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Senior Taliban Could Provide Clues

American forces in Afghanistan announced on Friday that the former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil had surrendered to US troops in Kandahar.

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One of the Taliban's public faces

American special forces announced what could be a major breakthrough in the hunt for fugitive Taliban leaders with the surrender of Former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil.

Though Afghan officials in Kandahar couldn’t confirm the surrender, US troops said Muttawakil was in their custody at the airport headquarters south of the city.

"Of course he will have important information. He was the foreign minister," Khalid Pashtoon, a spokesman for Kandahar governor Gul Agha told Reuters.

US forces have been mostly unsuccessful in their hunt for senior members of the Taliban in the months since anti-Taliban Afghan forces conquered Kabul and the Kandahar. They have combed the intricate network of caves and hollows in the southeast of the country that Taliban used as their war-time headquarters and worked with Pakistani police to monitor border crossings. Both have yielded little in the way of results.

Potential breakthrough

Now, American military officials are hoping Muttawakil light the way to more arrests. He was considered Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s right-hand man, and was the main contact for journalists and foreign officials.

Some security sources told Reuters the relationship suffered after the pair had a dispute over the handing over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to the United States. The sources said Muttawakil preferred negotiation over the attack that resulted.

News of Muttwakil’s capture comes just as Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister of Afghanistan’s new government warns of an amassing of Taliban outside of Afghanistan.

"The Taliban leaders...apparently they are running new organiztions," Abdullah told reporters in the Afghan capital Kabul. He said that there were two organizations, but didn’t provide any further details.

United Nations expansion

Potential instability in Afghanistan has been a major concern of officials in the interim government. Last week, President Hamid Karzai called on the United Nations to expand its peacekeeping role to the wild west frontier outside Kabul, where bands of armed men still threaten, and sometimes kill, travelers.

The United Nations has played down the request. At present there are 433 of the awaited 900 German soldiers patrolling Kabul, said German General Inspector Harald Kujat on Friday. Joining them are 148 Dutch soldiers, 58 Austrian and 48 Danish soldiers. The troops have so far encountered no problems, he said.

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