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November 22, 2001
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Pak Air Force choppers pull out commanders trapped in Kunduz

A K Dhar in New Delhi

Two Pakistan Air Force helicopters pulled out two of their top military commanders trapped in besieged Kunduz town, the last Taleban stronghold in northern Afghanistan, according to highly placed defence sources in Delhi.

The sources quoting eyewitness accounts from Northern Alliance commanders said the two helicopters flying low, landed in the heart of Kunduz town on Sunday and flew out soon after carrying two chopper loads of personnel.

The two officers, both of brigadier rank, were said to be part of a 1000-strong contingent of Pakistani army regulars trapped in Kunduz and were directing Taleban fighters in Kunduz and in Mazar-i-Sharif, the sources said.

They said these forces were part of Pakistani army units, seconded to Taleban ranks for command and control operations.

The rescue operations were mounted by Pakistan's elite Special Services Group.

This is the second time in recent weeks that reports have surfaced of Pakistani helicopters or aircraft undertaking 'mysterious missions' in Afghanistan.

Earlier, American television network CNN had reported a Pakistani Air Force plane landing in the Taleban's southern Afghanistan stronghold of Kandahar.

Defence experts in Delhi wondered how Pakistani choppers could have entered Afghan air space and landed in Kunduz with the US Air Force having tight control over the Afghan skies.

They said the operation could not have been carried out without a nod from the US.

"It has to be done with US connivance and, therefore, poses vital questions about America's aims and objectives," they added.

Highly placed sources, who confirmed the Pakistani operation, said it appeared that Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf might be able to strike a deal for safe passage for the remaining over 1,000 army personnel still trapped in Kunduz too.

According to defence ministry estimates in Delhi, Pakistan, before the start of the US air strikes, had stationed about 5,000 to 6,000 military personnel in Afghanistan. However, the bulk of them had been evacuated just before America commenced bombing in Afghanistan.

PTI

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