GIs hunt al-Qaida in Afghan mountains

GIs hunt al-Qaida in Afghan mountains

By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press WriterSun Sep 10, 5:29 PM ET

At night, the mountains glow from artillery strikes. By day, gunbattles echo down the valley. Five years after the Sept. 11 attack, Americans are battling al-Qaida militants in this remote area where the U.S. military says the group hatched the terror plot.

Only about 100 hard-core Afghan, Arab and Pakistani insurgents operate in the Korangal Valley, but this is where the U.S. last year suffered its worst combat loss in Afghanistan and where the military believes at least second-tier al-Qaida leaders still hide and plan attacks.

Many of the U.S. soldiers here see their offensive as a chance to avenge the assault on America, and to calm a hot bed of the Afghan insurgency.

“From all the areas we have been through, this one is the most active,” said Capt. Michael Schmidt of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y.

“There are a lot of bad guys in this valley,” the 30-year-old Marylander added, his M-16 assault rifle resting in the carved out hole of a bunker overlooking a village where U.S. troops think they killed at least two insurgents Sunday.

At the end of August, the U.S. Army launched Operation Big Northern Wind seeking to wipe out militants in Kunar province’s Korangal Valley and expand the control of the Afghan government — part of a drive by 20,000 coalition soldiers to secure the volatile frontier with Pakistan.

The drive comes amid Afghanistan’s worst violence since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime at the end of 2001 for giving haven to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida training bases.

Near the main southern city of Kandahar, a newly deployed NATO force is waging war on a resurgent Taliban. The alliance said air strikes and artillery killed 94 militants overnight and early Sunday, pushing the reported toll from the 9-day-old offensive past 420 — probably the most intense military confrontation in Afghanistan in nearly five years.

Two U.S.-led coalition soldiers also died in combat in the south late Saturday. Five NATO soldiers and 14 British crew on a reconnaissance plane died there earlier in the week.

Also Sunday, a suicide bombing claimed by the Taliban killed the governor of eastern Paktia province, and the U.S. military warned a suicide bombing cell had set up in Kabul to target foreign troops. A suicide bombing Friday killed 16 people, including two U.S. soldiers, near the U.S. Embassy.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that the war has been a boon for the world, shutting down al-Qaida camps that had trained thousands of terrorists, unseating the Taliban’s puritanical Islamic regime and bringing democracy to the Afghanistan.

But Cheney also cautioned there is a tough road ahead. “We are still in the fight in Afghanistan and we’re likely to be for some considerable period of time,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In the Korangal Valley, the terrain is more rugged than the expansive desert around Kandahar. The U.S. Army is fighting a classic counterinsurgency of the kind last waged during the Vietnam War, said Capt. Robert Stanton, 31, of Tampa, Fla.

Lt. Col. Christopher Cavoli, 42, commander of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, said the aim is to put military pressure on the insurgents and political pressure on their supporters in villages and so extend the reach of the government in Kabul.

But for the troops of the 10th Mountain Division, this is also about punishing al-Qaida for the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The people here that we are fighting are direct descendants or were at some point in time directly involved in terrorist attacks on America,” said Stanton. “We were told that Osama bin Laden and his group operated freely up here … conducted training and planning activity and that this was where the plans for Sept. 11 were hatched.”

Stanton would not give further details of the source of the information, but military intelligence officers say these high, pine-covered mountains in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province still are home to headquarters for second- and third-tier al-Qaida leaders.

They say the jetliner bombing plot reportedly foiled last month in London was probably hatched in the Aranas area of Nuristan. Pakistani intelligence officials also have claimed that an al-Qaida mastermind in eastern Afghanistan was behind the conspiracy.

The U.S. military action to snuff out the militants in the east is intense.

There are almost daily firefights with small bands of militants — who blend in quickly with civilians — and deafening barrages of artillery scorch the mountainsides, setting trees on fire.

American mortars and 155 mm howitzers blasted the hilltops Sunday above the village of Darbart after insurgents fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. soldiers searching the hamlet.

Troops traded machine gun fire for nearly an hour with the insurgents, until 120 mm mortar shells hit a house being used as a firing position by at least two militants. The two were presumed killed. No U.S. soldiers were hurt.

“The enemy up here is very well trained,” Stanton said. “They are very, very hard to find because most of them have support from some of the locals.”

The district governor has slapped sanctions on the southern section of the valley, where most of the militants are believed to come from and where foreign fighters linked to al-Qaida find sanctuary in caves, mountains huts and a dozen or so villages.

