Militants From 20 Nations
Ready To Fight For Taliban
By Ahmed Rashid in Islamabad

Thousands of non-Afghan Islamic militants from more than two dozen countries are vowing to fight to the death alongside Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, say Afghan sources in Pakistan.
Some 3,000 Arab fighters from 13 Arab countries who are based in Afghanistan have taken oaths of loyalty to bin Laden in recent days.
But there are thought to be thousands more who have taken refuge over the past three years from Russia, Pakistan, China, Iran, central Asia and the Far East who would also fight for the Taliban.
Tens of thousands of Pakistani Islamic militants have fought for the Taliban and at present 4,000 Pakistani militants are part of the 25,000-strong Taliban force in north-eastern Afghanistan resisting the opposition United Front. More Pakistani militants are crossing the border to join the coming war against America.
They include fighters from the Pakistani-Kashmiri group Harakat ul-Mujheddin, which has been declared a terrorist group by America, and from Jaish-e-Mohammed, whose bomb killed 38 people in Kashmir on Monday. Britain has designated both groups terrorist organisations.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has bases in three Taliban-controlled cities in northern Afghanistan and 2,500 to 3,000 fighters, most of whom are at present fighting for the Taliban.
The IMU aims to topple the regime of President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and bring about an Islamic revolution in central Asia.
In 1999 and last year the IMU launched attacks into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from its bases in Afghanistan in an effort to set up a "liberated" area in the Ferghana valley, which straddles three central Asian states and is the most volatile and vulnerable part of the region.
Bin Laden has helped to fund and arm the IMU, buying two Russian-made helicopters and sophisticated night-fighting and communications equipment for it.
Uzbekistan's agreement to let US aircraft and special forces use bases in the south of the country is understood to be on the understanding that the US-led coalition will also target the IMU.
Russia, meanwhile, is anxious to get at the Taliban-Chechen nexus. The Taliban are the only ruling group to recognise the government of the breakaway Chechen Republic and hundreds of Chechens are enlisted with the Taliban.
Bin Laden has used the Chechen heroin-smuggling network that extends to Russia and eastern Europe to expand his fund-raising efforts.
Chechen rebel leaders have sent their families to Afghanistan to escape the Russian military operation and their sons are studying in madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Iran loathes the Taliban and will be happy to see America topple the regime, not least because two Iranian opposition groups have been given sanctuary in Afghanistan.
The Iraq-based Mujaheddin-e-Khalq has training facilities in Kandahar, while the small Ahl-e-Sunnah Wal Jamaat, made up of Sunni Iranians opposed to the Shia regime in Teheran, provides fighters for the Taliban from its base in the western city of Herat.
Hundreds of Uighurs from China's only Muslim majority province of Xinjiang are also training and fighting with the Taliban. Last year, as the Taliban tried to improve relations with China through the intercession of Pakistan, the Taliban moved the Uighurs from front lines outside Kabul, where they were most visible, and ordered them north to join up with the IMU.
The Taliban then denied to a Chinese delegation visiting Kabul that they were using Uighur militants. Since the September 11 bombings, China has moved troops into Xinjiang to prevent any attacks by Uighur separatists, and has made large-scale arrests. China's borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been sealed.
Bin Laden has taken a keen interest in developing links with the Uighurs and central Asian militants as he tries to expand his network northwards. Also training and fighting for the Taliban are small numbers of Islamic militants from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Burma.
With widespread defections depleting the Taliban forces, Mullah Omar has become increasingly dependent on these foreign fighters. In turn, they know they have nowhere to go, because if they return to their own countries they will be executed.

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