December 15, 2003

Bin Laden's Iraq Plans

...while the "US mainstream news media" babbles about the capture of Saddam being a Christmas present, consider this...there is a mega-Mogadishu brewing in Iraq...The _resident's foolish military adventure has only made Al-Qaeda stronger and given it a credibility and cache on the Arab Street tha it never would have gained without his blundering assistance...

Newsweek: At that meeting, according to Taliban sources, Osama bin Laden’s men officially broke some bad news to emissaries from Mullah Mohammed Omar, the elusive leader of Afghanistan’s ousted fundamentalist regime. Their message: Al Qaeda would be diverting a large number of fighters from the anti-U.S. insurgency in Afghanistan to Iraq. Al Qaeda also planned to reduce by half its $3 million monthly contribution to Afghan jihadi outfits.

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Bin Laden's Iraq Plans
By Sami Yousafzai, Ron Moreau and Michael Hirsh

Monday 15 December 2003

At a secret meeting, bin Laden's reps give bad news to
the Taliban: Qaeda fighters are shifting to a new

During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, three
senior Qaeda representatives allegedly held a secret
meeting in Afghanistan with two top Taliban

The confab took place in mid-November in the remote,
Taliban-controlled mountains of Khowst province near
the Pakistan border, a region where Al Qaeda has found
it easy to operate—frequently even using satellite
phones despite U.S. surveillance.

At that meeting, according to Taliban sources, Osama
bin Laden’s men officially broke some bad news to
emissaries from Mullah Mohammed Omar, the elusive
leader of Afghanistan’s ousted fundamentalist regime.
Their message: Al Qaeda would be diverting a large
number of fighters from the anti-U.S. insurgency in
Afghanistan to Iraq. Al Qaeda also planned to reduce
by half its $3 million monthly contribution to Afghan
jihadi outfits.

All this was on the orders of bin Laden himself, the
sources said. Why? Because the terror chieftain and
his top lieutenants see a great opportunity for
killing Americans and their allies in Iraq and
neighboring countries such as Turkey, according to
Taliban sources who complain that their own movement
will suffer. (Though certainly not as much as
Washington would like: last week Taliban guerrillas
killed a U.N. census worker in an ambush, and a rocket
struck near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul only hours after
a visit by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.) Bin
Laden believes that Iraq is becoming the perfect
battlefield to fight the “American crusaders” and that
the Iraqi insurgency has been “100 percent successful
so far,” according to a Taliban participant at the
mid-November meeting who goes by the nom de guerre

Fluent in Arabic, Sharafullah tells NEWSWEEK he
acted as the meeting’s official translator. He has
proved to be a reliable source in previous stories.
Prior to 9/11, he was Mullah Omar’s translator in
face-to-face meetings with bin Laden. And Sharafullah
has translated correspondence between the two leaders.
Another Taliban source separately confirmed that the
meeting occurred, and he corroborated other parts of
Sharafullah’s account.

If true, bin Laden’s shift of focus could be
unsettling news for George W. Bush. The president is
eager to quell the Iraqi insurgency and establish a
democratic, stable Iraq as he heads into the 2004
re-election campaign. Until now, the attacks on
Americans and other Coalition members have come mainly
from local Saddam loyalists rather than an influx of
foreign jihadists. But if the Taliban sources are
correct, bin Laden may be aiming to help turn Iraq
into “the central front” in the war on terror. That is
how Bush himself described Iraq in a September speech,
when he said, “We are fighting that enemy [there]
today so that we do not meet him again on our own
streets.” But the president may be getting more than
he bargained for. With 79 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq
in November—far more than in any previous month—many
Democrats now see Bush’s troubles in Iraq as the
central front in their campaign to unseat him.

Despite bin Laden’s apparently fresh interest in
Iraq, sources in the region say there remains scant
evidence that he had links to Saddam before the war.
And U.S. officials who have sought to establish those
links suggest now that Al Qaeda doesn’t have
substantial resources to divert to Iraq. “There just
doesn’t seem to be evidence of that,” says a U.S.
intel official. Asked if Washington believes the
Ramadan meeting took place, CIA spokesman William
Harlow declined to comment.

Sharafullah described the Qaeda-Taliban meeting
while sitting down openly with a NEWSWEEK reporter at
a tea shop in Peshawar’s Kissakhani bazaar. That’s not
unusual: Afghan Taliban officials often move freely in
Pakistani cities despite President Pervez Musharraf’s
vows to crack down. Even Mullah Omar himself, who has
been sought by U.S. forces for two years, may be
operating inside Pakistan, Afghan President Hamid
Karzai told NEWSWEEK in an interview on Nov. 28.
“Mullah Omar was spotted praying in a mosque in Quetta
10 days ago,” Karzai said. “This is the first time I
have said this publicly.” Karzai alleged that Taliban
rebels were getting support in Pakistan—Quetta has
become their main base, he said—and he asked Musharraf
to stop Pakistani Islamic groups from providing
sanctuary. (“It is a lie that Mullah Omar is in
Pakistan,” retorted Pakistan Information Minister
Sheik Rashid Ahmed.)

Sharafullah, smartly dressed in a shalwar kameez,
wool sweater and black boots, said bin Laden was
represented at the Ramadan meeting by three Arabs in
their mid-40s who were armed with new Kalashnikovs and
bedecked in hand grenades. The Arabs informed Mullah
Omar’s two representatives—one a former cabinet
minister and the other a senior Taliban military
commander—that bin Laden believed Al Qaeda had to
widen the scope of its anti-infidel efforts as new
opportunities arose. According to Sharafullah, the
Qaeda representatives quoted bin Laden as saying, “The
spilling of American blood is easy in Iraq. The
Americans are drowning in deep, rising water.” Many
Qaeda men are keen to go to Iraq, bin Laden’s
delegates at the meeting allegedly added, and they
again quoted “the sheik” as saying: “I’m giving men
who are thirsty a chance to drink deeply.”

