WASHINGTON DC, Sept 3, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Taliban commanders watching a video

Every One Knows Where the Terrorists Are, But

By Khawar Mehdi

WASHINGTON, September 3: When former US Under Secretary of Defense Jed Babben asked on Fox News last week the key question: “Where are the terrorists and where does the war of terror stand,” he was only seeking the official answer from the Bush Administration. But Babben, and all others, know the answer. It is not even kept a secret by the terrorists themselves.

I have recently received a number of audio and video CDs here in Washington which, by the way, are also available on every grocery store in the troubled Waziristan tribal areas. These CDs not just show where the terrorists are they also show what they have been doing and how and what they intend to do.

The Communication Cell of Al-Qaeda and Taliban not only distributes the messages of their top brass to the media but their VCDs about their operations circulate freely. One such CD was circulated last month showing the images of ID cards of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan’s province of Kunar, bordering Pakistan. The video was first aired on al-Arabia TV recently. Earlier, the world saw Ayman Al-Zawahiri speaking on London bombings in another video depiction. The ABC a few weeks ago played parts of these freely available CDs.

Filmed footage of the Summer-2004 Operation of the Pakistan Army against Al-Qaeda fighters and their local supporters in South Waziristan Agency, a part of the tribal strip between Pakistan and Afghanistan, is now available in all its details.

Pakistan Army had imposed restrictions on the media to report on the military operation against local extremists and their foreign guests. But the purpose behind the restrictions was badly frustrated, as Ummat Studio, apparently a secret production house of Taliban fighters, kept spreading video CDs among local communities showing how devastating the operation was for the Army.

It tells the visual story of fearless retaliation by local religious militia against the troops. According to the official records, the Army lost 232 men during the operation while militants received more than 270 causalities, but the militants doubt the official figures. The CDs also showed extremely gory scenes of burnt bodies and amputated organs of civilians killed in the military offensive.

The background commentary on the images touches sympathetic hearts, enough to motivate an ordinary Muslim tribesman to join hands with the militants, portrayed as freedom fighters, Mujahideen and heroes, fighting for the great causes of Islam and tribal honor.

Professionally filmed and edited, the CDs narrate the stories of militants’ victories over the Pakistan Army. Details of preparations and attacks can be seen in step-by-step sequences.

The impressive part of these CDs is the filming of the attacks itself. All the videos have uncovered faces of militants, attacking convoys and positions of the Army with rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47 rifles and light machine guns. Some heavy arms like multi-rocket launchers and missile batteries can also be seen. Militants using donkeys and mules for the transportation of arms and ammunition, communicating on walkie-talkies and reporting on the movements of troops give a clear picture of the communication resources used by them during the conflict. Anyone familiar with the terrain can exactly pinpoint where the videos were shot.

One CD covers a training camp run by Shaikh Abul Lait Al Libbi, a name on the most wanted list of FBI. Ten members of the camp are neither Afghans nor Pakistanis. They belong to different parts of the Arabic-speaking world, including one from Xingjian province of China.

But the surprising aspect of the film is the freedom with which the training is held. It is a day-long training exercise including physical work and use of weapons with live ammunition. The film ends on scenes of attacks on the coalition forces in Afghanistan in mid of 2004 at a place called Shinkai in Zabul Province of Afghanistan.

According to credible sources in South Waziristan, hosts of Al-Qaeda terrorists established a communication facility in Shagai, a village close to Wana, which kept working till mid-2004. Almost all film productions now available on CDs had taken place in the same facility in Shagai. Later, it was moved closer to Razmak in North Waziristan.

The sources are confident that at present the production center is working in Tanak, a city adjacent to South Waziristan. The question is: if an ordinary tribesmen can have the knowledge of Al-Qaeda production centers, how come the intelligence agencies with all their sophisticated gear and hardware be unaware?

The truth is that intelligence officials deliberately keep their eyes and ears closed to the activities of these communication cells. They know who is filming, recording and distributing the CDs. It would certainly not be a great operation to find out from the retail stores who was supplying them the stuff.

Part of the mainstream Pakistani media has also been pointing out to the locations of terrorists. Reports on reopening of a well-known terrorist camp in Mansehra, a district of NWFP province in Pakistan, recently surfaced when Monthly Herald reported that eight camps were working freely in that district. Some diplomatic sources are of the opinion that the number of camps in Mansehra is between eight and 15. The camps reopened in Kashmir are separate.

To all this confusing state of affairs, the statement of Opposition Leader in the National Assembly of Pakistan and Secretary General of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, added further fuel. The Maulana, in an angry mood, asked pointed questions from the authorities with the purpose to seriously embarrass them.

He asked the government about the nationalities of the individuals sent to Mansehra for training. The statement was published on August 8 in the Lahore Daily Times which read in part: “The Pakistani Government is deceiving the US and the West by helping militants freely enter Afghanistan from Waziristan. We ask the rulers to reveal the identity of the people being transported to Afghanistan from Waziristan via Kaali Sarak in private vehicles; reveal who is supervising their trouble-free entry into Afghanistan and reasons for their infiltration.”

He further demanded: “The Government must also give the nation the identities of the men being moved from Waziristan to militant camps in Mansehra.”

The Maulana accused Islamabad of hypocrisy, saying the rulers are not only trying to deceive the US and the West but also hoodwinking the entire nation.

It is not surprising if Iraq is swarmed by terrorist groups for obvious reasons but the freedom they are enjoying under Musharraf regime in the region has no logic, though the General claims to be at the forefront of the US alliance against ‘war on terror’ and the US government endorses it too.

So when Mr. Babben expressed his disappointment over the failure of Bush administration in telling the American people about the whereabouts of terrorists, he was only implicitly attacking Musharraf and Company.

If Washington and Islamabad want to find out where the terrorists are, they need to look no further than some of the grocery stores in Waziristan.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist who was arrested by the Army along with two French journalists for filming a Taliban training camp. He later arrived in Washington.

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