US bounty on Afghan Qaeda, Taliban leaders

Bagram, October 1:

The US military has launched a new “Most Wanted” campaign offering rewards of up to $200,000 for information leading to the capture of a dozen Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.

Posters and billboards are being put up around eastern Afghanistan with the names and pictures of the 12, with reward amounts ranging from $20,000 to $200,000.

“We’re trying to get more visibility on these guys like the FBI did with the mob,” said Lt Col Rob Pollack, a US officer at the main American base in Bagram. “They operate the same way the mob did, they stay in hiding.” The list does not include internationally known names who already have large price tags on their heads like al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden — who has evaded US capture since 2001 despite a $25 million bounty — or Taliban leader Mullah Omar with a $10 million reward.

Instead, the list is filled with local insurgent cell leaders responsible for roadside and suicide bomb attacks.

“We want the people in that area to know who this guy is and know he’s a bad guy, and when they spot him to turn that guy in,” said Maj Chris Belcher, a US spokesman.

The programme, in the works for weeks, comes despite peace overtures from President Hamid Karzai, who said he would be willing to meet Omar if it would help bring peace.

The posters and billboards will be put up by Afghan soldiers and police in areas where the military suspects the men are operating, Belcher said.

Some on the list are also suspected of operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions, where the US military does not have the authority to operate.

The US says it has killed around 50 mostly mid-level insurgent leaders over the past year, a strategy the military is continuing to push with the Most Wanted program.