|[Description of source: Paris Le Point in French -- right-of-center general interest weekly magazine featuring domestic and international political news]
Taleban: US Missiles Fail To Hit Targets
FTS19980821000122 Islamabad The News in English 21 Aug 98 pp 1 8
[Report by Rahimullah Yusufzai]
PESHAWAR: As expected, the US struck in Afghanistan Thursday night with at least five missile attacks in Khost and Jalalabad to destroy Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden's bases. However, Taliban spokesmen claimed Bin Laden had survived the attack.
The attack was launched between 9.20 and 9.45 pm, barely half an hour after a Bin Laden confidant, Dr Ayman Al-Zawahiri, spoke on satellite phone with this correspondent "from somewhere in Afghanistan." At that time, Dr Al-Zawahiri said Bin Laden was safe and sound.
There was great confusion earlier whether it was an air raid by American jet-fighters or a missile attack. Taliban officials were unaware if it was a missile or air attack. However, it was later confirmed that Tomahawk Cruise missile were fired from American slups in the Arabian Sea. These missiles are known for their accuracy and long range, up to 2000 kilometres.
Mulla Abdul Hye Mutmain, a Taliban spokesman in Kandahar in southwestern Afghanistan, also thought it was an attack by US jet-fighters. He informed that the planes attacked two or three places in Khost and also Jalalabad. "The Americans failed to hit their targets. Osama Bin Laden is safe and the casualties are not as high as we expected in such attacks. We are still waiting for details about the number of people killed and injured," he said.
Mutmain, who is head of the information department in Kandahar which serves as headquarters of the Taliban Islamic Movement, said their jet-fighters would have tried to tackle the intruding American planes had the military airbases at Khost and Jalalabad been operational. "We cannot be overawed by such attacks. We know how to defend our country," he stressed.
Information was hard to get as Taliban leaders were not traceable and those who were accessible and awake at that time in the night said they themselves were waiting for details of the air strikes and damage caused in Khost and Jalalabad. The news was first broken by the CNN and, thereafter, began a scramble for bits and pieces of information from a war-ravaged country like Afghanistan where the communication system is almost non-existent.
Prior to confirmation of reports that it was a Cruise missile attack, there was speculation as to how the US jet-fighters made their way to Khost, which is in southern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan's North Waziristan agency, and Jalalahad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan bordering Khyber and Kurram agencies in Pakistan. Some reports at that time said the planes flew from US ships and took the Guadar route to enter southern Afghanistan and bomb targets in Khost and Jalalabad. There were also speculation whether the Americans used bases in the region, ranging from those in the Gulf to Central Asia, to reach Afghanistan. It was also pointed out that the advanced US jet-fighters can refuel in the air and, thus, flying from a distant place wasn't an insurmountable problem.
It was also pointed out that sending jet-fighters to Afghanistan overflying Pakistan in a politically volatile area was fraught with risks.
Taliban and Pakistani sources said the Khost airfield and some of its surrounding area was destroyed by the missile attack. The Al-Badr camp near the Pakistan border in Khost where Bin Laden held his news conference in May and where he reportedly spent lot of time, was also said to have been attacked. So were the Zhawar camp belonging to former mujahideen commander Mulla Jalaluddin Haqqani, all in Khost. All these bases were built during the "Jehad" against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan and were used for keeping troops, maintaining stockpiles of arms, and training fighters.
However, Khost governor Mulla Abdullah said Khost airport wasn't attacked and the Zhawar and other bases which were targeted escaped damage.
In Nangarhar, the target was said to be the Hadda farm near Jalalabad where Bin Laden lived in a newlybuilt house in a colony which also housed Hezb-i-Islami chief Mulla Yunis Khalis and other mujahideen leaders. Bin Laden took refuge in Jalalabad when he came to Afghanistan in May 1996 from Sudan. It was reported that a house belonging to late mujahideen commander Engineer Mahmood was the target of the missile attack. It apparently wasn't hit. Some casualties reportedly occurred in the missile attack on Jalalabad.
[Description of source: The News--independent daily, member of the Jang Publishing Group]
Terrorist Camps in Afghanistan Viewed
FTS19980918000342 Karachi Newsline Sep 98 pp 36 37 39 in English 01 Sep 98
[Article by Rahimullah Yusufzai: "Exporting Jehad?"]
