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Embassy in the News

Afghan Official: bin Laden in Pakistan
By Christian Lowe


The government of Afghanistan believes fugitive al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden is holed up in Pakistan and has not found refuge in Afghanistan.

The Afghan ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, told his intelligence services believe bin Laden is hiding in the urban warrens of one of Pakistan's major cities, though he could not specify which one.

The need for sophisticated medical care, communications networks to guide his al Qaeda operations and the flood of U.S., NATO and Afghan troops gunning for his capture in Afghanistan point to a refuge in Pakistan.

"We are certain that he is not in Afghanistan," Jawad told during a Nov. 1 interview. "And if you look at where they found most of his friends and associates, it has been mostly in major metropolitan centers, not in caves in isolated areas."

Jawad's assertion is at odds with continued denials from Pakistan that bin Laden is in their country. Pakistani officials continually accuse Afghanistan of not properly securing its mountainous border, giving bin Laden an open door to refuge in the friendly tribal regions on the Afghan side.

Bin Laden needs dialysis for kidney disease that's not readily available in Afghanistan, and he's a six foot tall Arab "that cannot easily mix into the local population," Jawad said.

Afghan and U.S. commanders have long asserted that bin Laden is most likely holed up in the tribal areas of Pakistan's North and South Waziristan, a region that has recently been wracked by violence between Pakistan army troops and tribal militias aligned with al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Jawad said Pakistan has recently demonstrated a renewed commitment to fight terrorism and stem the flow of insurgents coming into Afghanistan from across the border - with its violent July raid on the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad showing the government of President Pervez Musharraf is willing to confront radicals head on.

"They are on a positive path," Jawad said of Pakistan's counter-terror effort.

The Afghan government is pressuring NATO allies helping secure the country to build a new "quick reaction force" of soldiers that could take on insurgents who use Afghan civilians as cover. The recent spate of friendly fire casualties caused by misdirected U.S. bombing runs and the erosion of support for the U.S.-led security effort that ensued has lead Afghan president Hamid Karzai to ask U.S. president George W. Bush to curtail high-altitude bombing raids, Jawad confirmed.

"We understand that fighting a counter insurgency is not going to be possible to the exclusion of aerial bombing," Jawad admitted. "Our position has been to improve both the quality of the [NATO] force and to provide them with a rapid deployment capability, particularly more helicopters."

The new quick reaction force could sweep into an area where Taliban insurgents are hiding, removing the possibility of high-casualty mistakes from errant bombs.

While the Afghan government has pleaded with NATO security force members to establish the force, some allies have so-called "caveats" that preclude them from engaging in combat operations - even if it means saving Afghan lives.

"We have asked NATO to have better trained, better equipped and small, but highly mobile units ready and available," Jawad said. "In most cases NATO has agreed to our demands. But the fact is that on the ground we don't see any evidence that this is taking place."

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