US kills allies - el Qaeda not quite defeated - Beijing aiding them
Afghan Interim Government Inauguration Blighted
22 December: The fragility of the national interim government sworn into office in Kabul Saturday, December 22, was underlined by one of the first tasks thrust on the new interim prime minister, the royalist Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai.
On the day of his inauguration for a six-month period, he had to promise an inquiry to sort out the conflicting reports as to who was really hit Friday, when US aerial bombers struck a convoy east of Gardez, southwest of the Tora Bora mountains. Locals in the area say the casualties were Pashtun dignitaries and elders on their way to the inauguration ceremonies in Kabul. The Pentagon claims they were el Qaeda fighters who shot at American planes.
The incident showed clearly that the hostilities in Afghanistan are far from over.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that it also gave away certain facts on the ground that Washington is not too keen to give out:
1. While the Tora Bora campaign to flush out al Qaeda is ostensibly over, it is now evident that most of the clashes were delaying tactics by al Qaeda to cover the escape of its main body east into Pakistan and north up into the Hindu Kush mountains.
2. Most of those who made it into Pakistan were flown out to the Persian Gulf and parts of Eastern Africa. The fugitives who reached Hindu Kush found waiting for them in underground fortified caves caches of heavy weapons not yet tried in the Afghan War: different types of missiles, including cruise missiles, medium range Scud surface missiles and ground-to-air missiles.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, addressing NATO defense ministers last Tuesday December 18, warned that cruise missiles had come into terrorist hands.
On Friday, December 21, the Washington Times confirmed what DEBKAfilehas been reporting since early October, that Beijing was aiding the Taliban and al Qaeda. According to the Times, large quantities of weapons were handed over - even after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Indeed the week after, a shipment of Chinese-made Stinger-type shoulder-fired anti-aircraft was delivered to the two forces.
Last week, al Qaeda fighters in the region of Kandahar were sighted for the first time firing missiles at low-flying US transports. That Osama bin Laden’s men are still in the field and only just beginning to fire off missiles for the first time in 2 and a half months of combat is another grim indicator that the war is far from over.
Indeed, according to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the Pentagon was right about shooting from the ground preceding the US air raid on the Pashtun convoy. It was a cunningly-set al Qaeda trap to hit two birds with one stone: to provoke US air planes into striking at anti-Taliban Pashtun leaders and to make trouble between the Americans and their Afghan protégées.
The facts established are that the column set out from Gardez Thursday, drove through Khost in eastern Afghanistan and continued on its westward journey through the night. It was then that the trucks ran into gunfire from al Qaeda fighters who knew they were coming, possibly from informers in Khost. The ambush was not meant to harm the Pashtun elders, but to divert their convoy from the main highway to roads winding through the mountains, where a second al Qaeda unit loosed SA-7 missiles against US planes overhead. The US regional commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, said later that the aircrews and their rear command were positive that the missiles were fired to secure an al Qaeda-Taliban convoy against US air attack. They were ordered to strike back and destroy the convoy.
This they did Thursday night and Friday morning, killing 65 Pashtun leaders friendly to Hamid Karzai, with their bodyguards and attendants and local inhabitants.
Embarrassingly, both Rumsfeld and Franks clung far too long to their original claim that the US bombers hit an enemy convoy.
3. Left behind in the caves of Tora Bora was evidence that al Qaeda is much more than a ragtag band of terrorists, but rather a quasi-military force, larger and far more efficiently organized than was known. It is also better armed with a variety of weapons systems including non-conventional items that are concealed both in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world.
This discovery may have prompted Washington’s release Saturday, December 22, of its new BLU-118/B thermobaric bomb, specifically designed for tunnel warfare. It burns a new class of solid fuel-air explosive thermobarics. When delivered into a tunnel or cave, the weapon sucks oxygen out of the air by means of delayed high-pressure explosions.
Release of the weapon appears to be a signal from Washington to both al Qaeda and Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein who, in anticipation of a US offensive, has spent recent weeks stowing most of the Iraqi army and its air force, all his military industry and most of Iraq’s essential government units, like communications and energy, into protected underground facilities buried in scattered locations at a safe distance from Baghdad.
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