'I Will Go to Do Jihad Again and Again'

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 21, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The prisoner perched on a metal chair, hugging his knees to his chest and rocking slightly, like a nervous child.

But his expression relaxed into a blissful smile as he described what he would do if released from his cell in the headquarters of the national intelligence service.

"When I get the chance, I will stick to my promise," said Sher Ali, 28, a Pakistani man with cropped black hair and a long beard. "I will go to do jihad again and again."

Ali said he took his vow to wage holy war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan earlier this summer, just before embarking on what he described as a 20-day weapons training course at a secret mountain camp in northeastern Pakistan.

He was captured by Afghan police about three weeks ago, shortly after crossing into Afghanistan's rugged, northeastern Konar province. The area has been a haven for armed renegades from an assortment of groups, including al Qaeda, the Taliban and backers of former Afghan leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is now a fugitive.

Over the last several months, insurgents have killed hundreds of people in Afghanistan, including aid workers, religious and tribal leaders, government officials, and Afghan and U.S. troops, many in ambushes and bombings apparently aimed at derailing parliamentary elections scheduled for Sept. 18.

American and Afghan forces have countered with an aggressive effort to flush the fighters from their remote mountain hideouts, killing several hundred in operations in border provinces from Konar in the north to Kandahar in the south. They have also taken several hundred suspected insurgents prisoner and allowed a few to speak to journalists.

Ali's story, which could not be verified independently, offered a glimpse of what Afghan authorities charge is a shadowy Pakistani network that continues to fuel the insurgency with fresh recruits as fast as U.S. and Afghan forces kill or capture their predecessors.

Ali spoke in the presence of an Afghan intelligence official, but he did not show signs of having been mistreated. Some details, such as the existence of jihadist training camps and the recruitment of Islamic fighters, have been reported separately in the Pakistani press or described by prisoners after their release.

"We know where a lot of these training camps are. We have their names. And we've given the Pakistanis all the information we have," said a senior Afghan intelligence official. "We're waiting for Pakistan to show the willingness to fight."

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has repeatedly pointed out that his government has captured or killed more than 700 suspected al Qaeda members in Pakistan since 2001. It also lost more than 250 soldiers last year in battles against al Qaeda bases in the largely lawless semiautonomous tribal regions along the Afghan border.

Officials from the two governments have recently exchanged pledges to collaborate closely on security. But they must still contend with the sympathy that many Pakistanis feel toward the Taliban, particularly in tribal border towns such as Miram Shah, where residents share the same Pashtun ethnicity as the Afghan militia.

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