Afghanistan`s interior, intel chiefs replaced over attack

Afghanistan`s intelligence chief and interior minister resigned to take responsibility for allowing militants to elude a massive security operation.

Last Updated: Jun 06, 2010, 23:12 PM IST

Kabul: Afghanistan`s intelligence chief and interior minister resigned Sunday to take responsibility for allowing militants to elude a massive security operation and launch an attack on last week`s national peace conference.

President Hamid Karzai`s office said in a statement he had accepted the resignations of Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and National Directorate of Security chief Amrullah Saleh because they gave unsatisfactory explanations for last Wednesday`s attack.

At least two Taliban militants fired rockets at the conference where some 1,500 delegates — including lawmakers, tribal and religious chiefs — discussed how to resolve Afghanistan`s nearly 9-year war. The militants then engaged in a gunbattle with security forces near the venue. None of the delegates were hurt. The militants were killed.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said earlier Sunday that the two attackers were able to breach security by dressing as a couple — one in a man`s street clothes and the other in a woman`s burqa, and clutching a Kalashnikov rifle and a grenade launcher wrapped up in cloth like a swaddled baby.

They were able to walk nearly one mile (more than a kilometer) from a house they had rented in the capital to another building near the conference venue where they launched their attack, Bashary said.

"The president of Afghanistan has lost trust in our capability to protect national events," Saleh told reporters in the capital, after what he described as a "tough conversation" with Karzai.

"Our explanations did not convince President Karzai that we were competent," he said.

He said there were "tens of other reasons" that he resigned, but he declined to give any of them, saying that doing so would have repercussions for those still working in the government.

Saleh, an ethnic Tajik who had served as intelligence chief since 2004, said evidence showed that the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban faction with close ties to al Qaeda, was behind the attack on the conference, or jirga.

The statement from Karzai`s office said the president had appointed Deputy Interior Minister Munir Mangal as acting interior minister and Engineer Ibrahim Spinzada as acting intelligence chief.

Bashary said two major errors occurred in the security for the jirga: insufficient intelligence reporting about the attackers` militant group and the failure of security forces to stop and search the couple.

"It goes against all customs for a man to search a woman, so the enemy took advantage of this," Bashary said.

Atmar, an ethnic Pashtun and former education minister, had been appointed in a 2008 Cabinet reshuffle that had been aimed at curbing high-level corruption.

In charge of Afghanistan`s police force, the British-educated Atmar had a positive reputation among Western officials. He was reappointed to the interior portfolio after Karzai`s re-election last year.

Also Sunday, Karzai made his first official response to the jirga by ordering a review of all cases of Taliban suspects in Afghan jails and the release of those detained on doubtful evidence.

The decree did not directly address the issue of the hundreds of Afghans being held in US military custody.

Spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the US military was discussing with the government an approach to all the jirga`s recommendations. He noted that the American military had already started the process of handing control of the main US prison in Afghanistan, at Bagram Air Base, to the government.

The conference recommended that Taliban prisoners be released if the evidence against them was shaky, as a goodwill gesture to encourage insurgent fighters to lay down their arms and as a precursor to peace talks with Taliban leaders.

Washington supports Karzai`s plans to offer incentives to lower-rung militants but remains skeptical about Kabul seeking negotiations with insurgent leaders — although such a strategy could be key to the eventual withdrawal of US forces from the country.

US officials contend the Taliban leadership — which is demanding the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan — feels it has little reason to negotiate because it believes it is winning the war.

Five NATO troops — including four Americans — were killed in three separate incidents Sunday, the coalition said.

Three US troops died in a vehicle accident in southern Afghanistan, and a fourth was killed in an insurgent attack in the country`s east, said US military spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph T. Breasseale. The fifth NATO service member — who was not immediately identified — was killed when a makeshift bomb exploded in southern Afghanistan.

In other violence, a suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorbike into a NATO convoy on the outskirts of the eastern city of Jalalabad, wounding one police officer and 12 civilians, Afghan officials said. NATO spokesman Sgt. Kevin Bell one service member received minor shrapnel wounds. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the group.

Also Sunday, a roadside bomb attack hit a police truck on a main road in Kandahar province`s Panjwai district, killing one police officer and two civilians in a nearby vehicle, said local official Shah Baran Noorzai, the district government chief.

Meanwhile, NATO reported that its forces had killed a Taliban commander it named as Mullah Akhtar in air strikes Saturday in western Farah province. NATO said Akhtar had close ties with Taliban and al Qaeda senior leaders and arranged training for foreign fighters from Iran.

Bureau Report