January 02, 2002



The most interesting piece at Debka this week is actually farther down, where it offers analysis of an interview given by Taliban intelligence chief Quri Ahmadullah while in Pakistan to the house newspaper of the Taliban, Shariat, on Dec. 28... the same day, apparently, that Ahmadullah was sent to meet his Maker by an American airstrike:

The Taliban intelligence chief Quri Ahmadullah came across as brash and unbowed in an interview he granted on December 28 to a reporter of the Pakistani Pashtun newspaper Shariat. He invited the reporter quite openly to the Pakistan village of Datha Khail, south of Tora Bora and eight miles from the Afghan border, where he has taken up residence since the Taliban was put to flight...
Asked how they all managed to cross over, the Taliban officer pointed to his Pakistan landlord, Malik Gulmarjan. Our Pashtun brothers in Pakistan will do anything to help us, he declared, even handing over their homes.

If the air strike story is to be believed, Ahmadullah recrossed the border into Afghanistan just as easily as he had come. For it was apparently later that day, according to the Globe and Mail, that Ahmadullah was killed:

The Afghan Islamic Press and Abdullah Tawheedi, a deputy intelligence minister for the interim Kabul government, said Mr. Ahmadullah, 40, was one of 25 people killed last week during the U.S. bombing of Naka, in Paktia province [across the border from Datha Khail --BR]. He was reportedly killed while trying to flee on a motorcycle from a house that had come under attack.

The Pentagon says if Ahmadullah is in fact dead, he died either in one of two airstrikes, on Dec. 26 (which would have made that Dec. 28 interview rather hard) or on Dec. 28, which were in the general area described. As an aside, Shariat was the name of the Taliban's own Pravda-like Kabul newspaper, which ceased publication when the city fell... it's uncertain, but likely, that this is the same paper now in new circumstances in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan.

Why would Ahmadullah, having successfully extricated himself, go back to the Tora Bora area? The most likely assumption is that within hours of the Shariah writer's interview with him, his safe lodging in Pakistan became suddenly very unhospitable. Having all but given out the street address of his point of departure, he was marked on his reentry, no doubt still "surrounded by guards brandishing Kalashnikov rifles" (Debka) and annihilated along with some colleagues as soon as the Americans could get a B-52 within range. It's a remarkable turning of the tables, similar to the Ahmadullah's own running down and killing of American-sponsored Pashtun leader Abdul Haq back in the fall (who, like Ahmadullah, was finally cut down fleeing alone, in his case on horseback).

Debka's own analysis of the interview is classic:

DEBKAfile’s analysts draw three conclusions from Ahmadullah’s statements.
1. His lack of concealment in exposing his hideout and identity to the Pakistani reporter means he is not afraid...

Guess he should have been, huh? Seems the Taliban's intelligence chief was rather lacking in... um... intelligence.

UPDATE: The Washington Post quotes a CNN interview of the same Afghan government official, as above (whose name they spell "Tahwidi") as saying Ahmadullah died at the home of a Taliban mullah named Taha. Is this, then, the Pentagon's "military compound" hit Dec. 28? Does one house make a compound now?

Posted by BruceR at 11:51 PM



I place no faith whatsoever in the fascinating pro-Israeli website Debka.com, which styles itself as a source of military analysis akin to Stratfor or John Pike's Global Security site. They're not, of course, but they're never afraid to make a prediction, on whatever evidence is lying around at the moment... even if that leaves their prediction accuracy rate on the current Afghan war somewhere between John Rall's and the National Inquirer's.

Their current theory on Al-Qaeda's whereabouts, while superficially no worse than anyone else's, however, is almost certainly wrong:

The remainder, 3,000-3,500 al Qaeda combatants, made it out of country before it fell under anti-Taliban rule via well-organized escape corridors, which US intelligence believes to have run across land, sea and air, to two destinations, South Tehran and the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi.

While an Iran land route (despite the Taliban-Iranian animosity and the religious differences) remains a possibility, and the Pakistan border is certainly porous, the thought of a mass air or sealift from that country across the Arabian Sea has to count as the least likely exit route for our friends. With multiple carrier battle groups in the area, backed up with a fleet of land-based surveillance aircraft in Saudi Arabia and Oman, it's safe to say there are some medium-sized blocks of driftwood large enough to be under 24-hour surveillance in the open waters south of Pakistan right now, if only for force protection reasons. Al Qaeda might have gotten into Pakistan, but their own estimate of their chances of success if they pushed out in small plane or boat from the Pakistani coastline has to be considered small, indeed. Using Iran or the former Russian republics as staging areas to their new destinations would seem slightly more likely for Al-Qaeda.

But their best bet, assuming there's still waystations amenable to them in Saudi Arabia, would still seem to be melting in, sans weaponry, into the masses from across the Muslim world undertaking Hajji pilgrimages to Mecca, who are not going to be under tight scrutiny. I'll give Debka 2-1 odds that my prediction turns out closer to the truth than theirs: any takers?

Posted by BruceR at 10:42 PM