Ashcroft defends anti-terror tactics before Senate

Thursday, December 6, 2001

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft, defending administration measures to counteract terrorism, declared Thursday the nation must not let down its guard against threats that present "a daily chronicle of the hatred of Americans by fanatics."

Holding aloft an al-Qaida terrorism manual, Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "We are war with an enemy that abuses individual rights as it abuses jetliners. ... Defending our nation and its citizens against terrorist attacks is now our first law enforcement priority."

Ashcroft's appearance came in an atmosphere of mounting criticism by Senate Democrats that the Justice Department moved too far, too quickly, to implement a host of stern investigative measures in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In an earlier interview Thursday at his base 12 miles north of Kandahar, Karzai said that he was offering a general amnesty to Taliban fighters who surrender but not Omar. He had been meeting with Taliban officials for two days.

Speaking to The Associated Press by satellite telephone before Zaeef spoke, Karzai stressed that the amnesty offer applies only to the Taliban troops. Asked about reports he was offering amnesty to Omar, Karzai replied: "It's not true." The amnesty offer, he said, is for the soldiers, many of them young men from rural regions of southern Afghanistan, where his own Popolzai tribe is located.

Karzai, who is to take power on Dec. 22, leads a force of several thousand ethnic Pashtun tribesmen advancing on Kandahar from the north.

Zaeef said Omar's decision was in response to heavy U.S. bombing of Kandahar, and was intended to prevent more civilian deaths.

U.S. aircraft have been pounding the Kandahar area intensively for weeks to soften Taliban defenses and support Afghan fighters advancing on the city.

However, there was no bombing in the Kandahar area on Thursday. The pause could either have been to facilitate negotiations or possibly in response to Wednesday's accidental bombing of anti-Taliban forces in which three U.S. special forces troops and five Afghan fighters were killed.

Zaeef said Karzai agreed to Ullah's becoming governor of Kandahar. Ullah, a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami party of the former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, led guerrilla forces against the Soviets in the 1980s and now leads one of several groups fighting the Taliban.

Previous deals to surrender Kandahar and other cities stalled over the issue of Arab, Pakistan and other foreign fighters loyal to alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Hundreds of al-Qaida fighters are believed in Kandahar, especially around the airport where they beat back assaults by tribal fighters under former Kandahar governor Gul Agha.

The United States has made clear it would not support any deal which allowed bin Laden or his lieutenants to escape prosecution. The Americans blame bin Laden for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has also insisted that Mullah Omar should not be allowed to go free.

Zaeef said he was proud of what the Taliban have done in Afghanistan.

"We have done a lot for the welfare of the people," he said. "In every village, mosque, home and province there is a Talib."

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