Central Asia

Afghanistan: Launchpad for terror
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 picture.

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 activities".

However, as reported in Asia Times Online (Afghanistan, 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.

Every al-Qaeda 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 movements (Afghanistan, 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 base.

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.

The 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 name.

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May 3, 2003

Afghanistan, once more the melting pot (May 1, '03)

Taliban refine guerrilla tactics '(Apr 26, '03)


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