Al-Badr, named thus by deposed Afghan Prime Minister Gulbaddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islamia and its Pakistani ally, the Jamaat-i-Islami, is a complex in the Gurbaz district of Khost province in southern Afghanistan comprising six camps. Hundreds of Afghans, Pakistanis and Muslim militants from several other countries have spent time at these camps and received military training there. Some of those under training, such as Abu Talha from Cheechawatni in Punjab, chalked their names on the roadside rocks. Graffiti in Urdu and Arabic, such as 'Jamaat-i-Islami Zindabad, [Long Live Jamaat-i-Islami]' 'Shaheen Shahend Group,' and 'Victory is at hand,' is visible all over the place. The remotely located camps are situated in the lap of mountains on the border between Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency and Afghanistan. Two jeepable roads provide access to them. They are guarded by a mountain-top command post and a few checkposts on the road manned by armed guards, and are barricaded by barbed wire fences.
The two camps in the Al-Badr complex going by the names Al-Badr-I and Al-Badr-II were raided and shut down by the Taliban Islamic movement about two years ago on the plea that the Hezb-i-Islami (Hekmatyar) was using them for anti-Taliban activities in Khost.
Relations between the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami were never cordial. In fact, the two had fought for control of several provinces in Afghanistan before confronting each other in Khost. It was only a matter of time before the Al-Badr camps were cleared of Hezb-i-lslami men by the Taliban because the latter feared that Hekmatyar's supporters would always be looking for opportunities to avenge their humiliating military defeats by them.
After capturing Khost and the adjoining provinces of Paktia and Paktika, the Taliban spent some time consolidating their positions before striking at the Hezb-i-Islami-run camps. On that occasion, Syed Abdullah, the Taliban Governor of Khost, maintained that his government had credible reports that the camps had become centers of anti-Taliban planning and activities. He felt the Hezb-i-Islami was contemplating revenge on the Taliban because it had suffered the most at their hands. "Qazi Hussain Ahmad's Jamaat-i-Islami is very close to the Hezb-i-Islami and the two were jointly running these camps. We took over the camps and asked the 107 Pakistanis living there to return to their homeland. They were very honorably allowed to enter Pakistan at the Pak-Afghan border near the camps," he explained.
What Syed Abdullah didn't explain was the fact that the camps were handed over to the Harkatul Ansar, a militant Islamic group that is sending volunteers to fight in Afghanistan, Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir and certain other trouble spots in the world. The Harkatul Ansar was renamed Harkatul Mujahideen when it was declared a terrorist outfit by the US government. In the past, the Harkatul Ansar was very close to the Jamiatul-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) Pakistan, especially to its faction led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. There are still strong links between the two, but the Harkatul Muiahideen has now become more radical and seems to have established international links to pursue its agenda.
Coincidentally, the Harkatul Mujahideen leader is also named Fazlur Rehman (Khalil) and like the JUI leader, belongs to Dera Ismail Khan in the NWFP. It was probably due to the Harkatul Mujahideen and the JUI's friendly terms with the Taliban that the camps were handed over to the former after being seized from the Hezb-i-islami and the Jamaat-i-Islami. The Hezb-i-Islami's pointsman for running the camps and establishing links with like-minded groups and individuals from other countries was its well-known commander, Khalid Farooqi, while those from Taliban ranks assisting in this task included former military commanders Mullah Wahidyar and Mansoor and Jalaluddin Haqqani. The latter has been running a huge camp called 'Salman Farsi Ghund' in Khost for years where he trains and equips Afghan fighters and also volunteers from other Islamic countries. In a recent interview in Khost, Haqqani said he initially established the camps to house the first mujahideen radio station in Afghanistan. In due course of time, he said a madrassah [school] workshop was built, specifically for the repair of arms since it was not always possible to transport weapons to Pakistan for repair. Later, a clinic and ammunition dumps were also established at the camps. He denied that his camps were ever used for military or terrorist training and disputed American claims of having dealt a fatal blow to the infrastructure in the area. "Two Red Army air and ground attacks, artillery shelling and scores of air raids failed to destroy the Zhavara camps. What can 60 or 70 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles do to a place as fortified as Zhavara? he asked.
