Evidence of Al Qaeda spy ring in key Afghan roles
US and Afghan forces raided Amniat offices in Khost in March. The ensuing investigation shows key papers are in Al Qaeda hands.
For the past year, Hazratuddin Habibi has been the intelligence chief of Khost, appointed by President Hamid Karzai to keep an eye on Taliban or Al Qaeda activities in this crucial province along the Pakistani border.Skip to next paragraph
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Hazratuddin, a former intelligence chief for the Taliban known by his first name, was certainly qualified for the job. But colleagues in the central government's intelligence agency, Amniat, and in other military departments began to notice that raids on Taliban hideouts were coming up empty. Arrests of Al Qaeda suspects went awry. It occurred to local political leaders as well as intelligence and military officials that Hazratuddin may be a double agent.
On March 20, US and Afghan forces put an end to the intrigue. While two US helicopters provided air cover and special forces surrounded the Amniat offices, soldiers of Afghanistan's combined military forces entered the complex and disarmed Hazratuddin's staff. Acting on behalf of the central government, Gov. Hakim Tanewal officially removed Hazratuddin from his post. Similar raids that day also disarmed the Khost police chief and the police intelligence chief.
Hazratuddin denies supporting Al Qaeda, and his superiors in Kabul say they cannot discuss the case, which is still under investigation. But US and Afghan military officials agree that the entire Afghan intelligence operation in Khost has been compromised: Afghan military officials in Khost say crucial files and documents are missing. And a copy of a list of intelligence agents appears to have been given to Taliban supporters in Pakistan.
Still to be determined is how much damage has been caused, whether it extends to US intelligence operations, and why Kabul let the problem in Khost remain unresolved for so long. "It would have potentially a significant impact on the operations of the local government," says Col. Roger King, US military spokesman at Bagram Air Base near Kabul.
Khost is not the only province with former Taliban officials in government positions - under a general amnesty, all but top Taliban officials have been allowed to reenter society. But Khost is of special concern, says Colonel King, because it appears to be a major transit point for Al Qaeda supporters entering Afghanistan from Pakistan.
Like any good spy thriller, Hazratuddin's tale is full of plot twists and betrayals. But at its heart, the Khost intelligence debacle is about the US military's difficulty in choosing friends and Afghanistan's difficulty in putting ideological enemies together in the cause of rebuilding a nation. On one side are former communists who supported the 1979 Soviet invasion. On the other are former mujahideen, like Hazratuddin, who fought the Soviets, joined the Taliban, and supported Mr. Karzai when the Taliban fell.
According to those who worked with Hazratuddin, the former intelligence chief never gave up the cause of creating an Islamic state. His greatest support came from other mujahideen commanders in the new central government. This diehard Islamist mind-set, plus a hatred of former communists working in the new government, led Hazratuddin to allow former Taliban to infiltrate the most secret operations in Khost.
"It's definitely proven that [Hazratuddin] has links with Al Qaeda," says Gen. Khial Baz Sherzai, military chief of Khost. "He had 15 men from the Taliban working with him. And even now, after Hazratuddin is gone, about 60 percent of the people in the intelligence department are still committed to Hizb-i Islami (a radical Afghan Islamist party allied to Al Qaeda)."