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US shooting in the dark in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Despite the best efforts of its military and intelligence apparatus and political manipulation in Pakistan, in the year and a half since the demise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have failed to break the Taliban and al-Qaeda in that country. Indeed, the resistance movement in Afghanistan has fully re-organized itself, even setting up offices, and official claims to the contrary, US forces are fighting in the dark.

In an audio tape sent to the Pakistan daily The News, which is accepted as authentic, the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, urges Muslims to step up their jihad against the US and other coalition occupation forces in Afghanistan. Omar issued the tape from his hiding place in Afghanistan, the daily reported, quoting Taliban spokesman Mohammad Mukhtar Mujahid. Omar has named a 10-member leadership council to organize the resistance against the US-led foreign troops in Afghanistan.

"Mullah Omar called upon the Taliban to offer sacrifices for evicting the American and allied soldiers from Afghanistan and fighting the puppet regime of [Afghan President] Hamid Karzai," Mujahid said. The 10 men identified by Omar as members of the Rahbari Shura (leadership council) include former Taliban military commanders, most of whom are veterans of the Afghan struggle against the Soviet occupation of 1979-1989. Taliban military commander Jalaluddin Haqqani is on the council, which is made up of commanders hailing from Kandahar, Helmand and other southwestern provinces where the Taliban originally emerged in 1994, Omar said. Two of the council members, Akhtar Mohammad Usmani, a confidante of Mullah Omar and the one-legged former intelligence chief Mullah Dadullah, are also names that appear on the Afghan government's wanted list that was given by Karzai to Pakistani authorities during his visit in April.

Investigations carried out by Asia Times Online reveal the following:
  • The resistance movement has been named Saiful Muslameen (Sword of Muslims), as reported by Asia Times Online - Al-Qaeda's deadly seeds bear fruit, May 20.
  • The central office is located in Asadabad, near the Pakistani border, while several training camps have been established in Parachinar and Miran Shah (both in Pakistan)and other places. These are mobile camps that can be moved quickly according to required needs.
  • The main military committee is headed by Mullah Omar, supported by his commanders, including Mullah Dadullah and Ahktar Usmani.
  • Under the Saiful Muslameen, Afghanistan has been divided into five operational zones.
  • The zone commanders include famed Pashtun warlord Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, leader of the Hizb-i-Islami, in Kunhar, Jalalabad, Kabul, Logar and Gazni. Khost and Paktia and Paktika are under the command of Maulana Jalaludin Haqqani, while Gardez is under the control of Mullah Saifullah Mansoor. The appointments of two more war zone commanders had not been made at the time this article was written. These zones include Kandahar, Urugzan and Zabul.

    These is also another force in play. An organization called the Khuddamul Furqan (Servants of the Holy Koran)was established soon after the Taliban retreated without offering more than token resistance in the face of advancing Northern Alliance troops in early 2002, largely on the advice of some former officials of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

    The Khuddamul Furqan's leadership was based in the Pakistani border town of Peshawar and they announced their separation from the Taliban over Mullah Omar's policy to harbor Osama bin Laden. Pakistani elements then helped them to contact the new Afghan government with a view to being inducted into the provisional administration in Kabul, but Northern Alliance members would have none of it, and the leaders of the organization have been biding their time ever since. Now, though, they have thrown in their lot with the resistance movement, and they have established their own pocket of resistance.

    Recent large-scale US operations in Afghanistan, backed by Pakistani troops in Pakistan's tribal areas, have failed to produce any significant results other than provoke controversy in the tribal areas, where the country's regular army has not ventured for 100 years.

    This is despite the arrests of several key people in the terror networks, whom it was claimed would be able to point the US troops in the right direction for more arrests, including those of Mullah Omar and bin Laden. On Thursday, Karzai, during a trip to Poland, was quoted as saying, "We believe that if Osama is alive, and if he is around this region of ours, he should probably be there on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan."

    Asia Times Online has accessed confidential interrogation reports concerning the arrests of Khalid bin al-Attash, Khalid Shaikh Muhammad al-Balochi and his nephew Ammar al-Balochi.

    Khalid bin al-Attash
    Arrested on April 29 in Balochistan, al-Attash is regarded as the biggest-ever catch in the present "war on terrorism" campaign as a hardcore al-Qaeda member. He was a suspect in the attack on the US naval ship USS Cole at Aden in October, 2000. The one-legged fighter was caught by Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau (IB) without any foreign or other local assistance. According to one of his interrogators, Khalid was kept for five days in the provincial headquarters of IB in Karachi. He is said to have very strong nerves. On the first day of his interrogation, he offered a Rs 2 billion (US$36 million) bribe if they released him and five accomplices, saying that he could deliver the money in a week.

    When presented before a team of interrogators, he categorically said, "I will not speak anything and you cannot force anything from me. My brothers, do not hand over me to our enemies the Americans, it would be a shameful thing for all Muslims, instead, I request you to shoot me. I assure you nobody can take any statement from me." After five days, his boast was still true and he refused to give a statement. He was then handed over to a joint team of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)and the ISI. Again, he refused to speak. He was then "questioned" alone by the ISI, without avail. He was recently moved to Afghanistan, from where he will be taken to the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Khalid Shaikh Muhammad al-Balochi
    The supposed operations chief of bin Laden, he was presented in Rawalpindi on March 2 and handed over to US officials. He spoke a little after being forcibly deprived of sleep for several nights (this tactic had failed with al-Attash), but he only admitted that he had met bin Laden in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan about nine months previously. He gave no information that could be acted on.

    Ammar al-Balochi
    Ammar was arrested on April 29 in Karachi. He spoke about his interaction with several Arab and Pakistani fighters and how Khalid Shaikh Mohammad used him as a messenger. He gave a lot of information, much of it inconsequential, although the FBI and the ISI did make several more arrests as a result.

    The hard truth is that US intelligence simply does not really know what is going on in the Taliban and al-Qaeda camps. This is evidenced by the countless raids that have been launched in recent times, none of which have resulted in the capture of anyone in Afghanistan.

    In an effort to find a breakthrough, US authorities recently made two initiatives involving the Taliban. (See US turns to the Taliban, June 14) In the first, they tried to establish a new Taliban leadership through Mullah Ghous and other Taliban leaders who were expelled during Taliban rule from 1996-2001. This failed virtually before it was born. A second attempt was then made to forge contacts with "real" Taliban, with the idea being that they provide any acceptable leadership (ie, not Mullah Omar) to take a significant part in the running of the country so that peace could be established. This, too was rejected.

    Another attempt to give Afghan clerics an important role in power politics is in the US cards in Afghanistan, but like the other attempts, this, too, looks like another shot in the dark.

    (Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
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