A tale of tribal treachery, Arab mercenaries and how
the Americans may have been used to settle an Afghan blood feud emerged
yesterday behind the bombing of a convoy that left up to 60 people
dead and 40 injured.
The killings threatened to cast a shadow over the new
interim government of Hamid Karzai, who took office on Saturday. The
casualties were said to be on their way to Kabul from the eastern province
of Paktia for the inauguration when they were attacked by US Air Force
AC-130 gunships and Navy jets.
The news of the strikes had a major impact on delegates
gathered in the capital. The Pentagon, however, insisted that the vehicles
the warplanes had raided were al-Qa'ida ones. The commander of the
Afghan War, General Tommy Franks, said that his forces were acting
on intelligence and had retaliated after coming under fire from two
But it has now been claimed that "intelligence" had
been supplied to the Americans by a Paktia warlord, Pacha Khan, who
had a score to settle with members of the nomadic Kochi clan who
have a reputation for lawlessness
travelling in the convoy. Local villagers said he had deliberately
misinformed the Americans that the vehicles contained al-Qa'ida fighters
and engineered the air attack.
Mr Khan is a powerful man whose brother is a minister
in Mr Karzai's new cabinet. He is also said to be close to the American
According to the locals, his men blocked the convoy from
the main road between the towns of Khost and Gardez, forcing it to
get on to a remote mountain pass, thus making it appear it was attempting
to avoid detection.
All 24 vehicles were hit and most of them destroyed as
the warplanes struck just after 6pm on Thursday and carried out repeated
sorties. Among the killed and injured, it was reported, were two mujahedin
commanders, Mohammed Ibrahim, whose brother Jalaluddin Haqqani was
a minister in the Taliban government, and Haji Nayim Kochi, a clan
The twisted and burnt wreckage of the cars and buses
lay mangled near the town of Soto Kondou, 50 miles east of Khost, yesterday.
The villagers of Asmani Kilai, where most of the people in the convoy
came from, spoke of how Pacha Khan had allegedly got the Americans
to do their dirty work, naming him as the malicious informer.
One villager, Agha Mohammed, said: "There were no
terrorists here. They have destroyed an entire village, we have nothing
Another, Khodai Noor, said: "The people who got
hit were going to congratulate Karzai on the transfer of power. There
are no members of al-Qa'ida or supporters of Osama bin Laden here."
One of those hit was Haji Yaqub Khan Tanaiwal, 65, who
suffered multiple fractures to his right leg and injuries to his arms.
Speaking at a hospital near Peshawar, across the Pakistani border,
he said: "Those who reported on the convoy must have a grudge
against some people in it. The Americans know who gave them the report.
They should not rely on people like that.
"We were first told that the road was closed and
then armed men made us get off the road. There was not a single shot
fired from the convoys. But the planes attacked. There were about six
people in each car, and every car was hit. Those who survived the first
attack ran for cover, under trees. Others were trapped inside their
cars. There were no Talibans in the convoy. We all support the new
government and the US because they supported us in the jihad against
the Russians. I fought in that war.''
General Shahnawaz Tanai, from the same area, fought against
Mr Tanaiwal in that war. The general, who was chief-of-staff to President
Najibullah, who was later murdered by the Taliban, said: "I know
Haji Yaqub. He is no Taliban."
But Pacha Khan's brother denied that anyone from his
family had informed on the convoy and said the dead were all Osama
bin Laden's Arab fighters, who had set up base in Paktia and the provinces
of Paktia, Helmand and Khost.
Amanullah Zadran, the new minister for borders, who had
just attended his first cabinet meeting, said in Kabul: "We do
have contacts with Americans and we have told them about al-Qa'ida.
I do know the Americans have a photo of a Stinger missile being fired
at them. There are around 350 Arabs who are in this area: they are
mercenaries who are paid by the UAE [United Arab Emirates]. They were
trying to escape to Pakistan when they were attacked. I have seen pictures
of four of the dead, they are Arabs.
"We did not tell the Americans about the convoy.
Their planes found it," he said.
* The former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul
Salam Zaeef, who became one of the best-known faces of the war in Afghanistan,
said yesterday he had applied for political asylum in Pakistan.