- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization is unable to plan and execute new global strikes from its Afghanistan headquarters as the result of eight weeks of U.S. bombing that killed key leaders and chased the rest into hiding.
"They can no longer conceive a new operation in Afghanistan," said a defense official. "Their capacity to be in contact and run their networks abroad has been drastically reduced because they no longer have the safety of their sanctuary. The sanctuary is totally at risk. They are not able to communicate in a way they could before 9-11. That is over."
Since 1996, bin Laden's al Qaeda organization ran the landlocked country in concert with the radical Taliban militia, commanded by Mullah Mohammed Omar. Its army of about 4,000 hard-core Arab fighters, the 55th Brigade, permeated the Taliban ranks. The fight-to-the-death Arabs, mostly Saudis and Egyptians, provided leadership and backbone to Taliban troops who, in turn, imposed Omar's harsh rule.
Al Qaeda's 2nd Division, lead personally by bin Laden, operated the terrorists training camps and planned and carried out scores of missions, specifically the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Today, both al Qaeda divisions are fractured. The air campaign, and attacks on the ground by American special operations forces (SOF), have killed hundreds of bin Laden's private soldiers. In one battle alone, last week's three-day Mazar-e-Sharif prison uprising, American bombs and the opposition Northern Alliance killed nearly 1,000 al Qaeda and Taliban soldiers.
Regarding the organization's leadership, Navy jets have dropped bombs this past month on three key command centers, killing scores of al Qaeda mid-level managers and one big fish Mohammed Atef, bin Laden's right-hand man. Atef meticulously planned and directed the September 11 attacks that sparked the American drive to destroy al Qaeda.
Bin Laden and his radical adviser Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri have been reduced to fugitives. Unable to communicate with their global cells, the two constantly move from cave to brick hut to cave, their own survival now the prime operational goal, U.S. officials say.
"I think what's really important is the people of Afghanistan are enormously relieved to have, in much of the country, the al Qaeda and the Taliban gone," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week, summing up al Qaeda's circumstance.
U.S. spy assets CIA and commandos on the ground, satellites and drones, and electronic listening posts are relentlessly zeroing in on suspected bin Laden hideouts. If he communicates at all, bin Laden must use written notes or video tapes.
"We have basically eviscerated their capacity to project power outside of Afghanistan," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney. "They are really right now in the survival-only mode. Bin Laden has gone to ground, as we say. I expect we will have him in two weeks."
The Pentagon is warning that this new phase of hunting down al Qaeda in the foothills could be the most dangerous to American troops.
Last week's prison uprising at a 19th-century fort showed the willingness of al Qaeda warriors to fight to the death. Some attached smuggled grenades to their bodies and pulled the pins, killing themselves, while other captives grabbed a cache of weapons. When the rebellion ended three days later, hundreds of bodies littered the prison. All al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners apparently had fought to the death.
Of the prison revolt, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "I don't think anyone that I know needed to learn that the al Qaeda and the non-Afghan troops were much more likely and, in fact, have been among the toughest of the fighters and the most determined and the least likely to surrender. They have been very stiff."
To kill them, the U.S. has sent Delta Force commandos and other SOF troops into southern Afghanistan, encircling the last Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. The covert warriors on reconnaissance missions have located groups of al Qaeda and either called in air strikes or done the killing themselves.
One senior administration official said the SOF troops in the south have played a role in the deaths of hundreds of the enemy through direct combat or target acquisition for U.S. jets.
"This is pick-and-shovel work, trying to get terrorists out, and it's going to take time," Gen. McInerney said. "I'm pretty sure we've killed a number of al Qaeda."
The Pentagon believes large clusters of al Qaeda, and perhaps bin Laden himself, move around in cave complexes east of Kandahar and in Tora Bora, disputed territory east of the capital, Kabul.
Said Mr. Rumsfeld: "We are pursuing them across the country, from north to South and east to west, and intend to continue following them wherever they go. Indeed the toughest work may very well lie still ahead."

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