|Afghanistan: Launchpad for
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Even as US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
declared this week in Kabul that an end to military
operations in Afghanistan is in sight,
indications on the ground paint a somewhat different
On a brief visit to the capital,
Rumsfeld said that the "bulk of the country is now
secure ... we have concluded that we're at a point where
we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a
period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction
However, as reported in Asia Times
once more the melting pot - May 1) the country can
expect escalated guerrilla activity over the coming
months. And further, the International Islamic Front, a
grouping of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and several other
terrorist networks dedicated to jihad against America,
is increasingly using Afghanistan as a base.
Asia Times Online has learned that new cells are
in place in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United Arab
Emirates and they will be responsible for carrying out
attacks - including suicide attacks - against United
States interests in a number of regions. This will be
the new face of al-Qaeda, which will emerge soon with a
new name and under new command.
The US State
Department confirmed on Thursday that new attacks by
al-Qaeda are likely, and that there is a danger that the
network and its Taliban backers will re-emerge in
Afghanistan. In its annual report on global terrorism,
the US agency also said that militants were proving
resilient in the face of efforts by East Asian nations
to crush them, and it labeled North Korean efforts to
curb terrorism as disappointing.
operations officer captured to date had been involved in
some stage of preparation for a terrorist attack at the
time of arrest, the department said, without giving
details of where or when the attacks might occur. "These
threats must be regarded with utmost seriousness.
Additional attacks are likely," said the report.
On Wednesday, a Pakistani Interior
Ministry spokesman announced the arrest of Khalid bin
al-Atash in Karachi, along with some Afghanis and one
Pakistani. Asia Times Online has reported on Khalid's
once more the melting pot
) showing that the one-legged al-Qaeda
operations chief was very much back in business.
Despite the claims of the Interior Ministry,
intelligence sources have confirmed to Asia Times Online
that Khalid was in fact arrested on Tuesday near the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Balochistan. Khalid was
said to be in the process of hiring local men to carry
out an attack on Jacobad's Shehbaz airbase, which is
used by the US Air Force.
Khalid was arrested by
members of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and
Pakistani law enforcers along with a few of his Afghani
guards and a Pakistani Baloch, who was to be involved in
the attack on the airport.
Khalid was then taken
to Karachi, where he was revealed to the press. The
reason for this was that the Kabul government had
recently made renewed charges of the infiltration of
terrorists into Afghanistan from the Balochistan border
areas, and the Pakistanis didn't want the arrest to lend
credibility to the accusations.
Khalid has been
connected to the Sheraton hotel bomb blast in Karachi
last year in which several French engineers were killed.
He had narrowly escaped arrest on several occasions,
notably in Karachi and Quetta. He recently entered
Afghanistan and made some border towns near Pakistan his
In the past few months, a number of people
like Khalid have entered Afghanistan, including from
Palestine, Lebanon and Kashmir, united in their desire
to strike against American targets. The driver of this
new international brigade is the Egyptian Jamaat
al-Jehad, led by Dr Aiman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's right
hand man. (This group merged with al-Qaeda, but it has
an independent following in Egypt). In the context of
the war in Iraq, Jamaat's leaders have redirected the
energies of militants to concentrate purely on US
targets, saying that it is the real enemy.
Aiman's whereabouts are unknown, but recent
reports have placed him in Yemen and Afghanistan.
Wherever he is, though, he is the mastermind behind
restructuring the International Islamic Front, given
that al-Qaeda has been badly fractured.
emphasis will be on small operations with a nexus of
local groups, and its main tool will be suicide attacks.
This new face will be unveiled sooner rather later, but
it will be identified more by its actions than by its
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