We control Afghanistan, says al-Qa'ida deputy

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The Independent Online

Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, said mujahedeen, or holy fighters, have taken control of much of Afghanistan and driven US forces into the "trenches," according to a tape aired on Al-Jazeera television yesterday.

The bespectacled Egyptian surgeon said "southern and eastern Afghanistan have completely become an open field for the mujahedeen".

"The Americans are huddled in their trenches, refusing to confront the holy warriors despite the holy warriors shelling, shooting and cutting the routes around them," Zawahiri said in excerpts of the tape aired by the Qatar-based station.

The last statement purported to have been made by Zawahiri surfaced on 11 June, when an audiotape was broadcast by Al-Arabiya television, on which the speaker said a US plan for reform in the Middle East was a bid to replace Arab leaders.

Al-Jazeera said it had received the latest Zawahiri tape exclusively, but it was not clear how or when it received it.

The release of the tape comes two days before the third anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the United States, which were blamed on al-Qa'ida. A US-led coalition launched attacks on Afghanistan aimed at destroying al-Qa'ida camps and the Taliban government that had hosted Bin Laden and his followers.

A day before the second anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington DC, Zawahiri and Bin Laden also appeared on another tape aired by Arab television.

* Pakistani warplanes pummelled a suspected al-Qa'ida training facility near the border with Afghanistan yesterday, flattening a vast mud-brick compound and killing at least 50 fighters, the majority of them Uzbeks, Arabs and Chechens, the military said.