Don't panic March 27 2002

They say al-Qaeda is regrouping. What does that mean?

There's a lot of evidence to indicate that al-Qaeda is in fact regrouping in Afghan-istan and Pakistan. Even after the big setback of losing its Taliban host government, they refuse to go away — like some washed-up rock group that refuses to call it quits even though its best days have long passed. Those of you who have VH-1 Kabul on cable (say that three times fast) may have caught the interview with Gee-Had Records spokesman Ramzi Habib bin Rhymin' on last week's "al-Qaeda" episode of Behind the Terror.

"Despite some recent hardships, the boys think they've still got something special left in them," said bin Rhymin'. "Nothing's finalized yet, but they definitely want to get back into the studio to capitalize on the success of last year's smash, I Got Martyred (and All I Got Was These Lousy Virgins).

Though the White House and the Pentagon spent the entire winter basking in the glow of their "victory" in Afghanistan (even getting us ready for Phase Two in Iraq), it's clear that the war there is far from over. The bloodiest battle thus far (for us, anyway) was this month's Operation Anaconda in the Shah-e Kot mountains near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. Like December's battle in Tora Bora, we "won" by driving al-Qaeda fighters out of their positions with our air power, killing many in the process. And just like in Tora Bora, much of al-Qaeda's fighting force escaped the battle to flee into Pakistan.

Unfortunately for us, those escapees likely included Osama bin Laden and most of al-Qaeda's other top leadership. Despite our supposed alliance with Pakistan, a lot of Pakistanis support al-Qaeda. And conveniently for al-Qaeda, much of that support happens to be concentrated along the border with Afghanistan.

Lately, Pentagon spokesmen from the Secretary of Defense on down have been saying there will be more battles like Anaconda to come. The U.S. expects that al-Qaeda activity in the region will pick up as the weather warms. Travel in the region will be easier, and the cold won't throw al-Qaeda's guitars out of tune.

There also are reports that al-Qaeda's Internet activity has picked up quite a bit in recent weeks. Wishing to investigate this for myself, I visited www.alqaeda.com. I didn't find any terrorist plans there, but I did discover about a dozen links to discount travel sites on the page and, believe it or not, a banner ad for priceline.com. (First those annoying ads with William Shatner and now an ad on alqaeda.com — I think it's about time Ashcroft paid a visit to Priceline's headquarters.)

There is a bright side to all of this: In every engagement between U.S.-led forces and al-Qaeda, we've put a hurtin' on them. Al-Qaeda was able to take down two American helicopters, but our forces quickly recovered, and within a couple of days literally blew them out of their fortified positions. The faster they "come back," the faster we kill them.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon finally appears to be 'fessing up to its Pakistan problem. Maj. Gen. Hagenbeck of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division said that U.S. and U.S.-led forces will pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban forces into Pakistan if they have to. That might discourage al-Qaeda from even attempting a comeback.

If not, expect to see al-Qaeda on tour this summer with Journey and REO Speedwagon.

E-mail questions to andisheh@ creativeloafing.com.??

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