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Ex-spy chief: Al Qaida has U.S. prisoners

By
ANWAR IQBAL, UPI South Asian Affairs Analyst

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- A former Pakistani spy master with links to the Taliban claims that al Qaida has captured American prisoners in eastern Afghanistan, forcing U.S. troops to end the siege of their stronghold and withdraw.

U.S. officials have denied the claim.

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Talking to United Press International from his home in Islamabad, Gen. Hamid Gul, the former chief of Pakistan's main spy agency Inter Services Intelligence, said the United States sent "some Americans to Shahikot, dressed as Afghans."

Shahikot is the mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan where U.S. forces and their Afghan allies taking part in "Operation Anaconda" have been bombing and fighting several hundred al Qaida and Taliban fighters holed up in a series of cave complexes since March 1.

According to Gul the Americans sent to infiltrate the mountain strongholds could speak the local language of Pashto, and some even had beards.

"The idea was to slip through the Taliban defenses into the al Qaida hideouts in the mountains. But they were detected and captured."

Gul said this forced the Americans to make a deal with al Qaida and Taliban fighters and withdraw their troops.

"The withdrawal of U.S. troops allowed most of the Taliban and al Qaida fighters to escape and melt away among the Pashtun tribesmen living in the area," said the Pakistani general.

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"I wonder what the Americans were trying to achieve with this Hollywood-style operation. Afghanistan is no Hollywood. It is a traditional tribal society where even a dog from another tribe is noticed by everyone."

Gul also claimed that not many Taliban or al Qaida fighters were killed in eastern Afghanistan as there was "no face-to-face fighting" and the "bombing is not very effective against those hiding in the caves."

Commenting on the claim of U.S. prisoners, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said: "We have no servicemen missing."

"We have no information at all about any American being taken prisoner ... it is totally inaccurate," added a U.S. Central Command spokesman, Charles Portman.

A government official also rejected Gul's claim as "totally false," saying no CIA agents had been seized either.

Gul headed ISI during the Afghan war from 1979 to 1989 and played a key role in forming various Mujahedin groups fighting the Russians. He is also considered the spiritual father of the Taliban movement as many from his Mujahedin group later joined to form the religious militia.

He maintained close ties with the Taliban during the six years they ruled Afghanistan until 2001 and is believed to have strong sympathy for both Taliban and al Qaida fighters.

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Gul also strongly opposed Pakistan's decision to join the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan and urged the Pakistani government to support its "Muslim brothers."

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