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The Afghan-Arabs Part Four - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The Afghan-Arabs Part Four

The Afghan-Arabs Part Four

The book by the first theoretician of Al-Qaeda entitled ”The Story of the Afghan-Arabs: From the Entry to Afghanistan to the Final Exodus” which Asharq Al-Awsat obtained from a fundamentalist source, talks of his experiences within the organization witnessing disputes between Bin Laden and Mullah Omer. In his book, the author claims that Mullah Omer”s advice to his Arab guest was mainly that he should not attach himself to the media but rather put all his efforts in changing the situation on the ground. In his opinion, this was the best method to follow. Mullah Omer believed that the media was immoral and that it depends mainly on lies. The filming too was a prohibited act among the Taliban”s jurists although there were some opposed this view. Bin Laden, however, continued to contradict what Mullah Omer would say.

Declaring Jihad on Americans:

In his book, the author talked about the timing of Bin Laden”s announcement of &#34Jihad against Americans&#34 in February 1998. &#34Bin Laden became the most prominent person in Pakistan. The people who stood behind Saddam Hussein against the Americans during &#34The War of Liberating Kuwait&#34 came back with more zeal to stand behind Bin Laden. This time they stood behind a &#34Mujahid&#34 with Islamic slogans.&#34 The Jihadist Pakistani groups fought in the Afghanistan war against the Soviets, having known Bin Laden since then, most of them cooperated with him in some way in Jihad. When his political card became powerful internally, Pakistani Islamic figures and groups raced to take advantage of him.

Bin Laden, however, settled only for the acclamations and posters, which he distributed. They were distributed there, but he could not activate his new Islamic cause of liberating the Islamic holy places from the hands of America and Israel. The Islamic forces in Pakistan rushed to draw Bin Laden towards their political or sectarian projects, contrary to what they should have done which was to merge their programs into his. The Pakistani fundamentalist movement succeeded in possessing most of Bin Laden if not all of him.

It was believed that Bin Laden would take on board all this momentum then use it in his initiative, but he was satisfied with the slogans and posters that he had published. However, he could not progress his new Islamic cause regarding the action to be taken for liberating the Islamic holy places from America and Israel.

In his first meeting with Bin Laden, Mullah Omer warned against the demagogies that were the ”Islamic Action” in Pakistan. The author said as a result of his first hand experience of his close ties to both men in Qandahar, Mullah Omer confirmed to Bin Laden in their private meetings that in Pakistan, &#34they do not know anything except acclamation, long live this and down with that. This did not help them to install Shari”a law in spite of the fact that their state was established in the name of Islam over half a century ago. While in Afghanistan, the Taliban managed to enforce Islamic laws on its lands seized by its forces.

Mullah Omar presented his theory concerning the media, which he considered useless. He alluded to the experience of the Taliban movement by saying that it managed to topple the organizations of &#34corruption&#34 in Kabul without any publicity or media use, but with the help of their friends who supported them from outside Afghanistan.

As for the aimless ”Islamic Action” in Pakistan, the past and successive events proved that Mullah Omer”s judgment was correct. The Islamic Pakistani surge failed to defend either Bin Laden or Mullah Omer despite all acclamations and crowded assemblies. His predictions about the media were undoubtedly correct. Nevertheless, the Taliban movement acknowledged that one of the main reasons behind its defeat in the war against United States was the American media.

The third topic and the most important that Mullah Omer had brought up in his meeting with Bin Laden concentrated on the occupied holy Islamic places. It is important here to indicate that Bin Laden passionately explained his view in detail. This highly impressed Mullah Omer as it had done with the Taliban officials and Pakistani clerks.

Mullah Omer said, &#34We know that the Americans have to leave the Arab

Peninsula and the Jews have to leave Palestine. We are Muslims and

Mujahids just like you. We are no less zealous for Islam than you. We are not cowards as we have fought against the Russians and produced martyrs until their defeat. We will join you in liberating the holy places as this is our duty. But my position now is this&#34, continued Mullah Omer as he rose half way, &#34Wait until the situation in Afghanistan settles down and the internal war ends and you will see us as the vanguards of liberating the holy places.&#34

Therefore, Mullah Omer asked suggested an interval until he merges his movement with Bin Laden”s program, to which the latter did not cooperate. He would always start his project and the others would have to adjust their movements according to his.

