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In the hours before the Taliban government said it executed Abdul Haq, comrades of the doomed Afghan opposition leader frantically phoned American supporters, saying soldiers were closing in.

American military help arrived but was unsuccessful. Members of the ruling Islamic militia captured and killed Haq, a former guerrilla leader who had slipped into Afghanistan to try to lure tribal leaders away from the regime.

Haq's call for help made it all the way to the U.S. Central Command, where a phone call Thursday afternoon came from Robert McFarlane, national security adviser for former President Ronald Reagan and a longtime supporter of Haq.

In an interview, McFarlane said Haq and a handful of companions were traveling Thursday on foot near Jalalabad on a mountainous road when they spotted Taliban forces ahead and behind them.

The group soon realized they were "in a very precarious position," he said. Using a satellite telephone provided by backers, they called American businessman James Ritchie, who phoned his brother, Joseph. He in turn called McFarlane.

The former Reagan adviser said James Ritchie had simply asked his brother, "Is there anything anybody could do?"

Hours later, he said, a U.S. warplane destroyed a presumed Taliban convoy. By that time, McFarlane said, Haq's party had dispersed, trying to escape capture.

The Ritchie brothers helped bankroll Haq and tried to help him win political support for a movement to incite internal opposition to the Taliban.

James Ritchie said he called McFarlane in the hope that a U.S. military helicopter could be landed atop the hillside where the ex-mujahedeen commander was hiding with 18 others.

But after more than two hours of talking to U.S. officials, he said, the Pentagon decided it could not risk sending a helicopter to scatter Taliban troops and bring Haq and his group back to safety.

"They felt it was risky to put the (helicopter) in there. We don't know exactly what (kind of weapons) the Taliban had," he said.

Haq was hanged Friday in the Rezhkor military compound about 18 miles outside Kabul. Burial was to take place today in Peshawar.

Spokesmen at the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., which oversees the war, said Saturday they had no comment on Haq's fate.

Haq's nephew Mohammed Yousuf told reporters in Pakistan that the former guerrilla and a companion were taken to the Rezhkor barracks near Kabul and hanged. Their bodies were then sprayed with bullets, he said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Haq's death "would be very sad and regrettable."

The Taliban's Bakhtar news agency said Haq was executed because he was spying for Britain and the United States. Bakhtar said he was found with two satellite telephones, U.S. dollars and unspecified documents.

Both McFarlane and Joseph Ritchie said Haq, a hero of the war against the Soviet Union, was operating independently.

"He was quite sensitive to the fact that Afghans had to solve this problem, and that he didn't want to be a tool of the United States," McFarlane said.

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