Al-Qaida's main military camp in Afghanistan was near the capital, Kabul. Thousands of fighters were based there, and they fled only after sustained bombing during the U.S. air strikes in October, followed by a mopping-up operation by the Northern Alliance in November. The camp near Kabul is also reportedly the site where the Taleban hanged Pashtun leader Abdul Haq six weeks ago.
The main al-Qaida training camp at Rishkor is only half an hour's drive from Kabul, just past the former palace of the Afghan king. This operated as al-Qaida's main military facility for three years, and thousands of fighters trained here. VOA news made the visit along with two other journalists and an Afghan who could read Arabic. This came in useful straight away for, as soon as we arrived, two Northern Alliance soldiers showed us military manuals they'd found written in Arabic.
The camp is set in a vast complex; most of it flattened during carefully targeted U.S. air strikes this past October. The debris of buildings, weapons and machinery covers hundreds of meters of ground. There are newspapers in Arabic and tank manuals in Russian. Twisted vehicle parts and ammunition are lying out in the open as well as tangled in buildings. There is a room full of weaponry still functional, including mortars, rockets and rocket launchers.
According to Northern Alliance soldier Abdul Rakhman, local people were frightened of the fighters.
Everyone was frightened of al-Qaida, he said; everyone walking anywhere near kept his head down and didn't dare to look up. People were frightened and al-Qaida kept up the pressure on local inhabitants. But by the time Abdul Rakhman led his troops down from the north in November, the remaining al-Qaida fighters were rattled. They resisted fiercely for three days before fleeing.
One of the soldiers Abdul Rakhman and his men captured revealed that this was not only a training camp, it was also where the Taleban carried out public hangings.
Abdul Rakhman said that under interrogation, the prisoner revealed that this was where the Taleban hanged Abdul Haq, the former mujaheddin fighter and moderate Pashtun leader who returned to Afghanistan after years in exile to try to create an opposition to the Taleban.
Within three days of Abdul Haq entering Afghanistan in October, the Taleban had captured and killed him. We walked up to see for ourselves.
As I walk up an old Soviet tank on one side, destroyed buildings everywhere. All the evidence of very heavy bombardment from the United States. And here, in front of me, is the tree, and on the tree, there is still a piece of rope and a noose. It's quite chilling to see. The rope at the top is white, but the rope beneath the noose is red, the blood of men who were hanged here.
While we were looking at the tree, there was a burst of artillery fire, reminding us how volatile the region remains.
I feel like viewing a landscape from World War I. Buildings destroyed, tanks destroyed, APCs (armored personnel carriers)destroyed. There's an old cannon, all these weapons lying on their sides and these glorious mountains all around.