The military says the local Korangali tribe is a key link to al-Qaida and other Islamic militants operating here. The tribe adheres to the austere Wahhabi brand of Islam most prevalent in Saudi Arabia and practiced by the fugitive bin Laden and the Taliban.

The sanctions bar goods from entering or leaving the valley in hopes that will coerce the Korangali village elders into forcing the militants out or turn people against the elders.

Among the most-wanted men are three Afghans, Haji Matin, Habib Jan and Ahmed Shah.

Shah is alleged to have used a rocket-propelled grenade to shoot down a U.S. helicopter in June 2005, killing 16 Americans in the deadliest single attack on the U.S. military since the war began.

Those troops were part of a rescue effort for a four-man team of Navy SEALs caught in a militant ambush. Three SEALs were killed. The fourth was rescued days later by a farmer.

To win local support, the Army is building roads, hospitals, bridges and schools, said Cavoli, the battalion commander.

But fighting is also important to “demonstrate to the people that you can keep them safe from the enemy’s coercion — that the government can and will defeat the enemy and keep order,” he said.

Al-Qaida lieutenant warns of new attacks

Al-Qaida lieutenant warns of new attacks

By LEE KEATH, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 45 minutes ago

Al-Qaida’s No. 2 condemned U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon as enemies of Islam and warned the terror group will strike the Persian Gulf and Israel, suggesting new fronts in its war against the West in a video Monday marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The video of Ayman al-Zawahri was one of three al-Qaida released for the anniversary, showing increasingly sophisticated techniques as the group tries to demonstrate that it remains a powerful, confident force five years into the U.S. war on terror.

One video showed images of the planes striking the World Trade Center, lionizing the 19 suicide hijackers as men “who changed history.” Another was a 91-minute documentary-style video in which Osama bin Laden is seen smiling and chatting with the planners of the Sept. 11 attacks in an Afghan mountain camp.

Al-Zawahri spoke in the third and longest video, warning Americans of more attacks to come.

“We have repeatedly warned you and offered a truce with you. Now we have all the legal and rational justification to continue to fight you until your power is destroyed or you give in and surrender,” he said. “The days are pregnant and giving birth to new events.”

He also called on his followers to attack the U.S. in response to its jailing of a prominent Muslim cleric.

“I call on every Muslim to make use of every opportunity afforded him to take revenge on America for its imprisonment of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman,” he said.

Abdel-Rahman, a blind cleric from Egypt, was convicted in the U.S. of seditious conspiracy for his advisory role in a plot to blow up five New York City landmarks, including the United Nations in 1995.

Al-Zawahri’s comments also pointed to new fronts for al-Qaida attacks. The terror network has had few operations in Lebanon, Israel or in the Gulf region — except for in Saudi Arabia, where its branch carried out a campaign of violence in recent years but has been heavily damaged by a government crackdown.

He urged his followers to attack Western targets to stop what he said was the stealing of oil from Muslim countries.

Both Lebanon and Israel have warned of a possible growing al-Qaida presence.

“We have seen over the last months increased al-Qaida activity in our area,” in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. “We’ve seen an attempt by al-Qaida to also infiltrate in Gaza and even in the West Bank, so we take the threat very seriously and we’re taking the appropriate countermeasures,” he said, without elaborating.

Addressing the United States, al-Zawahri said “you should not waste your time” reinforcing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, “because they are doomed to defeat.”

“Instead, you have to reinforce your troops in two regions. First is the Gulf, where you will be thrown out after you are defeated in Iraq, at which point your economic ruin will be achieved,” he said. “The second is Israel, because the jihad reinforcements are getting closer to it.”

He also denounced the U.N. peacekeeping force now moving into Lebanon under terms set out in a U.N. cease-fire resolution that on Aug. 14 ended fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas. He suggested Muslims should prevent the peacekeepers’ deployment.

“What is so terrible in this resolution … is that it approves the existence of the Jewish state and isolates our mujahedeen in Palestine from Muslims in Lebanon,” he said. “This is consecrated by the presence of international troops who are hostile to Islam.”

“Anyone who accepts this resolution means that he accepts all these catastrophes,” he said.

The Egyptian-born al-Zawahri called on the Muslim world “to rush with everything at its disposal to the aid of its Muslim brothers in Lebanon and Gaza” and accused Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia of being “traitors” when it came to those two conflicts.

The comments about Lebanon — which indicated the video was recent — were the first indirect threat against the French-led force deploying there, tasked with enforcing a border zone free of Hezbollah weapons.

But it is not clear al-Qaida has the means to carry out significant attacks in Lebanon. The Sunni-led al-Qaida and Shiite Hezbollah are considered enemies. The Shiite guerrillas were angered over the terror group’s interference in December, when al-Qaida in Iraq claimed a rocket attack from Lebanon into northern Israel, provoking Israeli airstrikes on a Palestinian base in Lebanon.

