07 October 2005

A Council of War in Afghanistan, 1996

[A] high-level secret meeting brought together some of the most radical of groups and nations, who accused the West then in 1996, a full five years before the September 11 attacks, of waging a war against Islam. The participants urged a counteroffensive and spoke of attacking the United States and the West. They spoke of their hatred for the West and their revulsion for governments in the Middle East that sympathized with the West.

Fundamentalist organizations in Egypt, Yemen, Iran, and other Gulf states were represented, as were militant groups from Pakistan, Algeria and Sudan. They sat beside dissidents who lived in London, Tehran, and Beirut. They had come together to plot a war against American and Western interests.

Convinced that the West had already begun a war against Muslims, they wanted to retaliate, go on the offensive, and take the battle to the enemy on their own terms. This was not their first gathering. There had been at least one earlier meeting in Iran to lay the ground for this gathering, to settle religious and ideological differences that would allow these men to come together to wage a single war against a single enemy--the West....

The men talked for another two hours until Osama bin Laden joined the gathering. At his side was Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. It was Sayyaf who spoke first. Bin Laden listened. Sayyaf shared bin Laden's revulsion for U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. He praised the violent bombing one month earlier in al-Khubar in Saudi Arabia that had killed more than twenty U.S. servicemen, for which al Qaeda had been held responsible. Sayyaf's small brown eyes seemed to glow as he recounted the bombing. He reveled in the description of it, saying it should be a lesson to America to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia. He likened it to the 1981 and 1983 bombings in Beirut of the U.S. Embassy and its military compound that had killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers and led to the American withdrawal from Lebanon.

Sayyaf's speech inspired an Iranian to call for an all-out offensive against America. He was frenzied. He warned that the Muslim world was facing its gravest conspiracy. It wasn't clear whether he had been sent by the government or whether he represented a jihadi group. Another speaker joined in, this time from Bahrain. His words were angry, his voice rising as he spoke: "We are enduring coercion and humiliation in our own country." Then an Egyptian spoke. He castigated his own government for spurning an offer from Syria to mediate its differences with Iran....

In this way, in mid-1996, high in the lawless tribal lands of northern Pakistan, the terrorist networking began.... Sayyaf's men had been among those who had welcomed bin Laden to Afghanistan in 1996, along with others from that mujahedeen government who had also been returned to power by the United States in 2001. The same men had encouraged and allowed terrorist training camps when they were in power from 1992 until 1996. They had lied to the CIA in September 1996 when the agency had requested their help in finding bin Laden. The CIA's intelligence was so flawed that it wrongly said that the Taliban brought bin Laden to Afghanistan in 1996 and that the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, knew bin Laden before he came to Afghanistan in 1996. He didn't. It was Abdul Sayyaf, America's "ally," who had welcomed bin Laden.
SOURCE: I is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 Years Inside Afghanistan, by Kathy Gannon (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. xvi-xviii

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