Backgrounder -- Information on Afghanistan, Pakistan, bin Laden
September 20, 2001 Posted: 4:45 PM EDT (2045 GMT)
(CNN) -- How do you explain the what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan? CNNfyi offers this guide below and a corresponding discussion/activity for students, parents and educators.
Who is Osama bin Laden?
Osama bin Laden is an Islamic fundamentalist and the son of a Saudi billionaire. Bin Laden's anger with the United States stems from the 1990 decision by Saudi Arabia to allow the U.S. to stage attacks on Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq from Saudi Arabia. After the U.S. victory, the U.S. military presence became permanent.
In a CNN interview with bin Laden in 1997, he said the ongoing U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia is an "occupation of the land of the holy places." He left Saudi Arabia in 1991 after feuding with the Saudi monarchy, taking an inheritance with him worth an estimated $250 million. He has been living as the "guest" of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
CNN Special: Osama bin Laden
Why is the U.S. so interested in him?
Osama bin Laden, U.S. intelligence officials say, is the prime suspect behind the September 11 hijacking attacks. He is the head of a shadowy organization that is believed to have been targeting the United States and its allies since the early 1990s. U.S. prosecutors say bin Laden is the leader of al Qaeda (Arabic for "the Base"), a worldwide network blamed for both successful and failed strikes on U.S. targets. These include the millennium bombing plot, last year's attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and the nearly simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
In a statement issued Sunday, bin Laden denied he was behind the attacks. "The U.S. government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it," said bin Laden, according to a statement read on Al Jazeera, the Arabic television news channel. "I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seem to have been planned by people for personal reasons," bin Laden's statement read.
What makes the U.S. suspect bin Laden?
Tell me about Afghanistan.
The country's strategic position at the crossroads of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent has made it a zone of continual dispute and, often, fierce fighting. Afghanistan is bordered on the east and south by Pakistan, on the west by Iran, on the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and, on a sliver in the northeast, by China. It has extremely mountainous terrain, especially surrounding the captial city of Kabul.
Currently, the United Nations' recognized head of state -- Burhanuddin Rabbani - lives in exile, having fled when the Taliban took power. Direct diplomatic ties with many countries are currently limited or non-existent. Today, the Taliban government is only recognized by three countries worldwide, and continues to face overseas sanctions by the United Nations, as well as controversy over its tough interpretation of Islamic law.
Afghanistan: At the crossroads of conflict
Map of Afghanistan
What is the Taliban?
The Taliban is a fundamentalist Islamic militia that seized power in Afghanistan in 1996. The repressive regime has received almost universal condemnation, particularly for their harsh treatment of women. Only three countries, including Pakistan, recognize the Taliban as the country's rightful government. The fundamentalist group controls more than 90 percent of the country, and has threatened any neighboring country that allows its soil to be used to help the United States stage an attack on Afghanistan.
CNN Special: Taliban
What is the Northern Alliance?
The Northern Alliance is a loose network of ethnic minorities, formerly led by the charismatic Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud died in early September, apparently the victim of assassins. The Northern Alliance opposes the Taliban.
What is happening in Afganistan now?
Afghanistan's fundamentalist Muslim Taliban leaders say they are fortifying bunkers and installations in preparation for a possible U.S. military response to the terrorist attacks on the United States. The Taliban has so far refused to hand over bin Laden, now living in the country, over to the West. Meanwhile, the Afghan people are fleeing for the borders of their country as fears grow of a U.S.-led retaliation. Afghanistan has faced war for more than two decades, and for the past three years has suffered a major drought that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their villages in search of food.
Afghan refugee crisis spreads
How is Pakistan involved?
Pakistan is Afghanistan's neighbor to the east and south. The United States is asking for access to Pakistani airspace, information and logistics support in a possible strike against Afghanistan. Several factions in Pakistan -- most notably legions of fundamentalist Muslims -- argue against cooperation with the United States. Many such groups, including several who profess strong allegiances to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, have threatened civil war if Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, agrees and the actions cause harm to the Taliban or bin Laden.
In Pakistan, anti-U.S. sentiment growing
Map of Pakistan and Afghanistan