Al Qaeda massing for new fight
Afghan spies say the group has two new bases in Pakistan and is acquiring missiles.
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Here in Kunar Province, a lush green region of fertile well watered valleys and tall forested mountains, US special forces carry out joint operations with local Afghan forces mainly along the major roads to Asadabad and within the capital itself.Skip to next paragraph
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Local military commanders, who report to the Ministry of Defense, complain that the Americans are working only with one warlord, Commander Zarin, and not with the official military units of President Hamid Karzai's government.
"Unfortunately, in the last six months, the international coalition forces haven't taken any bold steps against Al Qaeda," says Commander Mohammad Zaman, military chief of Kunar Province, under the command of the Afghan Ministry of Defense. "That's why Al Qaeda and the terrorists are all present here. They have only changed their outfits, from turbans to pukhols," floppy woolen hats favored by Afghan fighters in the Northern Alliance.
Arab radicals and Taliban supporters walk the street of the capital here, apparently without fear of capture, preaching their harsh version of Islam and calling for an uprising against American and other foreign troops supporting the Karzai government.
Meanwhile, intelligence sources say that just over the border in Pakistan, most of the top Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden himself, have been seen moving into northern Pakistan from the tribal belt south of the Afghan town of Tora Bora. Mr. bin Laden, the top Al Qaeda leader, was last seen three weeks ago in the Pakistani tribal city of Dir, about 45 miles east-northeast of Asadabad.
Osama's top lieutenant, Ayman Zawahiri, is now thought to be directing operations from Al Qaeda's newly built base in the village of Shah Salim, about 30 miles west of the Pakistani city of Chitral, near the border of Afghanistan's Kunar Province. The other base is in the Pakistani village of Murkushi on the Chinese border, about 90 miles north of the Pakistani city of Gilgit.
To fight a new war against American forces, Al Qaeda is reportedly broadening its base of support to include new like-minded members, including the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Pashtun-dominated radical Islamist Hizb-I-Islami party.
Mr. Hekmatyar's party, which received substantial Saudi funding, CIA training, and Pakistani military support during the war against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, still enjoys support in Kunar and other Pashtun-dominated provinces and is also the closest in ideological terms to the Taliban.
From exile in Iran last fall, Mr. Hekmatyar called on all Muslims to fight alongside the Taliban against any invasion of American forces.
With its renewed mission, Al Qaeda has taken on a new name, Fateh Islam, or Islamic Victory. Their battle plan, Afghan intelligence sources say, is to launch a massive attack on eastern Afghanistan, by crossing along the poorly defended mountainous border of Kunar Province, where opium and timber smugglers take their products out of Afghanistan either undetected or with the compliance of corrupt Afghan border officials.
On the streets of Asadabad itself, it's clear that Al Qaeda already has established a network of informers and preachers. In mosques and religious schools, Al Qaeda members have begun whipping up local anger against the US presence in Afghanistan, and the house-to-house searches in Kunar.