Al-Zawahri also called on Iraq’s Kurds to shun America and Israel.

“I appeal to my brothers in Islam, the Kurds, to renounce these calls which support America and Israel,” he said.

Bin Laden and al-Zawahri are believed to be on the run in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Many analysts believe that they no longer have centralized control to order or organize attacks by militants around the world. The capture and killing of many midlevel commanders has left the organization more diffuse and amorphous.

At the same time, the central leadership’s propaganda machine has gotten more sophisticated, aiming to rally militants and romanticizing the jihad, or holy war, against the United States as a heroic fight.

The three videos were all issued by As-Sahab, al-Qaida’s media production arm.

Islamic attacks for the last 5 months

Zawahri says U.N. force in Lebanon enemy of Islam

Zawahri says U.N. force in Lebanon enemy of Islam

11 Sep 2006 12:40:20 GMT


Background

Lebanon crisis

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 DUBAI, Sept 11 (Reuters) – Al Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri has condemned United Nations forces in Lebanon as “enemies of Islam”, the first implicit threat against the peacekeeping forces. Zawahri, speaking in a video tape aired on Arabic Al Jazeera television on Monday, also blasted a U.N. resolution which ended a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hizbollah. “The biggest problem with resolution 1701 and similiar resolutions designed to humiliate Muslims is that its declaration of the existence of the Jewish state and the isolation of the mujahideen in Palestine from the Muslims in Lebanon by the presence of international forces that are the enemies of Islam.”

Brits Warned Threat of up to two million Muslim terrorists, warns community leader

By STEVE DOUGHTY Last updated at 10:29am on 11th September 2006  

Britain will face have to deal with up to two million Islamic terrorists unless there is an end to ‘demonising’ of Muslims, the leader of the most influential Muslim organisation has said. Treating all Muslims as if they were terrorists will encourage large numbers to become terrorists, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari said. The warning from the chief of the Muslim Council of Britain – the grouping that Tony Blair’s Government has considered the leading voice for Muslims – came amid rising tensions over the increasingly suspicious attitude to Muslims in the rest of society. Dr Bari declared: “Some police officers and sections of the media are demonising Muslims, treating them as if they are all terrorists, and that encourages other people to do the same. “If that demonisation continues, then Britain will have to deal with two million Muslim terrorists, 700,000 of them in London. “If you attack a whole community, it becomes despondent and aggressive,” he added. The message from Dr Bari appeared to be aimed at muting criticism from police officers and broadcasters and newspapers who have questioned widely-held Muslim attitudes and at police officers who have called for greater surveillance of Muslims. It appeared to contain a measure of exaggeration – according to the last national census, there are fewer than 1.6 million Muslims in the country. But by suggesting that a majority of British Muslims may be prepared to support or engage in terrorism the Muslim Council chief may undermine figures who have tried to ward off attacks on Muslims. His view appears in particular to mock Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick, who declared after the 7 July bombings last year that “Islamic and terrorist are two words that do not go together”. In recent weeks a number of senior police officers have called for ‘profiling’ measures that would pick out Muslims for greater attention in security checks. Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist chief Peter Clarke said last week that thousands of Britism Muslims are now being watched, and last month Met superintendents’ spokesman Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey said it was “wholly unacceptable to portray the Asian community as victims”. At the same time a series of highly-publicised surveys have shown that a high proportion of people are reluctant to sit next to a Muslim on public transport or would feel unhappy to have a Muslim neighbour. Dr Bari said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that he did not understand why “the whole of our diverse community” is being criticised. “We want to isolate that bad people and put them in the dock,” he said. “But we all have to work together to do that: police, politicians, the media and the Muslim community.” Security profiling at airports “reinforces a negative stereotype”, he added. “When the IRA was blowing people up, the entire Catholic population of Britain was not demonised, so why is it happening to the Muslim community?” he asked. Another prominent Islamic figure also said that extremists had been falsely represented as typical of Muslims. But Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament said the responsibility lay on Muslim communities to expose and end the threat. Dr Siddiqui said: “Muslim failure to act robustly against extremist ideology provides ammunition to those who wish to pursue the Neo-con agenda by demonising Muslims and creating an atmosphere of fear and hatred within society.” He added: “It is up to moderate Muslims to reclaim Islam and for a new generation of young Muslim activists and leaders to emerge who love both their country and their religion.” Most mosques have remained immune to change and faith schools need to become more open to the wider society, he added.  

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