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Afghan Units Preparing to Withdraw for Demilitarization of Kabul - 2002-01-10

American warplanes have been pounding suspected Al-Qaida hideouts in eastern Afghanistan, amid reports that Afghan military units are withdrawing from Kabul as part of a plan to demilitarize the capital.

Afghan Islamic Press says U.S. fighter planes have bombed a former suspected Al-Qaida training camp in Zhawar in eastern Khost Province. The area is less than 10 kilometers from the Pakistani border. A search operation is under way in the region for remnants of the Taleban and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida network.

The Pakistani based news agency says the air strikes began late Wednesday and continued Thursday morning. It also says that 50 U.S. soldiers were flown to Khost, bringing the total there to about 150.

Meanwhile, the leader of the interim administration in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, has urged Afghan factions to work together to restore security to the country. In a bid to improve safety in the capital city, the government has ordered all armed men - except authorized security personnel - to leave Kabul by Saturday or face jail.

Senior Afghan officials are quoted as saying some military units have begun withdrawing to their bases outside the city on Thursday. Under a peace plan agreed to in Germany, an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) of about 4,500 troops led by Britain is expected to be in place in Kabul by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan, local Afghan commanders have sparked a controversy by releasing a number of senior Taleban ministers the U.S. government wanted held for interrogation. The ousted Taleban officials surrendered early this week to authorities near Kandahar. A spokesman for Afghanistan's government says it is trying to determine if their release was appropriate. U.S. officials say the detainees were of great interest to the United States in tracking down other senior leaders of the Taleban and terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.