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As U.S. sea-air armadas, destroyers, air fleets and Special Service units speed east to make war on terrorism, the opposition makes its own preparations quietly and in the dark.
The ex-Saudi terror master Osama bin Laden is generally presented as being on the run, dodging with a small band from one hideout to another in the Uruzga Mountains to escape the mighty force out to get him. Some reports place him in hiding in Somalia. The truth is that no one – including Western intelligence agencies – knows where he is.
Bin Laden and his senior commanders, far from giving up the fight, are in fact busy preparing their next offensive against the U.S., Britain, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates, Egypt and Israel – all affirmed targets of the jihad he has declared against America and everything its stands for, according to the military sources of DEBKA, the private intelligence service.
Bin Laden and his ilk do not practice Western military doctrines. The concepts of military hierarchy, with its generals and colonels, general staffs and operational, air intelligence and naval intelligence branches, are all alien to bin Laden and his band.
This is quite deliberate. Bin Laden keeps his men untouched by Western military thinking and formats for two reasons:
- To prevent his men’s exposure to Western culture, while creating a milieu in which any Western penetration agent will soon be spotted.
- A preference for traditional Islamic fighting methods, mostly taken from the early days of conquering Islam – the seventh century, when the Caliph Omar prevailed over the Byzantine Empire, and the 11th century, when Saladin defeated the European Crusaders. Saladin, who was not an Arab but a Seljuk from Asia Minor, built his army around a very small command of adherents and a large international pool of reservists, who were called up for major battles by a dozen or so runners, who traveled to the different countries and activated local couriers in relays for posting call-up summons in the towns and villages.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that bin Laden’s courier squad of half a dozen runners went into action Sept. 9, two days before the four hijacked airliners rammed the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington. They spread out in two destinations. One group headed for the Islamic madrassas, Islamic schools and colleges of Afghanistan, where 40,000 of the more than 1 million students, Afghans and foreigners, have embraced the jihad mission under bin Laden’s leadership. A second group went round the 10,000 madrassas of Pakistan, where bin Laden can count on a further 70,000 jihad devotees.
The conscripts were issued with their personal weapons early last week from central armories serving each cluster of madrassas.
These schools are not colleges in the Western sense, but training and indoctrination academies breeding militant zealots for battle and self-sacrifice. These future recruits to bin Laden’s Muslim internationale are subjected to rigorous training disciplines in guerrilla and urban combat, sabotage, the making and use of bombs, simple weaponry for use against planes, helicopters and tanks and endurance in harsh conditions deprived of water and food for long periods.
This is not a ragged rabble, but a well-drilled, dedicated Islamic legion of at least 110,000 zealots, raring to take on Western armies and unafraid of elite U.S. Delta, Rangers and Seals or British SAS commandos descending on their strongholds.
Indeed, some of the instructors teaching the students the arts of war may have received their own training at the hands of American Muslim commando instructors, attached at different periods to U.S. 101st or 82nd Airborne divisions. The Islamic army congregating in Afghanistan under the bin Laden banner is a fighting force as formidable in its own way as the military might the United States and the British are assembling to eradicate it.
Some 3,500 hard-core senior officers serving in bin Laden’s training bases in Afghanistan have taken command of the gathering army.
DEBKAfile’s military sources confirm at least one initial engagement between U.S. elite forces who crossed from neighboring Tadjikistan, a former Soviet republic, into southeast Afghanistan since Saturday. They were led through the mountains by Russian intelligence officers familiar with Afghan frontier terrain and Tadjik and Pushtun smugglers associated with Russian intelligence. There was another brush Saturday, between British SAS units who entered Afghanistan from the north and linked up with the Afghan general Rashid Dustum, an Uzbek, and a bin Laden band. Members of the British force penetrated Afghan military lines and reached the outskirts of Kabul.
DEBKAfile’s military sources are quite clear that the coming war will be fought both inside and outside Afghanistan, and that its tempo, scale, arena and intensity will not be dictated by the Americans alone.
Al-Qaida is an international association of allied groups operating in many parts of the world.
Its top commanders are:
YAMAN AL ZAWAHAR, head of the Egyptian Jihad Islami, who is bin Laden’s senior deputy and heir apparent.
JUMMA MAMANGANI, an Uzbek, who was recently appointed al-Qaida chief of operations. He is former commander of the Moslem Army for the Liberation of Kyrgistan. Three key Afghan training camps, at Jalalabad, Farmada and Daronta, are under his command.
FATEH KAMEL, who leads the most militant cells of the extremist Algerian GIA. In the name of al-Qaida, he controls terrorist cells in the United States, Canada and Algeria.
MUHAMMED ATIF aka SUBHI ABU-SITTAH, who is nominal chief of staff of the network and its brightest military brain. He comes from the Egyptian Jihad Islami.
IMAD MUGHNIYEH, the former Lebanese Hezbollah hostage-taker and bomber, who is in charge of the combined terrorist campaign around the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Europe and Israel.
On top of the 3,500 hard-core commanders and 110,000 Afghan and Pakistani troops, al-Qaida retains another 6,400 commanders in 12 centers: North America, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Albania, Kosovo, Algeria, Chechenya, Tadjikistan and all the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the Philippines, Egypt, Ethiopia and Somalia.
The numbers of bin Laden can muster differs from place to place. In North America, together with his closest ally, the Egyptian Jihad Islami, there are some 2,500 hard-core fighting men; in Yemen, where his family originated before migrating to Saudi Arabia – 2,000 directly. But bin Laden has a special relationship with the commanders of the 20,000-man strong irregular Muslim Liberation Army, which holds a monopoly of the arms trade of the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and East Africa. Its reach sometimes goes as far as Iran.
Bin Laden often serves as the MLA’s clearing bank and ready bankroll for arms deal.
In Saudi Arabia, where the privileged and affluent bin Laden clan lives, Osama commands some 200-250 hard-core commanders, but many more potential partisans among the disaffected tribes in the central and eastern provinces, especially the Nejd, as well as in the Saudi armed forces and national guard.
An intensive al-Qaida recruitment effort in those two Saudi forces could cause their collapse and drop in bin Laden’s lap their arsenals, with some of the most sophisticated hardware in use today.
According to conservative estimates, the millionaire-terrorist could most probably rally around the world roughly the same number of fighting men as those flocking to his flag in Afghanistan and Pakistan, namely an army of over 200,000 men. Many members of his overseas legions are available for both sustained and for one-time operations. In between, they simply go back to their normal pursuits and their homes in host countries. They are also available for terrorist operations on their home ground.
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