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Islamic Insurgents Reportedly Meet to Plan Disruption of Afghan Election - 2004-09-20

The U.S. military says senior al Qaida and Taleban operatives have held a series of meetings in Pakistan to plot new attacks aimed at disrupting Afghanistan's upcoming national elections.

The meetings have reportedly taken place in Pakistan near the country's remote border with Afghanistan. They included members of al Qaida, the Taleban, and an Afghan-based Islamic group known as Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG. U.S. military spokesman Major Scott Nelson told reporters in Kabul Monday that the militant groups are expected to step up efforts to disrupt Afghanistan's October 9 presidential elections.

Major Nelson warned that along with actual attacks, the militants might also intensify their propaganda efforts to claim credit for attacks that never took place.

But he says intelligence reports indicate the insurgents themselves are on the defensive, following intensified efforts to root them out by the Pakistani military on one side of the border, and the Afghan army and U.S.-led international coalition forces on the other.

"There have been several meetings between Taleban, al Qaida and HIG members in Pakistan where they [the insurgents] have raised serious concerns about operations that the Pakistan military, as well as the coalition and Afghanistan military, are operating in areas where they have not operated in the past," said Major Nelson.

Pakistan's army has launched an aggressive campaign against foreign insurgents hiding in the country's northern tribal regions.

Major Nelson says Pakistani efforts to forge stronger ties with local tribal leaders and isolate foreign militants are beginning to bear fruit.

"That's happened already," he said. "Certain leaders have been targeted, by not only the Pakistani military but also by the tribal elders."

Meanwhile, violence aimed at disrupting the Afghan election continues.

In southern Afghanistan, a breakaway faction of the Taleban beheaded three Afghan soldiers over the weekend.

Militants have now killed at least ten election workers, and some political candidates want the election delayed until better security is available.

Nevertheless, President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. supporters insist the election will proceed as planned. And despite the violence, millions of Afghans have already registered to vote in the country's first-ever direct election.