Al Qaeda Loses Afghanistan – But Relocates

In a provisional summing up of the Afghan campaign, debkafile‘s military analysts find that the sixteen weeks of warfare have cost the al Qaeda terror organization the use of Afghan soil – and possibly Pakistan too – for its primary command centers, its specialized training facilities, its logistical infrastructure and its laboratories and facilities for the manufacture of explosives and substances of mass destruction. Before October 7, 2001, these facilities operated freely around the country, welcome guests of the Taliban regime.
Heavy though these losses are, they have scarcely impaired the operational ability of the terror organization headed by Osama bin Laden and its far-flung tentacles.
debkafile ‘s military analysts note at the outset of the war, al Qaeda’s fighting strength in the country consisted of no more than four to five thousand men. As the hostilities went on, the organization mustered another 12-15,000 “holy warriors” for the war against America, mainly from Pakistan’s religious seminaries and schools, the medressas. Most were Pakistanis; a few were foreign students.
In resisting the American-led campaign, Bin Laden’s legions confined themselves to three war arenas – the Konduz- Khanabad sector in the north, then Kandahar in the south, where they were mainly active in defending the international airport, and, finally, in the eastern mountains of Tora Bora. In all three arenas, al Qaeda fighters put up little more than rearguard actions to allow the main body of their comrades to melt away to safety.
In all, the terrorist force lost between 400 and 600 hard core fighters, roughly 12-14 percent of the total Afghan contingent, killed either in those limited battles or in US aerial bombardments; 120-140, less than 3 percent, were taken prisoner. Pakistani contingents guarding the frontier detained 200 fugitives, believed mostly al Qaeda, and handed them over for interrogation.
The remainder, 3,000-3,500 al Qaeda combatants, made it out of country before it fell under anti-Taliban rule via well-organized escape corridors, which US intelligence believes to have run across land, sea and air, to two destinations, South Tehran and the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi.
So how much damage has al Qaeda suffered by being driven out of Afghanistan?
According to debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources, its key loss its concentration of facilities for training groups of raw recruits combatants and terrorists. However, the network’s capabilities for launching terror operations have not been affected, because most of its operating infrastructure is scattered in places outside Afghanistan and was therefore untouched by the US war offensive. Indeed the flow of trained Afghanistan-based fighting men to their new destinations has served to invigorate that largely covert and fragmented infrastructure.
Our sources reveal their main destinations:
Between 600 and 800 Saudi Arabians headed via Abu Dhabi or Yemen back into the kingdom, branching off in different directions. One group fetched up on the northern fringes of the Empty Quarter bordering the Eastern Provinces, another in the southern province of Asir on the Yemeni frontier; a third in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina on the Red Sea shore and a last group reached the town of Braide in the Nejd region north of Riyadh.
The next group of 800 to 1000 escapees arrived in Yemen – some making for the Husoun tribal region of Marib in the north, and others for Hadhramauth.
Some 800 al Qaeda fighters were dropped in Somalia, one batch hiding in the shanty hunts around Baidoa, a second trucked to the Somali-Kenyan frontier. Two or three Somali warlords in opposition to the transitional government claim that al Qaeda maintains three big bases near Mogadishu and have offered America help in driving them out. debkafile‘s intelligence sources dismiss the claim as an attempt to cash in on America’s campaign against terror to acquire new weaponry and settle accounts with rivals
A further 700-900 al Qaeda militants were able to steal across Afghanistan’s northern borders and have been sighted in Kyrgistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Chechnya.
Finally, small squads – some 60 to 80 in all – found safe havens in Lebanon, Cyprus, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Algeria.

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