Bin Laden Hides out in Kashmir
5 May, 2002
Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, and their top lieutenants were reportedly sighted last month at different places between the Little Pamir panhandle of northeastern Afghanistan, the Hunza region of Pakistani northwest Jammu and Kashmir, and the north Pakistani Karakoram Mountains further to the south – according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive intelligence sources. Despite the fierce campaign waged against him – notably in the Tora Bora cave complex of Afghanistan last December – the world’s most wanted terrorist appears to be alive and kicking. Those sources stress that bin Laden has in no way changed his appearance.
The wanted terrorist chiefs appear to have established a new territorial base in these inaccessible regions, aided by the very Pakistani ISI intelligence officers whom President Pervez Musharraf purged earlier this year at US insistence for their pro-Taliban proclivities. Those ex-officers manned Pakistan’s Inter-Service-Intelligence’s Afghanistan Desk, which the United States demanded dismantled, accusing its staff of frustrating the US-led anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan and sabotaging every attempt to seal off the Afghan-Pakistan escape route. Some of the fired men were re-assigned to army units in remote parts of Pakistan; 500 were forced into early retirement – and many hired themselves out to bin Laden.
They have now set up for the al Qaeda chiefs a mobile operational command center that affords them control of the terrain and safety from hostile incursion by, say, US special forces.
Intelligence sources in Kashmir who spoke with DEBKA-Net-Weekly on condition of anonymity said these officers used their good connections in Pakistan and with tribal and village leaders to set up Bin Laden’s new base in north Kashmir and Little Pamir. It cannot compare with the formidable system of camps and facilities al Qaeda commanded in central and western Afghanistan under the Taliban. On the other hand, the Saudi-born terror leader now holds sway over a weighty strategic asset, daunting to fight over or even access.
Till now, the US war effort in Afghanistan focused on toppling the Taliban and taking control of the main towns as well as the routes linking them. Bin Laden and his command level have consistently eluded pursuit. Now that he has put down new roots in one of the most forbidding and rugged areas in the world, our sources say that to go after bin Laden, the Americans would need the help of at least four governments of the countries abutting on his retreat – Russia, China, Pakistan and India.
Those nations have disparate interests in the area.