That's Not Where Al Qaeda Is; Osama Bin Laden Is Unwelcome in Taliban Country

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

That's Not Where Al Qaeda Is; Osama Bin Laden Is Unwelcome in Taliban Country


Byline: Arnaud de Borchgrave, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When President Obama endorsed the Afghan war as his own, the reason he gave was because that's where al Qaeda is. In point of fact, al Qaeda skedaddled out of Afghanistan shortly after U.S. troops invaded the country on Oct. 7, 2001. The bulk of the Afghan-based al Qaeda terrorists, led by Osama bin Laden and his family, pushed through the Tora Bora mountain range that straddles the Afghan-Pakistani border on their way to what they knew would be safe havens in Pakistan's tribal belt.

On Dec. 6 that year, Ajmal Khattak, the head of the Khattak tribe, who commanded about 600,000 pairs of eyes and ears in the area, advised this reporter and his Pakistani associates to be on horseback at the exit of the Tirah Valley as soon as possible. We flew over from Washington and got ourselves into position on Dec. 11 only to learn from local villagers that bin Laden and about 50 people had come out of the valley Dec. 9 and immediately had gotten into waiting vehicles and driven off in direction of Peshawar. Despite Pakistani assurances that troops would be deployed at likely Tora Bora exit points, we didn't see any.

Khattak, 83, was a close friend of my United Press International associate for South Asia, Ammar Turabi. Khattak died earlier this month without ever meeting a U.S. intelligence officer. Yet he was a mine of information and contacts throughout the region who liked to make things happen.

Former president of the Awami National Party, he also was a prolific poet in both Pashto and Urdu whose poems and other writings celebrated the courage of revolutionaries. In his small native village, Akora Khattak, we frequently sipped tea with him in a dwelling that was more shack than house. He despised al Qaeda and was the first to tell us, before we journeyed to Kandahar in late May 2001, that there were major differences between Taliban dictator Mullah Mohammed Omar and bin Laden. He also paved the way for our meeting with Mullah Omar on June 4, 2001.

The second major erroneous assumption made by President Obama is that if the Taliban get back to power in Afghanistan, al Qaeda will be back in a heartbeat. Taliban's Mullah Omar and bin Laden are not Tweedledee and Tweedledum, nor are they twins who evolved a bizarre master-slave relationship, nor Jekyll and Hyde, an altruistically well-meaning doctor who becomes a monster bent on lust and destruction.

The ideological and personality differences between bin Laden and Mullah Omar have long been misunderstood. Taliban is an indigenous Afghan movement made up of mostly ethnic Pashtuns, midwifed by Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency to put an end to a civil war and fill a vacuum left by the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan. Mullah Omar consolidated his power with the title of Amir-ul-Mumineen (Supreme Commander of the Faithful) in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a medieval theocratic dictatorship and pitiless inquisition.

Bin Laden, expelled from Sudan in 1996 by combined U.S., European and Saudi pressure, opted to return to his old stomping grounds in Afghanistan while Mullah Omar was still consolidating his civil war victory.

Bin Laden the ambitious global braggadocio was not what Mullah Omar the recluse had in mind. …

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