The first &#34historical meeting&#34 between the two prominent men:

In that first &#34historical meeting&#34 between Bin Laden and Mullah Omer in 1997, the former tried to obtain a kind of official &#34permission&#34 for some of his activities, especially those related to the media, as he was very frustrated because of the pressure to remain silent imposed on him by Taliban officials. Bin Laden provided practical and intelligent demonstrations but he was responded to with a polite refusal that suited the quiet but firm character of Mullah Omer.

Bin Laden suggested that the Taliban regime be given the opportunity to talk to the international media. In addition to discussing the liberation of the holy places, he would also talk about the Taliban”s Islamic emirate in Afghanistan as well as calling upon the Muslim nations to support financially by investing in it and for young people to join its forces for Jihad.

After a two hour meeting, Mullah Omer pleaded to his guest to follow

the instructions of the Islamic emirate and to stop contacting the international media. During the last minutes of the meeting Mullah Omer said to his guest, &#34do not be upset. You are a Mujahid. This is your country and you are welcome to do whatever you like.&#34

In accordance with this last comment, Bin Laden behaved as if he was given full consent by Mullah Omer to do as he wishes. He could arrange any meeting with the Western media. He tried to persuade himself and all his entourage of this, however he only managed to persuade himself. For him that was more than enough.

The Second Escape from Jalalabad:

The security situation of the Arabs was subject to a serious threat in Jalalabad between December 1996 and April 1997. This ended in the narrow escape of the Arab men and their families in coaches and cars. They were the only followers of Bin Laden at that time and included around 400 men, women and children. The convoy moved to Kabul from which they were transported by cars or planes to Qandahar. There, they happily started afresh, which however ended in the American war against them and against the Taliban regime and ultimately the final departure of the &#34Afghan Arabs&#34 from the whole of Afghanistan.

Jabal Al-Siraj village is on the foot of a very high and rigid mountain situated at the entrance of Salange Gorge, which connects Kabul to the northern part of Afghanistan. It is considered one of the main elements that preserves the unity of Afghanistan and connects it to the Central Asian countries. It is for this reason that Alexander Lebed, the National Security Advisor of the former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, said that, &#34defending Central Asia (against the Islamic surge and Taliban movement) begins at Salange Gorge&#34. The principle was stubbornly preserved by Russia through Ahmad Shah Massoud. The Russians catered to all his military

and financial needs for achieving this target to which Massoud completely succeeded. Not only did Russian, regional and international support lead to his triumph but so did the fatal military and political errors committed by the Taliban, as well as the negative influence of Pakistan on the mind and nerves of the Taliban movement.

Taliban forces entered the capital Kabul on 27 November 1996 after the death of Mullah Borjan, the Taliban commander who managed to break in through the eastern entrance of the city in his car, accompanied only by his driver, however he was killed on his way. His driver did not reveal his death until Taliban forces entered Kabul after the fleeing the Rabbani government which included Sayyaf and Hikmatyar and even Massoud, the military commandant and the most powerful man in the regime.

The flight was sudden and threatening without justification. Sayyaf”s

and Hikmatyar”s convoys were looted by some locals living on the road

leading towards the village of al-Siraj Mountain. The two leaders were forced to escape on foot as their convoys were completely looted. As for Rabbani he did not stop until he reached the bank of Jijon River. He was about to hire a boat in order to cross to Tajikistan when news reached him that the Taliban attack stopped at Al-Siraj mountain. Nevertheless, he was not convinced. His nerves were completely shattered. His entourage compelled him to stay on the Afghani side of the river and not to cross it, for fear that the situation in the north collapsed and the Taliban would seize that part of Afghanistan easily.

After, sporadic fighting broke out on the northern road that extends between Kabul and the village of Siraj Mountain. It was a local road inhabited by many farmers most of whom are Tajik. Taliban members reached the village and tried to continue their advance through the gorge towards the north.

They attempted to proceed towards Banshir Valley itself but they were

not successful. Weather conditions deteriorated as snow began to fall. They stopped and started, preparing themselves for the end of winter at Salange Gorge. However, Ahmad Massoud Shah, the experienced commander, advanced from Banshir and climbed the peaks of Salange Mountain. Taliban forces fled leaving behind Salange Passage. He pressured these forces and persisted in pushing them back. His ally Abdul Rashid Dostem the Uzbek moved with powerful forces supported by approximately 700 armored cruisers. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan provided technical and human support only. In fact the attack contained the Russian force and its local alliance against the Taliban. The march towards Kabul began slowly on two axes:

The first one was through the northern road which was crowded by forces loyal to Rabbani. This march covered half of the distance then moved into Althakafi Road across Di Sebz Desert. However, it was then stopped at a mountain gorge as Taliban forces clung to it.