The camps in Khost attracted much attention when deposed Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her interior minister Maj. Gen. (Retd) Naseerullah Babar publicly alleged that they were used to impart military training to a number of Pakistanis who later indulged in terrorist activities. Both asked that the camps be closed down as they were posing a security threat to Pakistan.
Ms Bhutto had also complained about the activities of Arab volunteers who came to Pakistan during the Afghan 'jehad' and later stayed on, prompting governments in Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia to complain to Islamabad that these militants were using Pakistani soil to mount terrorist attacks in their countries. In 1996 Babar also provided information about the arrest of two batches of 33 and 107 Pakistanis, mostly from the Punjab and Sindh, on the Pak-Afghan border who had received military training in the Khost camps. He didn't provide details on that occasion about the political affiliation of the arrested Pakistanis, but it was obvious that they were mostly Jamaat-i-Islami members. Government officials also hinted that some of them could be MQM activists seeking military training in different guises. The arrested men were nabbed when they tried to cross over to Pakistan, booked under the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) by the political administration of the North Waziristan agency, and sent to the central prison in Dera Ismail Khan. All of them were freed after interrogation.
Al-Badr I and II were not the only military training camps in Khost. There were others, such as the Abu Jindal, Al-Farooq, Salman Farsi and Khalid Bin Waleed camps. Abu Jindal subsequently came to be known as the Arab camp, and it was here that Saudi dissident, Osama Bin Laden, held his famous press conference in May this year in which he announced the launching of his International Islamic Front for Jehad Against America and Israel. Volunteers from almost every Arab country were to be found there, although the majority belonged to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria. The more famous among them were Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, head of the Islamic Jehad in Egypt, Shaikh Taseer Abdullah who is a right-hand man of Bin Laden, the two young sons of the blind Egyptian preacher and Gama'at-i-Islami leader Shaikh Omar Abdur Rahman, who was convicted for planning the bombings in New York and is now imprisoned in an American jail, and Shawki Islambouli, the younger brother of an Egyptian army officer, Khalid Islambouli, who shot dead President Anwar Sadaat during a military parade in Cairo.
In his interview on that occasion, Khost governor Syed Abdullah refuted the Hezb-i-Islami and Jamaat-i-Islami contention that the seizure of the Al-Badr camps by the Taliban and the eviction of Pakistanis and Afghans was an un-Islamic and anti-jehad act. "The Taliban aren't opposed to a genuine jehad. In fact, our movement itself is a jehad against sin, corruption and cruelty in which the mujahideen indulged after the installation of an Islamic movement in Afghanistan in 1992," he argued. He added that the Taliban would never allow their area to be used for activities against Pakistan because the Pakistan government and people had supported the Afghans in their hour of trial during the Soviet occupation of their country.
However, Abdullah's contention was disputed by the PPP government (1993-96) which repeatedly pointed accusing fingers at the Khost camps as a center from which religious fanatics were unleashed to strike in Pakistan. The Harkatul Mujahideen, because of its Sunni base, also became a platform for anti-Shia elements, one sign of which was the subsequent naming of one of the Khost camps the 'Amir Muawiyya' camp. There were also reports that Sunni extremists wanted in Pakistan took refuge in these camps and lured others to follow in their footsteps.
The Harkatul Muiahideen has been recruiting young men from all the provinces of Pakistan and from both sides of the Line of Control in Kashmir. A sizable number of its recruits are students of religion from madrassahs [religious schools]. In fact, they are the Pakistani version of the Afghan Taliban and some are actively involved in the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan. Others have sacrificed their lives fighting in Indian occupied Kashmir. Along with the Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, the Harkatul Mujahideen is one of the two major Pakistani suppliers of manpower for the battle in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Khost camps have attracted so many young men from the Punjab province that it has come to be known as the Punjabi Ghund (camp)--even though men from the NWFP, Sindh and Kashmir as well as Arabs live there. The inmate comprise teenagers as well as grey-haired men. Some of the permanent residents of the camps, like Mohammad Yaqub alias Abu Huraira of the Harkatul Mujahideen, commanded respect from all and sundry. Abu Huraira, who was often referred to as an 'ustad [teacher]' by the younger Harkat boys, was one of the nine members of the Harkatul Muiahideen killed in the August 20 US airstrike against the Khost camps.
