Pakistan fortifies border to block bin Laden fighters

Friday, November 16, 2001

QUETTA, Pakistan -- Pakistan has moved in tanks and additional soldiers to tighten security along its border with Afghanistan and to prevent Osama bin Laden or his fighters from coming in, officials said Thursday.

Reports of fighting in southern Afghanistan have raised concerns that civilians as well as Taliban fighters may seek to escape by crossing the normally porous Pakistan border.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said that along with paramilitary troops, Pakistan army soldiers have been sent to the border that ensure neither bin Laden nor members of his al-Qaida network try to escape by crossing the frontier.

In recent days, Pakistani border guards along the Afghan border west of here have noticed increasing numbers of young Pakistani men leaving Afghanistan. They could include volunteers who went to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban and are now deserting after U.S. airstrikes and anti-Taliban victories.

Pakistani authorities are also in touch with tribal leaders in the border region and have told them not to provide shelter to any Afghan or Arab militants, Haider said.

"Action will be taken against those who defy the government orders," said Haider, a retired army general.

In Pakistan's southwestern border town of Chaman, a special train full of soldiers arrived early Thursday, witnesses said. It also brought at least a half-dozen tanks that were sent to the frontier. Paramilitary troops were also headed to the border in northwest Pakistan.

Pakistan shares a 1,344-mile border with Afghanistan. The ongoing fighting, including the collapse of the Taliban Islamic militia, has raised concerns that large numbers of refugees may try to leave the country.

So far there has not been a major refugee influx, however.

People reaching the border crossing, a three-hour drive from Kandahar, spoke of U.S. bombing raids early Thursday morning, but said they were not aware of any heavy fighting in or around the streets of the Taliban stronghold. Some said they had heard of limited in fighting in the previous two days, but could not offer firsthand accounts.

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