The joint forces of Massoud and Dostem then attempted to advance through Banshir Entry across the villages of Tajab and Najrab that would take them to the lake of Naglou Dam. That position would allow them to disrupt Kabul-Jalal approximately in the middle. The local allied forces made some advance but Taliban forces managed to stop them at Tajab village.

Abdul Rashid Dostem”s troops were forming the backbone of the allied forces. They constituted the biggest number of fighters and had a vast amount of new machinery.

Bin Laden and his followers realized that Jalam Jam forces, which caused them severe damage at the entry of Jalalabad in the summer of 1989, were a five-hour drive away from Arab Khail, their newly built village otherwise known as Najm Al-jihad, the desert district in the south of Jalalabad.

The Arabs were unable to mobilize more than 400 fighters. The light weapons they had would not be sufficient for all of them. Therefore, they waited for the Jalam Jam troops to reach the Najm Al-Jihad district. They would not be able to withstand them for more than a few minutes; all the men would be killed whilst their women and children would be at the mercy of Jalam Jam forces.

The answer was for the Arabs to defend their women and children from the front lines. However, their efforts were unsuccessful, as they were met with the suspicions of the Taliban”s military commandment which considered the Arabs to be loyal to Sayyaf and Hikmatyar. They were thought to be the ideological enemy of the Taliban, as the Arabs perceived Sufism as blasphemous; therefore, they supported the Muslim Brotherhood or the Pakistani Mawdism.

The attacks on Kabul from its northern side were organized by the Northern Alliance. Meanwhile, there was another assault under way from Jalalabad led by Haji Qadir, the former governor of that district. It was thought that those forces were to pass the borders and go to Jalalabad, specifically to the southern area Najm Aljihad, and especially to Arab Khail where Bin Laden and small group of his companions lived moderately within the mud walls of that village. This picture had striking similarities as to what happened in the last American war.

During the campaign that took place in 1996 and 1997 the internal

Afghani situation was very solid. Consequently, the campaign of Dostem and the Northern alliance on Kabul was defeated within a few weeks. That occurred in the second week of January 1997, thanks to the experienced military commandment of Jalal al-Din Haqqani with the remainder of his troops that fought against the communist forces during the last 3 years of the war in opposition to the former communist regime in Afghanistan between 1990 and 1992.

Dostem”s forces were vanquished leaving behind all the armories, weapons and food. All that equipment was an indication that the aim of the campaign surpassed taking control of Kabul. In actual fact, it was for taking back Jalalabad and the international passage in Torkhim. If this had happened, it would have reversed the situation to what it had been before the storming of Taliban into Jalalabad and before the arrival of Bin Laden in July 1996.

The swift and terrible defeat of Dostem”s troops in Kabul took place before Abdul-Qader”s troops were ready to begin its attack on Jalalabad.

They were finally prepared at the end of March 1997, that is, about two months after Dostem”s defeat. This made their destruction quite easy even before they were anywhere near Jalalabad. The Taliban”s ambushes were standing by at the secret passages through which these troops were intending to cross the mountains.

Before the presumed date of the attack against Jalalabad some Taliban security deputies had arrived at the Arab Khail village. They asked Bin Laden not only to leave the village but Jalalabad as well, along with the rest of the Arabs before the following midday. They informed him of the attack and about all the necessary measures that they had taken in order to foil it. They were frank that they could not guarantee how the events would unfold. The situation might deteriorate in the city to the extent that it might threaten his life and the lives of those who were with him.

The youth of Al-Qaeda rebelled. They were determined to defend Bin Laden”s headquarters of the Arab Khail village, nicknamed the &#34Star of Jihad&#34. They vowed to punish the aggressors. However, Bin Laden insisted on evacuating the village and moving towards Qandahar across Kabul where there was a compound of houses near Qandahar airport, which had already been examined by his assistants and some of his officials.

Many argued against Bin Laden”s decision, which in the end proved to be correct. Although the attack did not take place, the area was dangerous and too close to the borders. There were many routes leading to that village thus it would have been difficult to block the aggressors. The village was full of women and children, therefore any bomb thrown by an outsider would have caused numerous deaths among families.

Therefore, the second escape from Jalalabad took place without any victims due to the correct decision being made along with efficiency in organization.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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