- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Biding time on the instructions of elusive leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban is regrouping in mountain hide-outs, waiting for the Afghan government to falter, a Taliban intelligence official in hiding said yesterday.
The official, who uses the single name Obeidullah, was an important member of the Taliban command structure as the deputy to Qari Ahmadullah, the intelligence chief targeted and killed by the U.S.-led coalition in a bombing raid in December in eastern Afghanistan. Mr. Obeidullah oversaw Kargai, the military training camp where al Qaeda and other radicals trained north of Kabul.
"We are not unhappy, afraid or finished. We are just waiting, gathering our strength," Mr. Obeidullah said.
He said Mullah Omar, though high on the U.S. wanted list, is safe in Afghanistan and continues to lead the Taliban. But the man the Taliban call "the guest" Osama bin Laden "could be anywhere."
"He could be in Afghanistan, or Chechnya or Yemen," Mr. Obeidullah said.
Mr. Obeidullah said senior members of both Taliban and al Qaeda move relatively freely in Afghanistan despite the 6-month-old war against terrorism.
He said Mullah Omar himself has recently been to Shah-e-Kot, scene of the largest U.S. ground assault in the war. The Taliban leader has spent 20 days in the stark, arid region of eastern Afghanistan since the assault in March, Mr. Obeidullah said.
The meeting with Mr. Obeidullah in Peshawar underscored that senior fugitives of the U.S.-led war on terror are able to find safety in neighboring Pakistan, one of Washington's chief allies in the campaign. In recent weeks U.S. special forces have joined Pakistani troops in patrols along the border.
[Newsweek magazine reports in its edition appearing today that commanders in eastern Afghanistan have received credible reports that bin Laden is also hiding in Pakistan, where he has trimmed his beard and appears healthy.
[The Washington Times two [JUMP]weeks ago quoted a Pakistani tribal leader saying bin Laden was safe and being protected by supporters in Peshawar, where the interview with Mr. Obeidullah took place.]
The interview was arranged through an intermediary. A telephone call directed the car to a nondescript hotel near a bustling market, then to a ramshackle kiosk.
A boy wearing the woolen cap now associated with Afghanistan's interim regime emerged, followed by Mr. Obeidullah, who quickly got into the car.
The car then wove through a maze of narrow streets, past open sewers and narrow buildings jammed up against each other to a padlocked room hidden behind high walls and steel gates.
From his hide-out in Peshawar, a city of 1.5 million about 30 miles east of the Afghan border, Mr. Obeidullah said the Taliban in Afghanistan was waiting and confident.
"There aren't just 100 or 200 of us there are thousands. We know how to fight a guerrilla war," Mr. Obeidullah said.
"We will give this government time to show the people how they aren't able to govern. Then we will show our face more and more."
With bitter fighting between rival warlords turning cities and towns in eastern Afghanistan into war zones, many people there say they long for the relative security that existed during the Taliban rule.
Mr. Obeidullah said fugitive Taliban members are taking advantage of the anarchy in eastern Afghanistan's Khost, Paktika and Paktia provinces to establish small cells in villages and towns throughout the region and create the core of a revived Taliban movement.
In eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. special forces and their allies are concentrating their resources, other Afghan sources say there have been sightings of senior figures like Egyptian Ayman al Zawahri, bin Laden's lieutenant and convicted killer of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the No. 3 man in the Taliban movement.
Pakistan's intelligence service, the InterServices Intelligence, supported the Taliban until the country's about-face six months ago to join the U.S.-led war on terror. Its search for Taliban members is not an all-out effort, Mr. Obeidullah said.
"They aren't really looking for us, but we have to be careful," he said stroking his wispy black beard, hidden to the public by a portion of the black turban worn by the Taliban.
Still, Mr. Obeidullah was jumpy. Although the room was padlocked from within, a knock on the door or a horn blaring outside sent his eyes glancing nervously toward the door.
"This is the pressure I feel," he said. "I won't stay in Peshawar for long."
Mr. Obeidullah expressed confidence he would have no trouble returning to his homeland, despite coalition forces scouring mountains along the border.
"It's a long border, with so many ways to cross," he explained. "If not one way, then I will go another. It's not a problem. I just came from Afghanistan. It was easy."


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