This report in from DEBKAFiles (Debka.com).
Bin Laden May Focus Ramadan Attacks on US and Saudi Targets
DEBKAfile Intelligence Exclusive
15 November: According to DEBKAfile's military sources, the United States believes that most of the Taliban's 60,000-strong fighting force and its weaponry in Afghanistan have escaped with low casualties from the heavy US bombing strikes and the lightning Northern Alliance offensive. Information from the battlefront shows no more than 900 Taliban fighters have been killed.
Taliban arsenals of between 250 and 300 Scud ground-to-ground missile arsenals, hidden in the mountains of Afghanistan, remain intact. According to intelligence sources, they are reserved for use against cities captured by the Northern Alliance and possibly also towns in Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
US bombers and the Northern Alliance made greater inroads on Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda group than the Taliban. Intelligence estimates put its losses as between 2,000 and 3,000 men - among them Pakistanis, Chinese, Chechens, Saudis, Egyptians, Yemenis, Jordanians and many Palestinians.
Intelligence sources reveal that the Taliban command, though ordering its own forces to retreat, instructed Al Qaeda fighters to hold the line, fight until the last man and not surrender, so as to cover their pullback. Al Qaeda men obeyed the order and most were killed.
However, military sources note that bin Laden's primary fighting force, Brigade 55, retreated with the Taliban and escaped virtually unscathed, although elements of the brigade remained in the besieged Taliban fortress-city of Konduz.
The several thousand Al Qaeda men who were killed displayed poor fighting skills and inadequate training. It appears that bin Laden himself agreed to the Taliban's military tactic in order to save the Taliban's main fighting force for the next stage of the war.
One of the best-kept secrets of the campaign has been the number of fatalities suffered by the Special Forces put on the ground by the United States, Russia, Uzbekistan, Britain and France. DEBKAfile's military sources do not doubt that these commando units sustained losses, despite a news blackout imposed on the casualty count in Washington, London, Paris and Moscow.
The Russian Spetznaz special forces and Uzbek commandos that spearheaded the Northern Alliance offensive took the greatest number of casualties, an estimated 120 killed. American fatalities stand between 30 and 35. Some were killed by friendly fire - bombs or missiles fired by US warplanes.
Those same intelligence sources point to mounting signs that Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, the United States, Canada and western Europe - especially Britain - plan a wave of painful terrorist attacks in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, starting around November 17.
These reports gain credence from examinations by intelligence officials in the United States and elsewhere of the circumstances of the American Airlines flight 587 crash over Queens, New York, last Tuesday, November 13, in which 268 people were killed. The Information accumulating opens up the possibilities of a bomb having been planted near the tail of the Airbus, or a suicide bomber blowing himself up in the rear of the aircraft. The plane came down shortly after taking off for the Dominican Republic from John F. Kennedy International airport.
Another scenario under investigation is that a surface-to-air missile was fired from a boat in Jamaica Bay near the airport.
According to DEBKAfile's intelligence sources, a number of people linked to Al Qaeda in New York behaved suspiciously several hours before the crash; some, who were under surveillance following the September 11 attacks, managed to disappear, with the FBI unable to determine how they slipped away or trace their current whereabouts.
Those sources also noted that the US F-15 warplanes, on 24-hour patrol in the skies of New York and other major US cities, were ordered immediately after the crash to search for any boats or unusual activity in the Jamaica nature reserve.
The morning after, Wednesday, November 14, divers were seen scouring the marsh area for signs that missiles had been fired at the plane, such as a launcher or a scuttled boat, on the assumption that the terrorist who fired the missile escaped in a scuba suit.
Despite adamant denials by the US Federal Aviation Authority, it is now becoming clear that prior to the crash, US intelligence did indeed receive numerous warnings from intelligence sources outside the United States that a terrorist strike was likely on Tuesday, Veterans Day, to mark the two-month anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Information also points to a new wave of terrorist attacks in the making against military or economic targets in the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
In the United States, targets could include airplanes and other modes of transport as well as train stations, bridges, tunnels, central buildings in main cities, military bases and various intelligence installations.
Despite US government efforts to assure a jittery public that bin Laden and his forces do not possess nuclear weapons, DEBKAfile's sources are certain that senior intelligence officials - including Americans -- believe that Al Qaeda does indeed possess small nuclear bombs called "suitcase bombs". They estimate that two to three terrorist cells armed with nuclear weapons have infiltrated the United States.
According to those sources, Pakistani prime minister Pervez Musharraf and Indian president Atal Bihari Vajpayee, both of whom visited Washington last week, gave President George W. Bush information about Al Qaeda's nuclear weapons and the possibility of the devices having been smuggled into the United States.
An exclusive interview granted the BBC's Pashto service by the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar Thursday, is predominantly threatening and bears no sign of desperation in the face of massive Northern Alliance gains. The interview took place in Kandahar, giving the lie to reports of the city having passed into rebel hands.
Omar emphasized that the current situation in Afghanistan is related to "a bigger cause - that is the destruction of America..." Asked to expand on this statement, He said, "the plan is going ahead and, God willing, it is being implemented. But it is a huge task, which is beyond the will and comprehension of human beings. If God's help is with us, this will happen within a short period of time; keep in mind this prediction.
In answer to a question about Osama bin Laden's threat to use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against American, the Taliban leader replied: "This is not a matter of weapons. We are hopeful for God's help. The real matter is the extinction of America. And, God willing, it (America) will fall to the ground."
DEBKAfile analysts make three points about this interview:
Thus far, the Taliban's statements have been mostly accurate, even when it came to admitting their own setbacks. Those statements were invariably screened by bin Laden and Zuwahiri before they went out. Mullah Omar's words should be taken as pointing to terrorist strikes to come, although he may be dramatizing and overstating their extent. But, even if nothing comes off, the Taliban leader, like bin Laden, is actively waging psychological warfare against America, choosing words to strike dread among as many millions as he can.