Al Qaeda massing for new fight
Afghan spies say the group has two new bases in Pakistan and is acquiring missiles.
Three separate clashes with Al Qaeda fighters this week, including Wednesday's foiled attack inside the city of Kabul, point to the terrorist organization's resurgence in Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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But there may be much more to come.
According to exclusive interviews with Afghan military intelligence chiefs in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, Al Qaeda has established two main bases inside Pakistan hundreds of miles north of where US and Pakistani troops are now hunting and is preparing for a massive strike against the Afghan government. To blunt US air superiority, Al Qaeda forces are attempting to acquire surface-to-air missiles in China.
"Al Qaeda has regrouped, together with the Taliban, Kashmiri militants, and other radical Islamic parties, and they are just waiting for the command to start operations," says Brig. Rahmatullah Rawand, chief of military intelligence for the Afghan Ministry of Defense in Kunar Province. "Right now they are trying to find anti-aircraft missiles that are capable of hitting Amer ica's B-52 bombers. When they find those, they will bring them here."
Spokesmen for the American military operations in Afghanistan say they are able to confirm parts of the Afghan intelligence reports, and add that they are prepared for any possible Al Qaeda military offensive in the next few weeks or months.
"I can't say I have never heard these reports before about the areas you are mentioning," says Lt. Col. Roger King, spokesman for the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom at Bagram Air Base outside of Kabul. "Some parts of the intelligence reports and the locations you've described are similar to what we are hearing ourselves, and other parts are different." He declined to say which parts were similar and which parts were different.
The US is currently making sure it has enough troop strength in areas where Al Qaeda is deemed to be most active, he says.
"If you look back over time, you find there are two fighting seasons in this country," says Colonel King. "We're at the beginning of one, and the other ended in May."
A US soldier on patrol near the Pakistan border in Paktika Province was wounded by a sniper Wednesday night, and airlifted to a medical facility in Germany yesterday.
In Kunar Province, Afghan intelligence sources say that their reports were compiled this week, after Afghan spies, pretending to be Islamic radicals, infiltrated the two Al Qaeda camps in Pakistan. The report concludes that China itself may be involved in supporting the camps, either by tacitly allowing Islamic radicals of the ethnic Uighur minority in China's western Xinjiang Province to cross into Pakistan to join Al Qaeda, or overtly offering to provide Al Qaeda with antiaircraft missiles.
"That area, even though it is in Pakistan, is basically under the government of China," says Afghan Brigadier Rawand. "There is a possibility that the Chinese are also involved in this, and they may give Al Qaeda the missiles."
Military experts agree that the ability of Al Qaeda to shoot down American B-52 bombers would alter tactics and undermine US efforts in the Afghan war. It was the B-52s, together with precision-guided bombs and munitions, rather than troops on the ground, that destroyed the Taliban's defenses outside of Kabul and other strongholds and forced the Taliban and Al Qaeda to give up control of Afghanistan.
"The Americans are proud of their control of the air, but they don't take care of the ground," says Brig. Ghulam Haider Chatak, chief of military intelligence for the eastern zone of Afghanistan, which includes Kunar, Laghman, and Nangarhar provinces. "Now they could lose both."