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Friday, March 02, 2007

Afghan Taliban says sending fighters to Iraq-TV

DUBAI, March 2 (Reuters) - A senior Taliban commander said in remarks broadcast on Friday that the Afghan Islamist group was sending fighters to Iraq to support anti-U.S. insurgents.

"Whenever there is a chance the (Afghanistan-based holy fighters) mujahideen travel to Iraq and the opposite is also true," Mullah Dadullah told Al Jazeera television in an interview.

"We have very strong relations with the mujahideen in Iraq. The mujahideen stay in Iraq for a month for example then they come here," he added in remarks dubbed in Arabic. "We also share intelligence."

"Travel from and to Iraq is at a peak currently ... if any mujahid wants to carry out an operation in Iraq he can travel."

Several Sunni Muslim groups including a wing of al Qaeda, which is allied to the Taliban, have been fighting U.S.-led and Iraqi government forces in Iraq.

The interview appeared to have been recorded before news emerged on Friday that Pakistani security forces had arrested Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the third most senior member of the Taliban's leadership council.

Asked if he was aware of the whereabouts of al Qaeda leaders including top chief Osama bin Laden, Dadullah said: "I do not know where they are ... (but) Osama bin Laden is alive, praise God, and he sends his orders to the mujahideen and sends us news of victory."

The Taliban were toppled in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for refusing to hand over leaders of al Qaeda after the group's Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.

Dadullah repeated that the Taliban plans to escalate operations against foreign soldiers in Afghanistan in the spring with at least 6,000 fighters which he said might rise to up to 20,000 once the fighting intensified.

Dadullah was speaking to a Jazeera correspondent outdoors interview with heavily armed bodyguards nearby.

Dadullah said the Taliban has obtained weapons but did not say from where, adding that the group was making its own weapons when necessary.

"The Taliban today is not the same as the Taliban of five years ago," he said.

NATO, the United States and the Taliban are promising spring offensives in what they and analysts regard a crunch year in a country still in crisis more than five years after the Taliban's fall.
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