CAIRO, Egypt, Oct. 31, 2003 — For the first time, a senior al-Qaida official has provided an assessment of the U.S. war against the terrorist group in Afghanistan, criticizing its communications security and while also claiming that some in the Taliban provided intelligence to coalition forces that resulted in the deaths of al-Qaida members and their families.
Sail al-Adil, currently the al-Qaida military commander, claims that during one night in October 2001, U.S. missiles came close to killing him three times.
The critique is carried in a magazine called The Voice of Jihad (Sawt Jihad), parts of which were published this week in Sharq al-Awsat, a respected Saudi newspaper, and translated by the U.S. intelligence community.
One senior U.S. official said the intelligence community had seen the article and believed it to be authentic, although since there are no time references in it beyond 2001 it is impossible to know when it was written. Another official noted that al-Adil “fancies himself as a military strategist and thinker” and such a critique would fit within what he sees as his responsibilities.
As to the content of the after-action report, the first official said he would not comment on whether the United States was able to take advantage of the al-Qaida failings to the extent al-Adil described. Nor would he comment on any alleged Taliban betrayals of al-Qaida positions.
“I am not going to say whether it gives us more or less credit than we deserve,” said the official. “But it’s good to see someone giving us credit.”
The United States launched a war in Afghanistan two years ago after the hard-line Taliban regime refused to give up Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
With the help of the Afghan rebel Northern Front, U.S. forces crushed the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, forcing survivors to flee to neighboring nations or to remote regions of Afghanistan.
According to the al-Qaida version of the war, the terror group hastened its own defeat.
Al-Adil said reckless use of satellite phones and betrayal by “some Taliban elements” permitted American forces to easily pinpoint the “Arab Afghans” — al-Qaida’s Afghan-based fighters — in Kandahar during October and November of 2001.
The southern city of Kandahar was the spiritual base for the Taliban and was home to many al-Qaida leaders.
Among those killed as a result of the lapses in security was Mohammed Atef, also known as Abu Hafs, al-Adil’s predecessor as military commander of al-Qaida, and several other al-Qaida leaders along with their wives and children.
Al-Adil described how cruise missiles and U.S. military aircraft, apparently helicopters, tracked down and killed carloads of al-Qaida operatives and their families and almost killed him one night in October 2001.
In another incident, he noted a deadly strike in Kandahar. “We heard suddenly the sound of a big explosion far away. I asked the brothers by telephone and learned the second house of the Al Wafa Charity Foundation in Kandahar had been pinpointed and hit by a cruise missile because satellite telephones were used. The hit killed Brother Abdal Wahid.”
As al-Adil and his men were preparing a meal for themselves just before daybreak, “We heard a missile passing over our heads immediately before we had finished eating and it exploded 100 meters from the house. We immediately started to leave, fearing that we were the target and the targeting would be corrected so as to hit us.”
A second missile did hit close by but al-Adil was unhurt.
Later, he said, another helicopter-fired missile came even closer. “The aircraft fired the missile and I saw it moving toward us and threw myself on the ground. The missile fell close to Brother Asim and I don’t know what happened next.” Asim was severely wounded, he says, but he was not.
Regarding the deaths of al-Qaida family members, again al-Adil says it was the result of a security breach.
“Aircraft were following the vehicles [all of which were Toyota Corollas, long known to be an al-Qaida favorite] and the brothers stopped to talk a little before moving toward the village. The helicopters engaged them as soon as the distance between them got down to 5.1 kilometers [3.2 miles],” al-Adel wrote.
In all, he reported, 10 people were killed in the attack — three al-Qaida members, five woman and two children.
(NBC’s Charlene Gubash is based in Cairo, Egypt. Robert Windrem is an NBC investigative reporter based in New York.)
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