This essay was
written while the fires at the twin towers were still burning
by David Dienstag
As a result of the recent attacks on the U.S. by terrorists,
a lot of examination is going to be aimed at Afghanistan to understand
why these attacks came about. It has always been believed that
somehow what has happened could never happen. The root causes,
meanings and implications will be the topic of some debate. However,
most analysts agree that this attack is the work of Osama Bin
Laden. They are likely correct. Circumstantially, there are indications
that point to him.
1. Most analysts agree that his organization has the funds
and the reach to pull this off. They tend to ignore the attendant
implication that this is a pan-Islamic Jihadi vision. It is multinational
in its recruitment, its vision, and its targeting. This is a
crucial element in looking at the present Afghan predicament.
2. On Sunday, a bomb went off killing Ahmad Shah Massoud,
the critical military leader of the Northern Alliance in opposition
to the Taliban, now hosting Osama. Both Osama and Massoud had
exchanged death threats over the years. The assassination was
probably a move to neutralize the biggest threat in the region
to his stronghold. If the U.S. had been attacked and Massoud was
around, policy makers would almost certainly look seriously at
Mr. Massoud as the ablest military force to effectively challenge
the Taliban and Osama.
3. Osama has targeted the World Trade Center before. When
Ramzi Yousef was being flown back to NY to face justice, an American
law enforcement official pointed to the Center through the window
and said: "See, it's still standing". Yousef replied: "Only
because I didn't have enough money". Osama's organization
may even be more interested in attacking the United States than
Israel and may have weakness for obsessing on some targets or
In the past only a vague, negative haze characterized the
impression of Afghanistan. It has served policy makers poorly
and we have learned horribly how the out-of-sight, out-of-mind
approach can turn around and bite us. But understanding the players
in the Afghan civil war will help identify opportunities in the
1. The Taliban has long been identified as an extreme Deobandi
Pashto Islamic movement dreaming of a "pure Islamic state"
but lacking global ambitions other than rhetorical. Its evidently
appalling notion of how civil society works is demonstrated by
its inept civil government which is now alienating many within
the jurisdiction of its rule. Moreover, morale among Taliban
troops has sagged and they are becoming less reliable or aggressive
in combat. While most of its subjects are self-subsistent and
outside of a real cash economy, Taliban leadership earns its
money from "road taxes", sympathetic Pakistani organizations,
and Saudi (Wahabi) generosity. Traditionally, they have fought
for roads and territory through which to lay pipeline carrying
oil and natural gas from the North which they would tax. This
is a traditional approach in that Afghanistan has been a crossroad
from the time of Marco Polo and before. This is a country where,
in the best of times, very small scale economic activities have
had a profound impact. Road tolls are disproportionately important
and an extra road block set up by a rogue warlord here or there
is cause for serious conflict.
2. The forces of Osama Bin Laden by contrast, are much more
aggressively focused on an international vision that has haunted
Islam for centuries in spite of the fact that there is a rich
history of catastrophe associated with it. They have been gaining
strength in numbers, discipline and resources since the end of
the Soviet occupation and the withdrawal of American interest
in the region. Over the years, they have fought along side the
Taliban and are believed to supply the Taliban's best troops
in the fight against Massoud and the Northern Alliance.
The popular explanation of funding for their pan-Islamic movement
has been that they are funded by Osama. This observer believes
that explanation is incomplete for two reasons. There are now
between 8,000 and 12,000 of them. (Tony Davis, Jane's Intelligence
Review) In addition, the original Arab contingents that appeared
in Afghanistan in the late eighties were supported by the Saudi
Wahabis who raised money by donation in mosques around the world.
This second likely source of support would explain much of their
behavior. Symbolic gestures and romantic appeals to Islamic ascendancy
have worked well for Hamas, an Iranian supported mirror movement.
The killing of Americans generates free candy in the streets
in some parts of the Arab world. It also generates larger donations
and generosity. As Osama's forces become larger and more expensive
to maintain, his targets become more sensational.
Additionally, this observer dares to speculate that there
has been a connection to the Saudi intelligence community for
a long time. As far back as 1988, Saudi commanders in Afghanistan
were in possession of satellite images of battlefields as far
away as Basra. Trying to guess the source of those images has
been fertile ground for speculation but they certainly were not
from any guerrilla source in any case. This connection however
is also very likely to be Wahabi influenced and has another implication.
Osama has always maintained his hostility toward the present
ruling family in Saudi Arabia. However, he also can be seen as
an extension of Saudi foreign policy and is, therefore, tolerated
by them to a limited extent. His connection to anti-Russian Chechen
jihadis may well serve to help block oil export from rich FSU
fields and force continued world dependency or partial dependency
on Middle Eastern oil sources. However, it is believed by this
observer, Saudi support for Osama in any guise is highly controversial.
An interesting report has surfaced that the head of Saudi Intelligence
has resigned today.
In any case, it can be said that Osama's mission has a far
broader scope and vision than that of the Taliban. This is important
because it reveals a vital weakness in his position. There is
a schism developing that can be exploited. As the Taliban lose
their grip on the country, through incompetent governance, rotting
military power and challenges from a resurgent opposition, Osama
gains importance and strength on Afghan soil. The assassination
of Ahmad Shah Massoud is a sign of Osama's insecurity with regard
to his base of operations.