Bin Laden, they said, had also decided to
“reorganize the distribution of funding” by reducing
Al Qaeda’s monthly payment to the Afghan resistance
from $3 million to $1.5 million, according to
Sharafullah. Bin Laden’s men pointed out that raising
and distributing funds has been complicated by the
U.S. crackdown on jihadi charitable foundations, bank
accounts of terror-related organizations and money
transfers. Nonetheless, bin Laden wanted to “assure”
the Afghan resistance that it would receive the
promised amount. “We will never leave you alone,” the
terror chief allegedly said through his

Judging from bin Laden’s taped messages over the
years, his strategy has always been to sap America’s
will and drive U.S. troops out of Arab lands
altogether. While it remains unclear how well bin
Laden is still able to direct or coordinate his
far-flung cells and franchises, the most recent
audiotaped message attributed to him, in October,
calls on young Muslims to fight a holy war in Iraq.
The New York Times reported Saturday that Qaeda
operatives are also heading to Iraq from Europe. Some
key Taliban sources claim there are more than 1,000
Qaeda fighters, military trainers and advisers who
work closely with the Afghan resistance. These sources
say at least one third of these Qaeda militants are
now being sent to the Mideast. Mohammad Amir, a
32-year-old Taliban intelligence agent in Pakistan,
says that of some 350 Qaeda fighters who operated out
of Waziristan, an unregulated tribal area of Pakistan,
nearly one half have already pulled out and headed for
Iraq and neighboring countries.

The Taliban sources paint a portrait of a Qaeda
network that has found new ways to operate, despite a
U.S. dragnet in Central and South Asia. U.S. officials
adamantly deny they have skimped on
resources—intelligence or military—in that region. But
there is evidence that the diversion of U.S. attention
to Iraq has given Al Qaeda some breathing room, and
that U.S. dependence on Pakistani troops and Afghan
warlords is proving inadequate, perhaps even
counter-productive, against the terror network. Over
the past year, NEWSWEEK has learned, the CIA and
British intelligence have been at odds over how badly
the Taliban and Al Qaeda were damaged in the region.
“The British were more prone to say the Taliban and Al
Qaeda were coming back,” says a U.S. official who is
privy to intel discussions, and who believes the Bush
administration downplayed the threat in order to
switch its focus to Iraq.

Many Qaeda operatives appear to be traveling to the
Mideast via the long, overland route through Iran. But
the Bush administration, preoccupied with Iraq, has
been reluctant to take a harder line toward Iran over
its role as a terrorist haven. “The Iranians and some
Arab countries like Syria are breathing easier because
the United States is bogged down in Iraq,” says one
—Arab ambassador to Washington. Abdullah Ramezanzadeh,
an Iranian government spokesman, says Tehran is
arresting Qaeda suspects, but he notes that “before we
consider America’s best interests, we have to consider
our own people’s interests.”

Iran is an ideal transit station for Al Qaeda
because it borders Afghanistan and Pakistan to its
west and Iraq and Turkey to its east. Abdul Alkozai, a
portly, black-turbaned Taliban intelligence and
logistical officer along the Pakistani-Afghan border,
says that two months ago bin Laden ordered 24
Qaeda-affiliated Turkish fighters to withdraw from
Waziristan and head home to Turkey, also through Iran.
Bin Laden has also dispatched some of his key senior
aides to the Iraqi front over the past months. Three
months ago he ordered Abdel Hadi al Iraqi, an Iraqi
Baathist who fell out with Saddam in the 1980s and
later became a Qaeda training-camp commander in
Khowst, to leave bin Laden’s hideout in northeastern
Afghanistan and head to Iraq, Taliban sources say.

Mullah omar has been dismayed by the apparent
redirection of Qaeda forces, these same sources say.
According to Sharafullah, bin Laden’s representatives
at the November meeting counseled the Taliban to unite
the Afghan resistance. The Qaeda leader urged the
Taliban to coordinate with the other main anti-U.S.
and anti-Karzai guerrilla outfits, which are run by
Afghan warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Saed Akbar

Mullah Omar’s official spokesman, Hamid Agha, denied
to NEWSWEEK in a satellite-telephone interview that
the Taliban had financial or military problems. “We
have enough money to fund our resistance,” he said
from an undisclosed location. The resurgent Taliban
say they have been buoyed by an influx of hundreds of
former Taliban fighters into their ranks over the past
year. Many have rejoined because local warlords allied
with U.S. forces and Karzai have persecuted them in
their villages, both Taliban and U.S. intel sources
say. “These repressive, pro-American warlords have
been our best recruiting tool,” says Rahman Hotaki, a
former Transport Ministry official and now a Taliban
operative in Waziristan. “Warlords are pushing people
to leave the warmth of their blankets at home and join
us in our caves.” Hotaki admits that the departure of
Qaeda trainers will hurt the Taliban. “We need more,
not fewer, Qaeda experts, especially in explosives and
other military technologies,” he says. “We can’t fight
without foreign financial support.” But if bin Laden’s
Taliban allies are to be believed, the Qaeda leader
may no longer be sympathetic to their entreaties. It
appears that he, like his mortal enemy George W. Bush,
may be seeking to make Iraq center stage in the war on

Posted by richard at December 15, 2003 10:01 AM