Syed Abdullah, who is still the governor of Khost, claimed after the American cruise missile attack that the camps had largely survived the mujahideen commanders like Shah Khan Gurbaz, who has been named head of a garrison now being set up at the Arab or Abu Jindal camp, also disputed Washington's claims that the camps have been made inoperational. Nonetheless, the Taliban leaders refused journalists access to the camps for about two weeks, arousing suspicion about whether they were indeed intact or being rehabilitated. However, the Taliban recently allowed journalists to visit the camps and Syed Abdullah has announced plans to set up a madrassah in the Salman Farsi camp and a garrison in the Arab one. Will these proposed changes satisfy President Bill Clinton who, after the airstrike on Afghanistan, called the Khost camps 'the world's largest facility for terrorist training,' or should one expect more American and western attacks on this infrastructure?
Afghan Camps Damaged by US Strikes Described
FTS19980905000423 Islamabad The News in English 04 Sep 98 p 4
[Report by Rahimullah Yusufzal]
PESHAWAR: The Taliban have decided to make use of the camps recently attacked by the US with Tomahawk cruise missiles by establishing a madrassa [seminaries] and a garrison there.
During a recent visit to Khost in southern Afghanistan, the provincial Taliban governor Syed Abdullah told this correspondent that the madrassa being set up in the Salman Farsi camp in Zhavara near the Pakistan border would be commissioned in a few days time. He also said the Al-Badr or so-called Arab camp, where the Arab volunteers used to put up, would now house a Taliban garrison.
Syed Abdullah claimed the Arabs, Pakistanis and Kashmiris based in the camps were leaving.
"We don't know their destination but I was told the Arab mujahideen were going towards Kabul," he informed. He thought some Arabs were already based near Kabul and those displaced from the Khost camps could join them there.
Shah Khan Gurbaz, a former mujahideen military commander who has now joined the Taliban, has been named as head of the new garrison. In an interview with The News in Khost, he informed that he had already shifted some of his troops and weapons to the camp and would make the garrison fully operational soon.
Mulla Jalaluddin Haqqani, who originally built the camps in Khost in the early 1980s, disputed the US claim that the camps had suffered substantial damage due to the airstrike. "The camps at Zhavara survived two air and ground offensives by the Red Army and couldn't be captured or destroyed despite frequent air raids and shelling. What can about 60 or 70 long-range, largely-inaccurate American missiles do to a fortified place built into mountains?" he asked. He claimed the Salman Farsi camp has emerged largely unscathed and the Al-Badr camps, also known as Abu Jindal or the Arab camp, have suffered minimum damage. He conceded that the Khalid bin Waleed and Amir Muawiyya camps had suffered some damage. He also claimed that the ammunition dumps in the camps were almost all intact.
Both Haqqani and Syed Abdullah denied that the Khost camps were used for military or terrorist training. They said Arabs, Pakistanis and Kashmiris who couldn't return to their countries due to various reasons were mostly living in these camps. They said seminaries were being run in the camps and the five mosques built there offered religious services not only to the inmates of the camps but also Gurbaz villagers living in the vicinity. Haqqani recalled that he had built the Zhavara camp in the 1980s to house the first mujahideen radio station and in due course of time he set up a clinic, a madrassa, ammunition depots and also a workshop to repair damaged arms there. At no time was the Zhavara camp used to impart military or terrorist training.
The Arabs, Pakistanis and Kashmiris came much later and set up base there. But even they never indulged in any terrorist activity," he contended.
[Description of source: The News--independent daily, member of the Jang Publishing Group]
Muslim Radicals Declare 'Open War' on US
FTS19980918000321 Karachi Newsline Sep 98 pp 40 41 in English 01 Sep 98
[Article by Behroz Khan: "Remains of the Day"]
Radical Muslim groups, which were attacked by the United States in eastern Afghanistan, now await a go-ahead signal from the Taliban leadership to either resume activities in Khost or relocate their training camps elsewhere in the country.
