Osama Bin Laden Is Not in Pakistan's Tribal Regions

Question: What is the difference between the Taliban and al Qaeda?

Jere Van Dyk:  The Taliban are Pashtuns, Pashtuns being \r\nthe largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and across the border in \r\nPakistan.  The members of al Qaeda who first came to Afghanistan in the \r\nearly 1980's are foreigners.  They are primarily Arabs, mostly \r\nEgyptians.  Some from Chechnya, different countries.  We certainly don't\r\n know today where they all come from.  Their goal, the Taliban told me, \r\nis international.  The Taliban's goal is what we'll call regional, or \r\ndomestic.

When I was in prison I had to listen to Taliban \r\nrecruitment tapes, Taliban suicide recruitment tapes.  And in those \r\ntapes, which we listened to for hours, they spoke of Pashtun history, \r\nPashtun geography, Pashtun nationalism.  So the Taliban have a \r\ncombination of Islam and Pushtun nationalism deep inside of them, and \r\ntheir goals are to create a deeply pure Islamic culture in Afghanistan \r\nas well as in Pakistan. And al Qaeda's goals are worldwide. 

Once,\r\n in Kunar Province, the first time I met with the Taliban, November \r\n2007, long before I was kidnapped, I was with it looked to be about \r\neight members of the Taliban.  The commander was Pashtun; however, in \r\nthe corner I saw one man with Palestinian headdress.  He was about 5'8”,\r\n looked to be about 21, carried a rifle, he seemed to weight about 130 \r\npounds.  He was al Qaeda.  The Taliban were in charge.

There \r\nwere many reports during the 1990's how al Qaeda led the fight against \r\nthe Northern Alliance, that al Qaeda was the strike force of the \r\nPashtun's – or the Taliban – against the Northern Alliance.  They were \r\nthe strongest fighting force.  Today, it's completely different.  The \r\nTaliban are in charge.  They said to me that they sometimes brought in \r\nal Qaeda when things got really tough, that al Qaeda is subservient to \r\nthe Taliban in Afghanistan.  In Pakistan, apparently—and I can't prove \r\nthis, but they told me—the money comes from abroad, that al Qaeda brings\r\n money.  But still, al Qaeda is subservient to the Taliban.

Many \r\nmembers of al Qaeda have intermarried with Pashtuns.  They say they \r\nunderstand Pashto.  I don't know if this is true because most, of \r\ncourse, al Qaeda members would speak Arabic or their native \r\nlanguage—certainly not Pashto.  But there is a tie together among them, \r\nand it's no longer just al Qaeda and the Taliban.  What you have now is a\r\n specter of what we'll call the Punjabi Taliban.  These are these \r\ngroups: Lashker Tiber, Josh Mohammed; most famous attack was against \r\nIndia in Mumbai in Thanksgiving 2009.  These people are also in the \r\ntribal areas.  They are Punjabis.  So you have the Taliban, the Pashtun \r\nTaliban, the Punjabi Taliban, and al Qaeda.

Question: Is Osama bin Laden still in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Jere Van Dyk: No.  I don't believe for a minute that the\r\n al Qaeda leadership is in the tribal areas.  Just last week the \r\ndirector Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, said on ABC when asked \r\nwhere Osama Bin Laden is, he said, “He's hiding or he's in the tribal \r\nareas of Pakistan, the most difficult terrain in the world.”  It is not \r\nthe most difficult terrain in the world.  I've had long experience \r\nworking for National Geographic hiking the Himalayas and the Andes—it's a\r\n lot tougher mountains than where I was in the tribal areas.

I \r\ndon't believe that the United States in some way—I know you wouldn't get\r\n into all this—is leveling with us.  But, not one single al Qaeda leader\r\n has ever been captured or killed in the tribal areas of Pakistan.  The \r\nUnited States and NATO with it's high technology and all its skills has \r\nbeen able to pinpoint and target successfully a number of Taliban \r\nleaders.  They have never hit Ayman al Zawahari, nor have they hit Osama\r\n Bin Laden.

Where I was kept, they said, was in a village \r\ncalled...near a village called Damadola.  In January 2006, the CIA \r\npublicly announced, it was in all the newspapers, a drone missile attack\r\n at Damadola where a number of children were killed in order to hit \r\nAyman al Zawahari, who they said was going to be there.  Different \r\ntribal leaders also heard, they told me along the border, “Yes, al \r\nZawahari is going to be there.”  However, as time passed, more and more \r\nsaid, "Under Pashtunwali, panah, which is the tenet in Pashtunwali which\r\n means “I will protect to the death a guest.”  Which is why Mullah Omar \r\nprotected Bin Laden in the 1990s, which is one reason why I was not \r\nkilled was under Pashtunwali.  To a man along the border there was not \r\none single tribal or peasant who said that Osama Bin Laden can be kept \r\nalong the border.  He is too big to hide.  Tribal law no longer counts.

Another\r\n thing was, a very small example, is that where we were we had—we \r\nwere—because we were – when we were washing for prayers and bathing we \r\nhad to pour water over ourselves.  Some of that water was seeping \r\noutside and damaged a neighbor's wall.  Everything is made of mud, and \r\nthe water was making it disintegrate.  We had to stop this because we \r\nknew – would find out that more men than normal were in this house.  How\r\n could Bin Laden hide in a Pashtun village where we could not hide for \r\nmore than six weeks and had to watch how much water we kept?

Another\r\n part of Pashtun Wali is called Taberwali, and that is cousin warfare.  \r\nCousins fight over land, money, women, to be the most powerful person in\r\n the clan.  When my jailer's family came to visit us, he was armed to \r\nthe teeth.  He had more weapons on him when his family came than when he\r\n came into the cell to feed us.  Your cousin will go against you. How \r\ncan Bin Laden hide in a village made up of a clan where cousins are \r\nafter one another when you have a 50-million-dollar bounty over your \r\nhead?

There are many, many reasons I feel that, I no longer \r\nbelieve that Osama Bin Laden is hiding along the border.  The Taliban \r\nwho had me and others said he is being kept elsewhere, and I don't think\r\n they're wrong.

Recorded June 29. 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

Van Dyk’s captors insisted that bin Laden is no longer in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and, for various reasons, he believes them.

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