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Ismail Khan: Quick Formation of Interim Government Helped bin Laden Escape - 2001-12-30

The top military commander in western Afghanistan says that the UN decision to push forward the formation of an interim government may have cost the Northern Alliance the opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

Ismail Khan says he is not criticizing the United Nations for forming an interim government in Kabul. He acknowledges that the new government, led by moderate ethnic Pashtun Hamid Karzai, is doing its best to fill the political vacuum left by the Taleban in mid-November.

But the veteran Afghan opposition commander, who is an ethnic Tajik, says the rush to form a broad-based government, which included Pashtuns, made it easy for the Taleban to strike deals and melt back into Afghan society. The fundamentalist Taleban was a Pashtun-dominated group. "If the United Nations had not been in such a hurry to form an interim government, it would have given Northern Alliance forces a chance to collect weapons from the Taleban," Mr. Khan said. "If we had been able to disarm the Taleban and Taleban-supported groups, I am sure Osama bin Laden would have been captured or killed by now."

Mr. Khan says he believes Osama bin Laden is alive and remains in hiding with Taleban spiritual leader Mohammed Omar somewhere in Afghanistan. He says they are still supported by a large number of followers who pose a threat to Afghanistan's overall security.

He favors the idea of forming a national army made up of former Northern Alliance troops. But the governor insists that a large foreign peacekeeping presence is not necessary in Herat or Kabul.

After weeks of intensive US bombings, Ismail Khan led his forces back into Herat on November 12, more than six years after the Taleban seized the city from him.