Seven US Marines feared killed in crash

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The Independent Online

Seven American Marines were feared killed yesterday in a plane crash in Pakistan.

Central Command, responsible for US operations, said the KC-130, a military refuelling aircraft, crashed into a mountainside as it was preparing to land at a base in Shamsi.

Meanwhile, Taliban ministers and officials who had surrendered to a US-backed warlord have been allowed to go free and will not be handed over to the American authorities.

Washington and the interim Afghan government are said to be alarmed by the decision of the Kandahar governor, Gul Agha, to free the men. It was expected they would be put in American custody and questioned about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar.

There is increasing concern at deals being done by Pashtun commanders and tribal leaders with Taliban chiefs at local levels without Kabul or Washington involvment. There are allegations of bribery in return for lenient terms for the Taliban and questions about where exactly the loyalty of the "government supporting" leaders lie. Commander Agha was prominent in conducting negotiations with Mullah Mohammed Omar for his surrender when he was supposedly trapped in the Baghran region north of Kandahar. That ended on a farcical note with the commander announcing that the one-eyed Mullah had slipped the net, riding off on a motorcycle.

With the continuing failure to catch or kill Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, American officials were quick to publicise the surrender of the three Taliban ministers and capture of a number of high-ranking officials. They included Mullah Ubaidullah, the defence minister, and Nooruddin Turabi -- the one-eyed, one-legged justice minister who imposed some of the Taliban's harshest edicts, especially against women.

The others were Abdul Haq, former security chief of Herat province, where the Taliban's fundamentalist rule was particularly brutal, the minister of mines, Mullah Saadudin, and senior officials Raees Abdul Wahid, Abdul Salam Rakti, and Mohammad Sadiq.

Jalal Khan, a close associate of Commander Agha, said the Taliban leaders had received general amnesty after recognising the nation's new interim administration headed by the Prime Minister, Hamid Karzai.