Fugitive Taliban leader urges Afghans to fight US as security threat worsens

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Mullah Omar, the ousted leader of the Taliban, has urged Afghans to unite against the American military in the country, claiming that promises of democracy and reconstruction have not been fulfilled, the Afghan Islamic Press reported.

The call came as the death toll among the occupying forces continued to rise. Five people were killed and seven injured when a US military helicopter crashed near Bagram yesterday. An army spokesman said the crash was under investigation.

In a separate incident, two US soldiers were wounded when their vehicle hit an explosive device near Shkin, close to the border with Pakistan. And there was a gun fight at the Defence Ministry in Kabul, which left at least four Afghans wounded, after a group of Afghan soldiers demanding back pay pushed into the ministry. There were unconfirmed reports of one death.

General Zahir Azmi, a spokesman for the ministry, said: "They broke windows inside the Defence Ministry by shooting their pistols. The soldiers had no choice but to fire back."

More than 1,000 protesters outside the ministry shouted slogans against recent reforms aimed at redressing the ethnic balance of the Afghan army, where senior positions are held by men of Tajik origin. Some 20,000 troops have been dismissed in the past 10 months and 30,000 more stand to lose their jobs. Many soldiers want their jobs back, and are demanding back pay.

United Nations officials were in Kabul yesterday for the memorial service for Bettina Goislard, 29, a French refugee worker who was shot dead in Ghazni last week by two gunmen linked to the Taliban.

UN agencies have restricted road travel beyond the capital and expatriate workers from the south and eastern zones have been moved, resulting in the suspension of aid to 600,000 Afghan refugees trying to return from Pakistan. Tens of thousands of Afghans have been prevented from returning to their homes by anti-government militants.

Nato's efforts to increase security in Afghanistan have failed, with an urgent appeal for reinforcements of 3,000 troops to expand into the regions beyond Kabul proving optimistic. Norway offered 200 troops, the only Nato member to do so.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Nato's secretary general, told representatives from alliance nations: "If we fail, we will find Afghanistan on all our doorsteps. Nato's credibility will be shattered, along with that of every Nato government."

General Andrew Leslie, deputy commander of the international peace force in Afghanistan, said: "The security situation in Afghanistan is not getting any better. And if the international community does not do something, it's bound to get worse."