Taliban Tagged By Afghan Sweep

Costumes designed for the "This is It" concerts are seen on display at "Michael Jackson: The Official Exhibition" in London, Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. The exhibit, which opens Wednesday, includes one of the late singer's Rolls-Royces, some of his trademark gloves and sequined jackets and a contract from his early days with the Jackson 5.
AP Photo/PA Wire, Zak Hussein
Hundreds of Afghan and U.S. forces searching for weapons and Taliban guerrillas in southeastern Afghanistan have arrested more than 80 people over the past four days, Afghan officials said Monday.

Meanwhile, the interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, says he will run for president next year if the country adopts a constitution that calls for democratic presidential elections.

About 600 mostly U.S. troops, backed up by helicopter gunships, have been searching house-to-house in Paktika province, said Khan Sayed, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

The operation was launched after hundreds of suspected Taliban, reportedly riding in pickup trucks, launched bloody attacks on police stations in the province over a week ago. Local officials said the insurgents rumbled into the area from the direction of Pakistan.

Sayed said the operation was centered in Urgun district.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Zabul province, about 100 provincial army soldiers and police were patrolling Dai Chupan district, where at least five government soldiers riding in a truck were killed in a Taliban ambush on Saturday.

Two suspected Taliban were arrested on Sunday, said Khalil Hotak, chief of the provincial intelligence service.

A visiting central government delegation led by the deputy defense minister promised to send national army troops to help fight the Taliban, he said.

Attacks by suspected Taliban against government soldiers and police have been stepped up in recent weeks.

The hardline Islamic militia, ousted in late 2001 by U.S.-led forces, appear to be regrouping, amid reports that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's leader has appointed military commanders to areas of control.

The Afghan administration has complained to Pakistan that ousted Taliban leaders appear to have found refuge in its lawless tribal regions where they have been able to regroup and plot their attacks. Pakistan has deployed its troops to the long and porous border regions to try to stop them.

Also Monday, a spokesman for warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum said powerful warlords have gathered about 100 light and heavy weapons from their supporters to stop the relentless factional feuding.

Ethnic Uzbek warlord Dostum and his Tajik rival Atta Mohammed traveled Sunday to Sholgara district of Balkh province — the scene of several battles in the past two years — to support a week-old disarmament exercise there.

Abdul Majid Rozi, Dostum's deputy in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, said a total of about 200 weapons — a relatively small number in a country awash with weapons — had been collected by both factions. Also about 200 weapons had been registered by private individuals, he said.

However, Ashraf Nadim, a spokesman for Mohammed, said that about 300 light and heavy weapons had been handed over by Mohammed's fighters alone.

It was not immediately possible to reconcile the differing accounts.

Afghanistan is due to hold a loya jirga, or grand council, in October to approve a new constitution. Elections are expected next June.

Karzai, who has strong support from the United States and other Western countries, was selected as interim president by a loya jirga last June, following the ouster in late 2001 of the hardline Taliban regime.

Karzai met late yesterday with the head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime to discuss plans for cutting production of opium, which has skyrocketed since the fall of the brutal Taliban regime.

The two men agreed on the need for the international community to help Afghan farmers not only to grow commercial crops, but also to develop the infrastructure in mostly poor rural areas of the country.

Farmers in Afghanistan will no longer be paid for not growing opium. But despite the failed policy, Karzai says the country is still committed to eradicating the illegal crop.

Afghanistan secretly produces about 75 percent of the world's opium, used to make heroin.

Some 11,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan, including some 9,000 American soldiers.