London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri will be caught after extensive coordination in the intelligence field, according to Henry Crampton, U.S. State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq al Awsat earlier this week, the US diplomat refused to divulge the source of the information that led to an air strike on the village of Damadola , in the Bajuar region of Pakistan , by the Afghan border, targeting al Qaeda’s second in command. “I cannot discuss intelligence information”, he said.
The latest incident, in which at least 18 people were killed, amongst them women and children, will not affect the strong relations between the U.S and Pakistan, especially in the field of counterterrorism, Crampton said.
President Pervez Musharraf’s government was a major ally of the US in its fight against al Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban regime, the diplomat indicated, adding that, “We have achieved much progress through our cooperation in the war on terrorism.”
Washington has offered a reward of $25 million for the capture of bin Laden and al Zawahiri who remain at large since forces under the command of the US overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on US cities. It is believed the two fugitives are hiding along the Afghan-Pakistani border, under the protection of Pashtun tribes.
Crampton was in London to take part in a two-day international conference organized by the British Royal Institute for Security and Defense Studies, which discussed cross-border terrorism and its relation to organized crime, money laundering and drug smuggling. He supported a proposal by Saudi Arabia to establish an international counterterrorism center backed by the United Nations and indicated it would open the door for cooperation between countries involved in counterterrorism.
The former CIA officer revealed that bin Laden is still alive and that there was no evidence suggesting he had died since he disappeared off the news in December 2004. Intelligence is key in the search for al Qaeda’s leader, Crampton said, adding that his government will not be deal lightly with al Qaeda in the lawless tribal regions.
Commenting on the 11-month period between 2001 and 2002 when he headed US intelligence in Afghanistan, the diplomat admitted that it was difficult to track down al Qaeda and Taliban supporters but indicated that his colleagues had almost 25 years pf experience in counterterrorism. Al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and the tribal areas, Crampton said, is currently under constant pressure and was being pursued.
According to Crampton, the letter by al Zawahiri to the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Jordanian Abu Musab al Zarqawi, which the US authorities first revealed in October 2005, pointed to the weakness of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, with al Zawahiri pleading with his counterpart in Iraq to send help, support and money.
The thirteen-page letter, written sometime in June, mentioned al Qaeda’s need for money, the Pakistani army’s pursuit of members of the organization and the arrest of its leader Abu Faraj al Libi in May.
Crampton confirmed that the letter was authentic and vowed that the continuing efforts of the political and military levels would foil al Qaeda’s terrorist designs.
“We believe that al Qaeda and its affiliates are showing many characteristics of a global rebellion, aimed at overthrowing the existing world order. The aim is to replace it replacing it with a transitional government that will be fundamentalist, reactionary and tyrannical. They gather information and use deception and destruction, launch propaganda campaigns and carry out acts of sabotage. Of course, they sue terrorism as a method.”
In a chilling analysis of the thinking of bin Laden and his supporters, Crampton said, “Of course terrorism is not only a destructive method. It provides them with an identity and gives others information about them. This threat will persist for decades and not just years. It requires a global response. We are involved in a long-term war.”
Giving a rare insight to his government’s analysis of the terrorism threat, the US diplomat added, “We view the enemy as a threat of three components: the leadership, secure shelters and basic circumstances. The leaders provide leadership, inspiration, resources and guidance to the fundamentalist networks in various parts of the world. The secure shelters are often regional and provide a safe base for extremist activity. They include:
1- The material shelter or rogue governments, lawless regions and state sponsors who provide material shelter for terrorists as well as training and organization.
2- The electronic shelter or the internet and communication systems that are used to communicate, plan, transfer resources and collect information.
3- The ideological shelter or the ideological regimes and the ideas and cultural criteria that strengthen the enemy’s ability to act.
The US diplomat indicated that the circumstances that represent the basis for the presence of extremism are local groups, discontent and conflicts between groups and social segments, which act as fertile grounds for extremism.
“In order to confront this complex threat, our strategy is to use all our national capabilities, in collaboration with out partners and allies. Our aim is to target all three essential components by establishing a reliable network that will undermine, marginalize and isolate the enemy, in addition to strengthening the legitimate alternatives to extremism. We are determined to prevent terrorist attacks before they occur. We have re-organized our government in order to enable the United States to defend itself.”
Efforts were currently in place to “deprive outlawed organizations, such as al Qaeda and its terrorist allies, of the ability to obtain weapons of mass destruction, which they could use without hesitation,” Crampton said.
“We are also determined to prevent extremists groups from obtaining support and shelter from rogue regimes. We want to prevent fundamentalists from seizing control in any country, which they could use as a base and staging post for terrorism,” the US diplomat told Asharq al Awsat.
The US strategy also sought to prevent extremists from mobilizing young recruits by “establishing democracy and sowing hope in the Middle East instead of hatred and resentment.”