Sunday, November 11, 2001

ISLAMABAD The Taliban has been restocking its arsenal over the past two years, in direct contravention of U.N. sanctions, according to evidence made available this week.
An intelligence source in Pakistan said the Russian mafia had made the shipments, brokered by Afghan middlemen, one of whom is a Taliban commander who also used the deals to ship out heroin.
The fresh evidence comes after revelations that arms had been smuggled recently to the Taliban by Pakistani businessmen and a religious trust based in Pakistan.
A State Department spokesman said it was “unlikely the shipments were significant enough to affect our efforts to defeat the Taliban.” It now appears, however, that the Taliban may have a far larger arsenal than expected and that allied ground troops can expect to face significant fire power.
A fax message sent at the end of June describes a meeting between the Russian mafia and Afghan middlemen in Peshawar, near the Afghan border, a month earlier.
The detailed, one-page letter, which was sent to one of the Afghans, begins by referring to the meeting and asks the recipient not to ask questions about transportation over the telephone or by fax “as it is very sensitive the route has to be completely secret.”
It then proposes two possible routes for the “items,” which will be listed in the flight manifests as “fish from Tanzania.” The first route proposed is via Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates to Uzbekistan; the second is from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, to Turkmenistan.
Both routes, the fax says, will overfly Afghanistan at night, and the aircraft “will land at whatever airport in Afghanistan your friends want on the reason that the plane has an engine problem.”
The fax then discusses the type of aircraft to be used Ilyushin 76s; their cargo space and capacity 55 tons and 18 square yards of floor space; and the discretion of the pilots. “The pilots are from Armenia and are used to this kind of transport and keep their mouth [sic] shut,” it says.
Finally, the message dismisses the dangers of possible detection by U.S. satellites by pointing out that the aircraft will be entered as commercial flights: “We don’t care about the satellites. Satellites can only watch the planes but not shoot it [sic] down.”
The cost of transportation is listed as $35,000 to $50,000 per shipment, plus a bonus to the pilots “for the risk.”
The writer also asks if the recipient has a good relationship with the government of Turkmenistan, because this relationship could help to provide a secondary overland route, but he notes, in his opinion, “direct delivery to an airport in Afghanistan is the best and more security [sic].”
Intelligence sources in Pakistan said that they did not know exactly who had sent the fax, but it appeared to be from the Russian mafia and was clearly part of a longtime arrangement.
They also said that the fax had been detected during an investigation into heroin trafficking from Afghanistan and that one of the men involved in the arms deal was a Taliban commander known to be involved in drug dealing.
The intelligence officials believe the Taliban paid for the shipments, but the commander involved in brokering the deal was making money on the side by using the aircraft to ship heroin out of Afghanistan, once the arms cargo had been unloaded.
They said that the Taliban was buying mainly up-to-date small arms, such as Kalashnikovs, automatic rifle and tank ammunition, disposable rocket launchers and Russian AGS-17 machine gun ammunition, which is accurate at temperatures of 60 degrees below zero and therefore particularly suitable for the harsh Afghan winters.
“This had definitely been going on for some time. It was not a one-off deal,” said one intelligence source. “These brokers had established a network of powerful Russian mafia dealers, and they had an ongoing relationship with them.”

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