|Taliban defector was a
CIA informant for years |
uploaded 30 Nov
KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 29 -- Within the
secretive Taliban hierarchy that ran this country for five years, it
was not hard to figure out how Osama bin Laden derived much of his
influence. When the Saudi-born heir to a construction fortune called
on Taliban officials, according to a former minister, he often
brought wads of cash and distributed it freely -- sometimes taking
out $50,000, even $100,000 at a time.
"He had money in his
pocket," recalled Mohammed Khaksar, who served as the Taliban's
deputy interior minister. "Any time he wanted, he would just pull it
out and give it to them."
What bin Laden got for all this
largess was equally clear -- the freedom to operate his al Qaeda
terrorist network from Afghanistan without interference. "There
wasn't anybody who had power over Osama," Khaksar said. "He did
whatever he wanted."
For the first time, a former senior
Taliban official has emerged publicly to provide a glimpse inside
the militia that created perhaps the world's most repressive Islamic
state and a haven for international terrorists blamed for the Sept.
11 attacks on New York and Washington. Once a close friend of the
Taliban's supreme leader, Mohammad Omar, Khaksar broke with his
compatriots when they fled Kabul earlier this month and last week
declared his support for the Northern Alliance now in charge in the
capital, becoming the highest-ranking defector from the Taliban
In an interview today at the comfortable Kabul
compound where he still lives with his wife and tends his garden,
Khaksar portrayed a regime bought and paid for by bin Laden's
millions. The alleged terrorist lavished gifts on Taliban leaders --
cash, fancy cars and other valuables. If the Taliban was planning an
attack in the years-long civil war with Northern Alliance
guerrillas, he said, bin Laden would have 50 pickup trucks delivered
to ferry fighters to the front.
"Al Qaeda was very important
for the Taliban because they had so much money," Khaksar said
without offering any precise figures. "They gave a lot of money. And
the Taliban trusted them."
The relationship between bin
Laden and the Taliban leadership clearly also had roots in an
ideological convergence: their common belief in radical Islam and
their anti-Western views. But Khaksar said he was struck by the
primary role that money came to play in recent years. While his
account of his own actions is impossible to confirm and may be
colored by his desire to distance himself from the Taliban, reports
by U.S. intelligence agencies have described in detail how bin Laden
bankrolled the Taliban, providing an estimated $100 million in cash
and military assistance since 1996.
A bearish man with
searching eyes, a long beard streaked with white and a weather-worn
face making him look older than his 41 years, Khaksar played an
important role in the Taliban from the beginning. An ethnic Pashtun
like most members of the Taliban, he was one of the early key
figures in the movement, which emerged in 1994 and swept to power in
Kabul in 1996.
He served first as intelligence chief of the
movement and later as deputy interior minister, supervising security
in the capital, where brutal tactics were often used to enforce
restrictions on women and modern life. While Omar remained in his
home base in Kandahar, much of the rest of the government operated
out of Kabul, and Khaksar had a place at the table through many of
its most controversial decisions.
Over the years, however,
he became disenchanted, particularly by the arrival of bin Laden and
his foreign fighters. He complained off the record to reporters as
early as 1999 and kept up a regular secret dialogue with the top
military commander on the other side, Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was
assassinated in September, allegedly by bin Laden operatives.
Abdullah, the Northern Alliance foreign minister, said the
information provided by Khaksar was particularly valuable. "It was
enough to make him an exception to all the Taliban leadership," he
said, noting that for years, "Commander Massoud was in constant
contact with him."
Khaksar said today that he also served as
a clandestine contact for U.S. intelligence services while serving
the Taliban. Agents disguised as journalists visited him to solicit
inside information, he said. "They came two or three times, and they
knew about my policy and about my opinion," he said.
Washington, CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said the agency does not
comment on such matters but that CIA policy is to not use American
media organizations as cover for clandestine operations.
Khaksar has provided enough intelligence to the Northern
Alliance to win him continued freedom despite his prominent position
in the Taliban. While the alliance has vowed to imprison or kill
other senior Taliban leaders, Khaksar remains in his own home, able
to travel at will, still guarded by some of the same fighters who
surrounded him while he was a Taliban official. He denied any
complicity in "actions against humanity."
retribution by his onetime enemies, Khaksar probably has more to
worry about from his former friends. He would be an obvious target
for any Taliban operatives or sympathizers still hiding out in the
city, but he brushes off concern, placing his trust in his
well-armed guards and even declining an offer to relocate him to a
safer location in Golbahar, about 50 miles to the north.
his second-floor office, sitting in front of a bookcase filled with
religious texts, Khaksar described his transformation from Taliban
security enforcer to lonely dissenter.
"From the beginning,
I was against Arabs and other foreigners coming to Afghanistan but
the other Taliban told me I must not say that," Khaksar said. "At
that time, I felt when foreigners come to our country, our country
would be destroyed. And now you see what's happened."
Khaksar said he met bin Laden once, in 1996, and the two did
not hit it off. "I told him, 'Now there's no jihad in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan can solve our own problems. We don't need you,' " he
recalled. "He got very upset and I never saw him again."
Khaksar became one of the Taliban's most persistent skeptics
of the increasingly close relationship with bin Laden. As time wore
on, bin Laden tried to win him over, but Khaksar said he never
accepted money or cars. Once bin Laden had intermediaries contact
him to seek a truce. "I told them to tell Osama bin Laden that I had
the same opinion as before: Just leave our country."
Omar, who enjoys a close relationship with bin Laden, the al Qaeda
leader had several strong champions within the Taliban, according to
Khaksar, including interior minister Abdul Razaq, defense minister
Obaidullah, information and culture minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi,
security chief Qari Ahmadullah, eastern regional leader Abdul Kabir
and prominent commander Jalaluddin Haqqani.
especially disgruntled in March when the Taliban leadership decided
to destroy two ancient Buddha sculptures at Bamian, saying they
offended Islam. Documents unearthed since the Taliban's retreat from
Kabul suggested that al Qaeda pushed the Taliban into the action
that earned international opprobrium.
"It's a historic
sculpture; they should not have destroyed it," Khaksar said. "I felt
like I lost a member of my family when they destroyed this
Khaksar said he had no warning about the Sept.
11 operation to crash airplanes in Washington and New York and did
not know if Omar or any other top leaders did. But like many
Americans, he immediately had no doubt in his mind who was
responsible. The day after the attacks, senior Taliban officials,
except for Omar, met in a palace in Kabul to discuss what to do.
"I told the other ministers, 'I told you before the guy
would do something bad, and now it will have a bad effect on
Afghanistan,' " Khaksar said. "They told me: 'You're going crazy.
You shouldn't speak so much.' They said Osama hasn't done such a
thing, but if he has done it, it's a good thing that he did. I told
them these civilian people who died and these two buildings, they
were God's creation. They weren't military soldiers; they were
civilians. God will be angry that this was done."
colleagues refused to turn over bin Laden, leading to the U.S.
bombing campaign that began Oct. 7 and helped weaken Taliban
defenses enough to enable the Northern Alliance to overrun the north
and finally Kabul. Facing imminent defeat, the Taliban ministers met
again on the night of Nov. 12 and agreed to flee the city. Khaksar
decided to stay and take his chances with the enemy.
them it's my country, I want to live here."
Source: The Washington