Military sources in Dushanbe and Bishbek, capitals of Tajikistan and Kyrgizstan respectively, report at least 15 Chinese fighting men on the side of the Taliban, were killed in last week’s U.S. bombing over Kahandar and in a separate incident on the ground, according to the DEBKA intelligence news service.

This report was confirmed, reports DEBKA, by Pakistani sources in Peshawar, who discovered the Chinese presence alongside the Taliban from their own intelligence reports on the death of the commander of Arab Afghan troops in Jalalabad. That commander was Basir al Masri, a senior aide to Osama bin Laden and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Al Masri appears to have been caught by an American bombardment, just as he was leaving Kahandar for Jalalabad after meeting Taliban leaders. Those leaders warned him as he left that U.S. Special Forces units were operating in the southern and western outskirts of the town. Because they thought the size of his bodyguard insufficient, they offered a detail of their own men to see him safely past the danger zone. Among that armed escort were five Chinese fighters. A Special Forces unit waylaid the group and detonated explosive charges, one of which hit Abu Basir’s vehicle and a second the escort vehicles. Most of the escort was killed, including three of the Chinese guards. The next day, their bodies were carried into Kandahar.

Another 10 Chinese fighters were killed in U.S. bombardments, DEBKA reports.

The intelligence service reports its sources have no doubt that the Chinese combatants fought in a Taliban unit – and were not part of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida or its associated Egyptian Jihad forces in Afghanistan. Neither organization admits non-Arab adherents – certainly not as guards for its senior officers.

The Chinese-bin Laden relationship goes back some years. The British daily, Guardian, carried a report Saturday by John Hooper in Milan, claiming that three years ago, China paid bin Laden several million dollars for unexploded American cruise missiles left over from the U.S. attack on his bases. Hooper quotes an alleged senior al-Qaida agent in Europe, whose account is contained in the transcript of a secretly taped conversation between two bin Laden adherents.

The Americans fired 75 missiles in the raid on bin Laden’s bases in Afghanistan, carried out Aug. 20, 1998, in reprisal for the terrorist strikes against U.S. embassies in East Africa. Forty were found unexploded.

The conversation taped took place in Milan between a Libyan called Ben Heni – who was arrested in Munich last week and accused by the Italian prosecution of being the liaison officer between two al-Qaida cells in Frankfurt and Milan – and a leader of the Italian cells, Sami Ben Khemmais Essid. The Italian police had bugged the flat.

According to the Guardian report, the two men confirmed bin Laden’s close ties with China and described how the huge sums the Chinese paid for the unexploded U.S. missiles helped him finance his next three years of al-Qaida operations.

In addition, the Washington Post reported Sept. 13 that Beijing signed a memorandum of understanding with the Taliban for greater economic and technical cooperation – the last of a series of Chinese agreements with Afghanistan in the last two years. The Post characterized China’s relationship with the Taliban as the closest of any non-Muslim country.

The memorandum of understanding was, ironically, signed Sept. 11.

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