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Taliban run-in highlights dangers for Afghan opposition leader

Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai is a tribal leader of Afghanistan's Pashtun.  

QUETTA, Pakistan (CNN) -- A leading opposition figure in southern Afghanistan said Tuesday he is continuing to organize resistance to the ruling Taliban after an incident last week in which U.S. forces came to his aid.

Hamid Karzai, an Afghan tribal leader, told CNN he is in Afghanistan on a mission to give the Afghan people the right to self-determination.

Last week, U.S. forces helped Karzai leave the country for Pakistan after an apparent run-in with the Taliban. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday confirmed the United States aided Karzai, terming the mission "transportation," not rescue.

U.S. forces carried Karzai out of Afghanistan "at his request" over the weekend, Rumsfeld said.

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"He was extracted from Afghanistan with a small number of his senior supporters and fighters, I believe for consultation in Pakistan, and undoubtedly will be going back in there at that point where those consultations are completed," Rumsfeld said.

Karzai was Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister in the early 1990s before the Taliban came to power in 1994 and he was exiled. He is an ally of the former Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah.

He told CNN he has been trying to put together support among tribal leaders in Afghanistan for a "loya jirga," a gathering of trial heads which has traditionally chosen Afghanistan's leaders.

"The mission is what we decided a few years ago: to bring Afghanistan back to a state of normalcy, and return the country to peace and stability through giving the Afghan people the right to self-determination in accordance with Afghan tradition," he said.

Karzai has been in contact with the United States and others "for many years" about establishing a government in Afghanistan, said his brother, Akhmed Walid Karzai.

Karzai's opposition role has grown in prominence since the death in late October of another opposition leader, Abdul Haq. A former mujahedeen leader, Haq had been on a covert mission in Afghanistan to persuade several Taliban members to defect when the Taliban captured and executed him.

Karzai is the leader of the Popalzai tribe, composed of several hundred-thousand people concentrated around Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual capital. Karzai also is Pashtun, the country's largest ethnic group and the group from which the Taliban draw most of their support.

Karzai's family has opposed the Taliban since 1995. His father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, was assassinated in Quetta, Pakistan, in 1999.

Asked about Karzai's importance in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said he was "on the right side."

"The area of the country he is operating in and the tribes he is in contact with are obviously the dominant population in the country so that whole element has a big role to play in both the operations and the post-Taliban government," Rumsfeld said.

-- CNN Correspondent Amanda Kibel contributed to this report.


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