In the last few weeks, those soldiers have searched abandoned al Qaida sites and come out with an array of bomb-making manuals, training pamphlets and other documents. Most chilling of all, reports Dan Rather, is a newly discovered training camp tape, shown exclusively on 60 Minutes II Wednesday night.
The seven hours of videotape, which show how al Qaida trains its recruits, were shot sometime last year at a facility about 30 minutes from downtown Kabul.
In it, recruits drill relentlessly, learning the ins and outs of assassination, kidnapping and murder. With instructors looking over recruits shoulders, al Qaida trainees practiced working with weapons that can take dozens of lives in just seconds, learned the tricks of terrifying innocent people and were schooled in the best way to take control of a building.
One segment shows a drive-by shooting, where recruits are trained to overtake a car and kill everyone inside. Another shows a practice attack on a building: victims are disoriented with stun grenades, guards are killed, and hostages are quickly rounded up. Recruits shout commands in English - a sign they would like to take scenes like this to the West.
The tapes also show that something else was part of the terrorist training at that camp, something outsiders have never seen before. It records planning sessions where recruits were briefed on complicated ways to get close to world leaders and kill them.
In the session, the instructors and students speak Arabic as they plan an assassination, but a translator tells CBS News that the person to be assassinated is a writer who blasphemed against Allah and his prophet. The beginning signal of the operation is when the driver opens the trunk. Two men with Kalashnikovs come out and fire.
In another segment, al Qaida works on an elaborate scheme to kill an Arab prince playing golf. One is instructed to carry weapons in his golf bag and tee off near the proposed target. Off the golf course, but close by, an accomplice waits with a rocket launcher for the leader to give the signal. He gives the signal to begin by dropping his hat, says the translator.
60 Minutes II obtained these tapes from Keith Idema, a former member of the U.S. special forces. He is a Green Beret. He says he went to Afghanistan as a civilian military adviser to the Northern Alliance and was with them as they pushed towards Kabul.
When they came across the Shomali Plain to this compound, Idema says, they found a lot of documents. They had gotten the tapes right away but they were scared to bring the tapes forward. And they were scared to tell anybody they had them.
Although Northern Alliance soldiers had described the trining tapes to him, Idema says he was surprised when he finally took a look.
When I looked at these tapes, I said, My God, this is the same kind of stuff that we did in 1980, he says referring to the United States elite military units. So are their skills as good as ours? As good as the U.S. special operations community? The answer is no. Clearly, man for man, wed wipe them out. But theyre not coming against us; theyre coming against regular civilians and thats clear in their training. They dont use military tactics. Their training is not as sophisticated as ours, but its not designed to be.
Gen. Gary Harrell, senior commander on the ground at Bagram air base, has served in every major American conflict in the last two decades, including Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War and Somalia.
He watched the al Qaida tape carefully twice, but said he could not comment.
He did say, however, that he thought al Qaida was still active.
As an effective organization, I think that they are seriously degraded, he says. And it does seem to me that a lot of them want to be some place other than Afghanistan now. I think that's an indicator we have a lot of work still to do. Afghanistan is not the end; its the beginning.
Harrell was a squadron commander on a mission in Somalia that ended with 18 American special operations soldiers being killed in a brutal gunbattle, begun when a Blackhawk helicopter was shot from the sky.
Bin Laden says his fighters were responsible for the battle in Somalia, a vicious introduction for Americans to al Qaida and a preview of how hard it is to fight an invisible, ever-changing enemy.
He agrees it is hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys in a country where people, in effect, turn a turban around in an instant. At the risk of sounding flippant, he says, one way you tell is, if they're shooting at you, they're not friendly.
The videotapes make it easier to identify the enemy; dozens of al Qaida faces are shown uncovered, clear and close up. The trainees are comfortable enough to talk directly to the camera, comfortable enough to joke, to wrestle, and to sit down for dinner, to fall asleep.
The recruits appear to have come from just about everywhere. Most are young and many are inept. But others appear battle-hardened and eager for more. In recent months, some of those recruits may have become prisoners, taken into custody by Northern Alliance soldiers who surrounded al Qaida strongholds.
While the al Qaida tapes show the how, they do little to explain the why.
One of the differences," says Gen. Harrell, has been that the al Qaida and the Taliban - thei attitude is very different than what you might think of as normal combatants. If you take a child at a very young age and pump a lot of hate into him, and tell them that Americans are evil, then you get a person who is different from the way that you and I think.
An example is the al Qaida cameraman who spent hours carefully recording would-be terrorists as they learned how to kill. Off duty, he used the same camera to make chilling home movies as he passed on to his children his love for guns and his hatred for the West.
In one scene, the voice behind the camera cajoles some children playing with guns: Who are you going to fight? The infidels? Shoot. Come on, shoot.
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