KABUL, Afghanistan The Taliban’s Arab “guests” were using Kabul as a planning base for terrorist attacks, according to new evidence that came to light after the regime was ousted from this capital city by troops of the Northern Alliance.
“There were 22 nationalities [of foreign fighters] present in Kabul,” said Dr. Gino Strada, head of a local Italian-funded charity. “There seemed to be more Arabs than Afghans in Kabul.”
Northern Alliance forces took reporters on a tour of one former foreign “base” a five-story house in an affluent part of the city that still held many signs of its previous residents. A clear picture emerged from the accounts of neighbors as well as from documents, weapons and munitions that the foreign fighters left behind when they abandoned the house as the Taliban evacuated the city last week.
Followers of Saudi-born financier Osama bin Laden formed a well-organized, professional political and military organization, operating openly and with great independence from the government. In fact, most of their neighbors appeared convinced that the foreigners, not Afghan Taliban leaders, really held control in Kabul.
Many of the “qarargah,” or headquarters for foreigners, amounted to self-contained garrisons that slept dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of fighters, side by side on the floor or outside in good weather. The foreign commanders known generically in Afghanistan as “Arabs” often parked military vehicles in and around their compounds, on their way to and from the front lines.
At one palatial compound, neighbors said they had complained to the local Taliban security forces about the dust, noise and congestion on their street from the foreigners’ tanks, but that the foreigners simply laughed at the Taliban troops.
The Taliban troops “were outgunned, so [the foreigners] got their way by brute force,” remarked Ghulam Ahmadi, headmaster of a small grade school just across the street.
Some buildings were fitted with administrative offices, classrooms and medical aid stations, as well as cells the foreigners used to imprison Afghans who got on their bad side.
On the first floor, a sunny room with bay windows opened on the walled bungalow compound’s front yard. Above the door was a circular seal that read, “Islamic Emirate Afghanistan Defense Ministry [Volunteer] Units.”
Just inside was a large mural map of the Arabian Peninsula and the surrounding countries. It was dotted with tiny American and other Western flags labeled “Christian installations in the Holy Land.”
As Western journalists fanned out across newly liberated Kabul last week, similar troves turned up all over town. One Arab compound was littered with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, as well as neatly written lecture notes in Arabic on how to blow up bridges.
The foreign fighters preferred modern-style bungalows in the relatively posh, centrally located Karte Parwan, Shahr-e-Nau and Wazeer Akbar Khan neighborhoods. As soon as the foreigners were out of the way, local residents plundered the furniture and any small arms left about. The heavier arms and ammunition, of little use to civilians, remained.
The real treasure for Western intelligence officials probably will turn out to be what the tenants have left as garbage: the heaps of Arabic documents, notes, letters and pamphlets littering the floor of the abandoned headquarters.
Elsewhere, a meticulously maintained military service record for one Arab fighter recorded the man’s training, participation in specific military operations, the outcome of those operations and a space for the fighter’s own comments. The man wrote that he had enough training and wished to volunteer for a “martyrdom” mission either inside or outside Afghanistan.
Some of the foreigners were indeed “martyred” right in Kabul, though perhaps not as they had hoped. Local people nurtured an intense hatred for the heavily armed Arabs, Pakistanis and others who virtually took over their capital.
After the Taliban left town, residents who had managed to conceal their firearms through the regime’s rule conducted house-to-house searches and found several foreigners who were gunned down in the main park in the Shahr-e-Nau neighborhood.
“We’re going to fix these foreigners,” said Abdul Razzaq, 36, a brigade commander from north of Kabul. A tall, stocky man with a neatly trimmed beard and ready smile, he stood beside a dirt road 20 miles west of the capital.
The business of flushing out and hunting down Arab and Pakistani Taliban, Mr. Razzaq continued, had united Afghans across ethnic and sectarian lines.
The commander began showing off Pakistani identity cards taken off men whom his troops had killed north of Kabul as Northern Alliance forces advanced last week. Most Afghans these days talk, sincerely, of how tired they are of war but still harbor a desire for revenge against Kabul’s former foreign residents.
“Yes, my boys killed them all,” Mr. Razzaq said of the Taliban allies from this neighborhood. “We’re going to kill all the Arabs. If I came to your country, beat your wife and drove you from your home, wouldn’t you kill me?”