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Evidence of Al Qaeda spy ring in key Afghan roles

US and Afghan forces raided Amniat offices in Khost in March. The ensuing investigation shows key papers are in Al Qaeda hands.

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For the past year, Hazratuddin Habibi has been the intelligence chief of Khost, appointed by President Hamid Karzai to keep an eye on Taliban or Al Qaeda activities in this crucial province along the Pakistani border.

Hazratuddin, a former intelligence chief for the Taliban known by his first name, was certainly qualified for the job. But colleagues in the central government's intelligence agency, Amniat, and in other military departments began to notice that raids on Taliban hideouts were coming up empty. Arrests of Al Qaeda suspects went awry. It occurred to local political leaders as well as intelligence and military officials that Hazratuddin may be a double agent.

On March 20, US and Afghan forces put an end to the intrigue. While two US helicopters provided air cover and special forces surrounded the Amniat offices, soldiers of Afghanistan's combined military forces entered the complex and disarmed Hazratuddin's staff. Acting on behalf of the central government, Gov. Hakim Tanewal officially removed Hazratuddin from his post. Similar raids that day also disarmed the Khost police chief and the police intelligence chief.

Hazratuddin denies supporting Al Qaeda, and his superiors in Kabul say they cannot discuss the case, which is still under investigation. But US and Afghan military officials agree that the entire Afghan intelligence operation in Khost has been compromised: Afghan military officials in Khost say crucial files and documents are missing. And a copy of a list of intelligence agents appears to have been given to Taliban supporters in Pakistan.

Still to be determined is how much damage has been caused, whether it extends to US intelligence operations, and why Kabul let the problem in Khost remain unresolved for so long. "It would have potentially a significant impact on the operations of the local government," says Col. Roger King, US military spokesman at Bagram Air Base near Kabul.

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