"We can rebuild the damaged portions of the mud houses and the camps will be fully operational within a week's time. The American air strikes cannot deter us from our goal. It is up to the Taliban and the mujahideen high command to decide whether to stay in Jawar or relocate the camps," says Kashmiri guerrilla leader Bakht Zamin, at a Mansehra base. The commander, affiliated with the Hezb-ul-Mujahideen, was in one of the training camps in Khost when American Tomahawk cruise missiles rained down on them on the night of August 20, leaving over two dozen people dead. The majority of the people who died were either Pakistani or Kashmiri nationals while seven Arab nationals also perished in the attack.
Being hand-in-glove with the extremist Islamic groups and supporting their cause in the Muslim states, it is believed that the Taliban will opt for relocating the camps rather than expelling these militant outfits. "Our operations have not been disrupted by the air strikes. Thousands of mujahideen have already been trained and our cadre is intact. The killing of 22 persons cannot affect our task," says the Harkat commander, who hopes to return to Afghanistan in the near future to resume his training activities.
All the six training camps in Khost were hit by dozens of missiles fired by the US in pursuit of the Saudi multi-millionaire Osama bin Laden, who took refuge in Afghanistan after his eviction from Sudan in 1996. According to US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, 70 to 75 missiles were launched from American ships close to Pakistani waters in the Arabian Sea to hit targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. Seven of the missiles hit a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum which the Americans believe was manufacturing chemical weapons, a charge categorically denied by Sudan.
"Not we, but America is the biggest terrorist in the world. It has let loose a reign of terror on Muslims all over the world. Can America prove the involvement of Osama bin Laden or those killed in the air strikes in the bombing of embassies in Dar-es-salam and Tanzania," asks Dr. Ahmad Sarwar a Pakistani national who was also in the Amir Muawiya training camp on the night of August 20. "I heard a whistle like sound, followed by a fireball. And within seconds the missile hit the ground some 15 yards to my right. There was a deafening explosion and six to seven others in succession," recalls Dr. Sarwar, who accompanied the three injured persons who were shifted to the Hayatabad Medical Complex Peshawar from Khost. "It is our turn now. We will reply to the US attack. The superpower attacked our religious schools in Khost in the night like cowards, but we will strike in broad daylight," says the bearded doctor. Ahmad Sarwar claims these camps imparted only religious education and had nothing to do with military or 'terrorist' training. "Did the Americans kill Osama? Only innocent people and students of religious schools were targeted. The attack destroyed the hostels, two mosques and a few houses of the civilian population," the doctor says angrily.
"Now we declare an open war on America", says Habibur Rehman, 22, who received severe burns on half his body in the missile attack. "We will avenge the blood of our brethren and tell the Americans that faith is mightier than tanks and missiles," says Habib in a pain-choked voice. On the night of the attack, "I was woken up by the sound of a big explosion. There was dust and fire all around. People were running for shelter. I was in severe pain." But despite his ordeal. Habib is determined to go back to Afghanistan to complete his course. "Such strikes cannot stop us."
Habibur Rehman's fearlessness and determination to return to his camp in Afghanistan is surprising.
What is it that hardens a 22-year-old to the vagaries of wars? Interviews with those returning from these camps after completing military training reveal that Afghani, Pakistani and Kashmiri teachers train the militants in elementary to medium and high-skilled guerrilla warfare on light and heavy weapons. The camps are run by the Arabs, Pakistanis and Kashmiris in coordination with each other under the supervision of the Taliban administration. Reportedly, an average of 250 people are trained at a time in each camp and the duration of the course ranges from 40 or 90 days to six months. Describing life inside the camps, one of the mujahideen, Jasim, says the day starts with (Fajr) morning prayers and an hour of exercise, followed by classes till mid-day. "We get military lessons and practical training at the camp," says Jasim, adding that in the afternoons the mujahideen enjoy sports. Dars-i-Quran classes are held after dinner. The courses taught include training for normal combat to hit-and-run to sabotage. A number of educated people and students from pre-medical and pre-engineering classes have joined the rank and file of the mujahideen. "Jehad is more important than studying in college," declared one of Bakht Zamin's lieutenants.