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US Official: CIA Tried to Kill Afghan Warlord Hekmatyar - 2002-05-09

A U.S. official says the CIA tried but failed to kill a well-known Afghan warlord earlier this week, who is accused of plotting attacks against the Afghan interim government and American troops in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials who asked not to be identified confirm a report in The New York Times that the CIA tried but failed to kill the warlord, by using an unmanned spy plane to fire a missile at him in Afghanistan earlier this week. A CIA spokesman would not comment on the operation, but a U.S. official said Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was ruthlessly involved in plotting terrorist attacks against Americans, after returning to Afghanistan from exile in Iran earlier this year.

Last month, Afghanistan's interim government linked members of his Hezb-I-Islami faction to a plot to attack interim leader Hamid Karzai and the returning exiled king, Mohammad Zahir Shah. As one U.S. official put it, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is "on our list."

U.S. Central Command spokesman Admiral Craig Quigley denies Pentagon involvement in the operation, even though the warlord is considered a threat to coalition forces in the country.

"There's no question that his goals and motivations are very different from those of the coalition, as well as the Karzai government," he said. "He has also made his views well known that he is supportive of the former Taleban government and the efforts of al-Qaida."

At the White House, Spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked whether Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was targeted by the United States.

"It is the United States' policy that if we have any information or any evidence that there are people who could pose a threat to the United States or allied forces operating in Afghanistan, we will engage in action as deemed necessary by the appropriate officials on the ground," he said.

During the 1980s, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was a key player in the war waged by opposition Mujahedin forces to drive Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, with his Hezb-I-Islami faction and others receiving American weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. His militia is blamed for massacres and scores of missile attacks that devastated parts of Kabul, in the days before the Taleban took control of the city in 1996.