The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were the worst in history.
They were not the worst Osama Bin Laden contemplated. He had every intention to follow those attacks with others much more devastating. Osama wanted nuclear weapons.
Afghanistan prior to 9/11 was under the control of the Taliban. They supported Al-Qaeda (AQ) and provided it with a secure base from which to operate. Osama exploited that for all it was worth. He did not just train and equip his fighters for suicide attacks using conventional explosives. He aspired to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and to that end, he established contact with an extremely dangerous group called Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN).
UTN was formed in 2000 by retired Pakistani nuclear scientist, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. Prior to his retirement Sultan was head of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). He was fired from that job in 1998, because of his extreme fundamentalist Islamic propensities.
UTN described itself as “an organization engaged in relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities.” Its alleged purpose was to bring foreign investment to the new Islamic wonderland of Afghanistan under the Taliban. To that end, it engaged in a number of disparate projects in that country. UTN’s contacts with the Taliban were broad and deep.
Bashir and another member of UTN, Chaudry Abdul Majeed, himself a former Pakistani nuclear scientist also established direct contact with Al-Qaeda. The two met with Osama bin Laden, his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and other senior members of the organization. Those discussions included an initial conversation concerning the building of an atomic bomb for Al-Qaeda. At one point during one of those conversations, Bashir even drew a rough sketch for Bin Laden of a gun-type nuclear weapon like that used on Hiroshima and explained to Osama how the device worked.
While still employed by the Pakistani government, Mahmood had repeatedly voiced the view that Pakistan’s nuclear capability was the property of the global Muslim community and needed to be shared. His ties to Islamist organizations had been known while he served at the PAEC, leading to his eventual resignation from the organization in 1998. Bashir’s aspirations in this regard were very real. After he left PAEC Bashir also offered to help the Libyan government “build a nuclear bomb.”
UTN’s contacts with Al Qaeda were cut short in October 2001 when he was arrested by Pakistani authorities. That arrest came only because American intelligence had learned of his contacts with AQ and pressured the Pakistanis to shut down UTN and prevent it from going any further with its plans to arm Bin Laden. Absent that pressure and the action, it precipitated it is entirely possible that Bashir and his cohorts would have handed Osama a fully functional nuclear device capable of destroying a city.
American troops have been driven from Afghanistan in defeat. The Taliban have returned to power, stronger and more capable than ever before. AQ and ISIS are inside Afghanistan as well and enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban. We have not returned to the point where we were in 2001. We are in a much worse situation face to face with what is now a terrorist super state intent on our destruction.
The Chinese have already established multiple points of contact with the Taliban. The Pakistanis, who have supported the Taliban throughout twenty years of war against the United States, are in Afghanistan in strength. The Taliban leadership is not hiding in caves in remote parts of the country. It is ensconced in the Presidential Palace and the former U.S. Embassy.
As the Taliban and their terrorist allies settle into their new caliphate, there is every reason to think that they will pick up where they left off in 2001 when U.S. forces rolled in and occupied the country. That will include the quest to develop true weapons of mass destruction capability and, in particular, to acquire a nuclear weapon.
The opportunities to do so seem boundless. The Chinese – eager to solidify their relationship with the Taliban and to exert ever greater pressure on the Indians – may simply hand the Taliban a functioning weapon. More likely we may simply see a resumption of the kind of contacts that led us to the UTN situation in the fall of 2001. Pakistani nuclear scientists or military officers with strong jihadist tendencies may simply take matters into their own hands and either build the Taliban an atomic bomb or turn over a fully functioning device from Pakistani stockpiles.
The rationale for such an action would be the same provided by Bashir. The Pakistani bomb is not really the possession of any single nation. It properly belongs to the entire Islamic community worldwide and should be made available to it. In this view, Islamabad did not build a bomb simply to protect itself. It built nuclear weapons as part of its religious duty to ensure the triumph of Islam and the establishment of a worldwide caliphate.
Once in possession of a nuclear weapon Islamic extremists in Afghanistan will find almost boundless opportunities to use it against the United States. They may choose to employ it against an American base abroad. They may decide to move it into the United States and detonate it here.
Our ports are awash in containers being shipped here from all over the globe. Efforts to screen these containers for weapons of mass destruction remain woefully incomplete at best. At present, our southern border is essentially nonexistent. Drug cartels move tons of product here without interference. A single nuclear weapon could easily make it across what is now an imaginary line on a map.
In Washington, Biden – and the band of incompetents he calls a cabinet – continue to peddle the fiction that we are dealing with a new, “pragmatic” Taliban. In Kabul, they did not get that memo. They are picking up where they left off, and almost certainly that means the quest for nuclear weapons has already begun.