiders in this country.

"A reward of $100,000 has been offered for the capture of a Western coalition soldier," a United States military spokesman informed journalists at Bagram airbase on the plains about 50 kilometres (35 miles) north of Kabul.

British Marines
British Marines are helping the US to hunt down Taleban forces

He added that a bounty of $50,000 has been offered for the body of a dead coalition soldier.

Bagram airbase, a massive military complex constructed with Soviet aid money during Nikita Khrushchev's rule, is currently home to the infantry and air forces of the US, together with troops of their Australian, British, Canadian, Norwegian and Spanish allies.


In a Bagram briefing session, US Major Bryan Hilferty informed foreign journalists that "credible threats of violence" against Westerners had been uncovered in the eastern province of Paktia.

He said that leaflets, reportedly pushed under the doors of local homes, had been found in Paktia province, which offered the significant cash rewards for the capturing or killing of coalition members.

It was not clear how or where the lucrative cash inducements could be collected by potential Afghan bounty hunters.

Westerners working in Afghanistan could be in jeopardy from 'rocket or mortar attacks'

A military offensive, Operation Anaconda, that claimed the lives of nine US soldiers was concluded just two weeks ago in the rugged Shahi Kot valley of Paktia, where al-Qaeda remnants have been active.

Information obtained by US intelligence operatives showed that Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda followers had offered $400 payment to each family living in at least three villages of the Shahi Kot valley so that they would evacuate the area.


In poverty-stricken Afghanistan, where even government officials earn as little as $50 a month, such cash inducements are a powerful weapon of war.
Us and Afghan soldiers
Afghan and Allied soldiers keep the peace in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul

Saudi-born extremist Bin Laden currently tops the world's list of most-wanted men, he has an American bounty of $25m on his head.

The US military spokesman also warned that Westerners working in Afghanistan could be in jeopardy from "rocket or mortar attacks, vehicle bombs or direct action against soft targets".

Coalition special forces together with Afghan army troops recently patrolling the sensitive Shahi Kot valley have come under long-range rocket fire there, which suggests that al-Qaeda and Taleban forces are still active in close proximity to the area.

Weapons for sale

Meanwhile, US soldiers stationed at Bagram airbase are routinely offered Soviet-era weapons for sale by local Afghans.

''I bought a Soviet bayonet and belt for $20 and was offered a pistol as well," remarked one well-satisfied US soldier.

The bayonets are also fashionable kit for some units of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) based in Kabul.

Some journalists have also had weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, offered for sale by Afghan vendors in the make-shift row of stalls located just outside the main entrance to Bagram airbase.

'The hunt continues'

Money is also the issue for Afghan civilians who lately gathered outside the front gate of the US embassy in Kabul to mark the advent of six months since the coalition bombing of Afghanistan commenced last October.

These Afghans, supported by a young female American activist, demanded reparations from the American government for damage and destruction to their homes caused by errant bombs during aerial strikes against the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

Sympathy for these Afghan civilians notwithstanding, the West has a long-term commitment to its war against terrorism.

"The hunt continues, the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is not over," notes the US briefing officer at Bagram.

See also:

07 Apr 02 | South Asia
Rocket fired at Kabul peacekeepers
08 Apr 02 | South Asia
'Significant' Afghan papers found
08 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan farmers die in poppy protest
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