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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Taleban tense as US seeks targets
BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson
By BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson in Islamabad

The nervousness in Kabul is plain to see.

The Taleban have turned Afghanistan into an Islamic emirate, by far the strictest Muslim state in the modern world.

Now they face the possibility that their political religious experiment could be destroyed outright.

To destroy the Taleban would be to destroy Osama Bin Laden's chances of remaining a free agent

John Simpson
The world at large tends to regard the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden as though they are both part of the same movement. This is not really the case.

Mr Bin Laden made his headquarters in Afghanistan firstly because it was a battleground against the Soviet Union.

After that, it was turned into a power vacuum where he could establish his struggle against other states that were, in his opinion, hostile to Islam.

Above all, that meant to him the United States.

By contrast, the Taleban are not necessarily anti-western or anti-American as such.

They are simply opposed to outside influences which threaten their fundamentalist notions.

Leaders anxious

Their leader, Mullah Omar, regards Osama Bin Laden as a friend and ally and willingly accepts the strong Arab influence which Mr Bin Laden has brought to Afghanistan.

Other leading figures among the Taleban are thought to be more anxious about the danger which Mr Bin Laden's presence now represents.

Almost certainly, Mr Bin Laden has gone to ground in Afghanistan.

It may well be that the Taleban themselves do not know where he is.

He has communications equipment of considerable sophistication and knows how to use it without putting himself in danger.

He operates at a distance from a communications vehicle, so that even if the Americans detected and bombed that, he would remain safe.

Hard to locate

His close aides use coded e-mail messages to pass information and instructions to their volunteers abroad.

All this means it will be extraordinarily difficult for the Americans to search out Mr Bin Laden and kill him.

It seems likely, therefore, that they would focus their attack on the Taleban Government.

To destroy the Taleban would be to destroy Mr Bin Laden's chances of remaining a free agent.

So the Taleban are showing distinct signs of nervousness - now denying that Mr Bin Laden was responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington, now hinting that if the proof of his involvement were there he might be extradited to the United States.

They said similar things at the time of the last American attack on Afghanistan and nothing came of them.

But this time it is different.

This time, the very existence of the Taleban could be in question.

The BBC's John Simpson
"Everybody in Afghanistan is waiting for an American response"
The BBC's Kate Clark in Islamabad
"Foreigners are leaving"
Kabul residents make pleas to the US government
See also:

12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul rocked by explosions
12 Sep 01 | Americas
Who might have done it?
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
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