- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Americans aren't the only ones who would like to see Osama bin Laden and his thousands of militant Arab followers leave Afghanistan. So would many Afghans, who consider all Arabs in their country to be extremist followers of bin Laden.

According to Western military estimates, there are as many as 10,000 Islamic militants in Afghanistan, more than half from Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan and Egypt. The rest come from Pakistan, the breakaway republic of Chechnya and Uzbekistan.

Many Afghans go out of their way to avoid contact with the Arabs easily identifiable by their language, dress and accent whom they consider hostile and overbearing.

The Taliban recently ordered foreigners to leave Afghanistan, but the order was enforced only for Westerners. The Taliban said that was because the safety of Westerners cannot be guaranteed if a U.S.-led international force strikes Afghanistan.

But several Kabul residents, and even some Taliban officials, said the real threat to Westerners isn't from Afghans or even Taliban troops, but from Afghanistan's Arab "guests," as followers of bin Laden's al Qaeda movement are known.

Within the Taliban movement itself there is a growing split over the presence of Arab militants in Afghanistan a chasm that is likely to widen if the United States bombs the country to flush out bin Laden.

But despite public resentment, the militant Arabs enjoy the support of Taliban leaders, in part because the Taliban needs them to help fight opposition forces in the north.

After 23 years of civil conflict, many Afghans have grown weary of war. As a result, the Arab militants have become the backbone of the Taliban fighting force.

Arab influence, particularly from Saudis and their predominantly Wahabbist sect, was evident in March when the Taliban blew up the stone statues of Buddha, hewn from the cliffside of Bamiyan in the third and fifth centuries.

The Wahabbists are especially keen on enforcing Quranic prohibitions against creating human images which they consider idolatry.

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