By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Twenty years ago, the U.S. and its close allies invaded Afghanistan after Taliban leaders refused to turn over al Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden following the deadly Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Today, 2,500 U.S. military deaths and $2 trillion in lost treasure later, America’s longest war has come full circle. The once-routed Taliban is back in power.
An ominous sign that terrorist forces at large in the “graveyard of empires” are once again emboldened to attack Americans came quickly with the deaths Thursday of 13 U.S. troops in Thursday’s suicide bombings at the chaotic Kabul airport.
An insurgent splinter group of the defeated Islamic State, an enemy of the Taliban, took credit for the bloodshed which also killed more than 150 Afghanis. Not al Qaeda. But some experts have said they expect al Qaeda will return to Afghanistan now that the Taliban is again in control. Others, like former FBI Agent Ali Soufan, believe al Qaeda never left.
A key question now is which governments will recognize the Taliban regime, a pariah since 1999 when the United Nations designated it a terrorist group, and which will provide desperately needed financial aid after the Biden Administration this month froze billions of dollars in Afghan government reserves held in the U.S.
Twenty-four years ago, when the Taliban first seized power, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was quick to recognize the brutal regime as Afghanistan’s new government and provide financial backing. The only others to do so: Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.
SAUDIS AND TALIBAN TODAY
On Friday, Paris-based Intelligence Online reported the Kingdom is once again moving to facilitate talks with the Taliban. “Saudi Arabia has chosen a middle path between keeping the US happy and its wish to negotiate with the Taliban, affirming recently that it ‘stood by the choice of the Afghan people.’ One of the kingdom’s main goals is to stop Iran pursuing its ambitions in Afghanistan.”
According to The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of events leading up to 9/11, Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal, the kingdom’s intelligence chief, and Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Abdullah Turki traveled to Kandahar in June 1998 to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
The story goes that the Saudis provided supplies and cash in exchange for a promise from Omar – later broken – to hand over Osama bin Laden, sought at that point by both the Saudis and the U.S. Other reports have said, however, that the Saudis rebuffed U.S. efforts to arrest bin Laden before the attacks.
Whatever the truth, Wright and other sources have reported that the Saudis sent 400 four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and other financial aid to the Taliban in the summer of 1998. Six weeks later, the Taliban and al Qaeda used that aid in the massacre of an estimated 8,000 civilians and enslave the women of the ancient city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
A month later and half a world away in Culver City, CA, the Saudi-financed King Fahd Mosque was inaugurated. The program from the three-day event says opening remarks and a talk were made by Abdullah Al-Turki, the Saudi minister who’d met with the Taliban just weeks before.
Los Angeles was the future landing site of two 9/11 al Qaeda hijackers, and the area mosque was a place they frequented. Fahad al-Thumairy, an accredited Saudi diplomat, was imam at the mosque and allegedly met there with the hijackers. A 2012 FBI Summary Report obtained by Florida Bulldog says that upon the hijackers’ arrival in Southern California in January 2000, “Thumairy immediately assigned an individual to take care of them.”
NEW ROLE FOR PRINCE TURKI
Intelligence Online’s Friday report says Saudi Arabia’s current regime, headed by elderly King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has tasked Prince Turki, 76, “to renew contacts with Taliban leaders he had dealings with in the 2000s…He recently met with Taliban strategist Mullah Mohammad Yaquoob, the son of the late Taliban founder Mullah Omar, whom he knew well. Turki is also understood to have travelled to Doha to meet Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who negotiated with the US in the Quatari capital.
“Saudi Arabia was the first country to officially recognize the Taliban’s Islamic emirate more than 20 years ago, but this time, only funds were offered, with certain conditions attached,” the report says.
Saudi Arabia and the Taliban have a rocky history as outlined in declassified U.S. diplomatic cables. On Sept. 19, 1998, a month after al Qaeda’s deadly bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Prince Turki met again with Mullah Omar in Kandahar.
Says one State Department cable sent by the embassy in Islamabad: “Omar reportedly rejected Turki’s request that the Taliban expel terrorist Usama bin Ladin to Saudi Arabia and then went on to criticize the SAG [Saudi Arabian government] for allowing U.S. troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia. An angry Turki reportedly returned to Riyadh and pushed through the Saudi government’s decision to downgrade ties with the Taliban.”
Three days later, the Kingdom expelled the Taliban’s top diplomat and recalled its charge d’affaires from Kabul.
Bin Laden was indicted later that year in New York in the bombings for conspiring to murder U.S. nationals.
SAUDIS ACTIVE UNDER TALIBAN
But Saudi Arabia’s break with the Taliban was apparently not complete. A 2004 report by the German foreign intelligence service BND states, “After Northern Alliance troops entered Kabul on November 20, 2001, the Saudi leader of the Al-Haramain projects in Afghanistan – Nasser bin Mohammed al Gilale, was arrested. According to his own testimony, he had been given orders from Riyadh to operate in the Saudi Arabian embassy which had been closed down since the beginning of the war.”
In 2008 U.S. Defense Department assessments of a trio of former Guantanamo detainees discuss how al Qaeda used the Azzam Guest House at the former residence of the Saudi ambassador as both a way station for terrorists at the al-Faruq Training Camp near Kandahar and a fallback location after 9/11. The guest house was described as being located in a former diplomatic district of Kabul occupied by the Taliban and al Qaeda for quarters and training.
“Soon after the 11 September 2001 attacks, all personnel abandoned al-Faruq and traveled to the Azzam Guesthouse in Kabul,” says the report about detainee Abdallah Husseini. Husseini was identified as a member of the Hamburg, Germany al Qaeda cell whose members included 9/11 hijack pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah.
Federal records show that several members of the Hamburg cell, including two men later reported killed in Afghanistan, fled to the Azzam Guest House in Kabul after 9/11.
The Defense Department assessment about detainee Salman Fouad al-Rabai, who reported being taken to the guest house in early October 2001, states: “The Azzam Guesthouse was owned and operated by Hamza al-Ghamdi, a senior al-Qaida operative and one of UBL’s most trusted aides.”
Hamza al-Ghamdi was the name of one of the Saudi muscle hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 175 that crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. It seems unlikely that the hijacker is the same person referred to in the detainee’s report, but that is unknown.