- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

As the forces of the Northern Alliance roll through town after town in Afghanistan, including now the capital of Kabul, a question presents itself: Where's Osama bin Laden? Finding someone who lives in a cave and communicates via satellite television is no walk in the park. British journalist Peter Bergen cautions that "When you go looking for Osama bin Laden, you don't find him: he finds you." Well, he certainly found us on September 11. It would be much to our advantage were we to find him before he finds us again.
In March 1997, bin Laden let it be known that he had a desire to see Mr. Bergen, who had covered Afghanistan and the Middle East for CNN and ABC News since the 1980s. Anyone wishing to know more about the elusive bin Laden might consult Mr. Bergen's fascinating "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden," which is in the bookstores this week. Mr. Bergen, a contributor to this page, is one of the few Western journalists ever to have met the Bearded One in person (that would be BO to his friends). A bonus is a brief history of the recent history of Afghanistan and the U.S. involvement there.
Mr. Bergen's own description from the Khyber Pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan deserves to set the scene. This is the country that defeated the best efforts of the British Empire in the 19th century and the Soviet army in the 20th, and where Americans are now engaged in battle from the air.
"Suddenly, stretched out before us was Afghanistan.
"The very word is an incantation. I never get over the thrill of seeing the country. In my imagination it always seemed like something out of Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings.' It promises mystery, a movement back into a time of medieval chivalry and medieval cruelty, an absence of the modern world that is both thrilling and disturbing, a place of extraordinary natural beauty that opens the mind to contemplation …
"And then there is the light: pure and crystalline, foreshortening distances and bathing everything in a pristine glow."
This was a country that had been left to the mercy of fiercely warring tribes after the Mujaheddin with U.S. assistance had routed the Soviets in the late 1980s. The resulting state of anarchy paved the way for the victory of the Taliban, closely allied with bin Laden, who imposed order and public safety by gruesome and merciless means stoning and public amputations of offending limbs, a highly popular entertainment. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's women became invisible, wrapped from head to toe in the burqa. Through most of this time, we in the West looked away, content that at least the fighting had stopped.
Mr. Bergen's encounter with bin Laden, in a small nomad hut set in a rock-strewn valley reached in the dark of night, revealed a rabid, demented hatred of Israel and the United States, of which we have seen the consequences. In some ways, it stands in contrast with the exterior we know from the photos: the tall, slim figure, over six feet; the face with the long beard, aquiline nose and dark hooded eyes a man who looks "less like a swaggering revolutionary than a Muslim ascetic."
"Due to its subordination to the Jews, the arrogance and haughtiness of the U.S. regime has reached the extent that they occupied [Arabia]. For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the U.S., because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God's word is the one exalted to the heights and so we drive the Americans away from all the Muslim countries." Primarily, his concern was his homeland of Saudi Arabia, where some believe bin Laden wants make his stand against the Saudi royal house. Though incensed about sanctions on Iraq, bin Laden did not have much sympathy for Saddam Hussein, whom he considered greedy for Kuwaiti oil, not a true Muslim leader. (Of course, there can't be more than one.)
Mr. Bergen leaves no doubt that unraveling bin Laden's financial network and terrorist alliance will be extremely difficult. This is a cancerous network, which has insinuated itself into the fabric of societies the world over, capable of raising funds for the fight against the United States under our very noses. It won't go away if bin Laden is captured. Still, one man's will can change the world as we have just witnessed. If we capture bin Laden, and the choice should happen to be "dead or alive," dead seems a pretty good option.
Asked about his future plans by Mr. Bergen, bin Laden replied, "You'll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing." He wasn't kidding.



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