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Al-Zawahiri: U.S. faltering in Afghanistan

CIA analyzing al Qaeda videotape that appeared on Al-Jazeera
Al-Zawahiri: "Americans are hiding now in trenches and they refuse to come out."
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CNN's Nic Robertson talks about the al-Zawahiri tape.
People in the News:  Ayman al-Zawahiri

Ayman al-Zawahiri
  • Nationality: Egyptian

  • Position: Osama bin Laden's closest adviser

  • Status: Wanted, $25 million reward

  • Background: Medical doctor; founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad; referred to as the "brains of al Qaeda"
    Osama Bin Laden
    Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

    (CNN) -- Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appeared in a videotaped message Thursday on the Arabic-language TV news network Al-Jazeera saying southern and eastern Afghanistan are controlled by the mujahedeen, or holy warriors.

    He also said mujahedeen fighters in Iraq "turned America's plan upside down."

    "The defeat of America in Iraq and Afghanistan has become just a matter of time, with God's help," he said.

    "Americans in both countries are between two fires. If they carry on, they will bleed to death -- and if they pull out, they lose everything."

    Wearing a white turban and glasses, al-Zawahiri said American forces are hunkered down and afraid to respond to advances of the mujahedeen.

    There currently are about 16,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan conducting daily patrols in remote mountain villages, mostly in the eastern part of the country. There are nearly 140,000 American troops in Iraq.

    "East and south Afghanistan is an open battlefield for the mujahedeen, while the liars are hiding in the big capitals," he said, a Kalashnikov assault rifle resting on the wall behind him.

    "The Americans are hiding now in trenches and they refuse to come out and meet the mujahedeen, despite the mujahedeen antagonizing them with bombing and shooting and roadblocks around them. Their defense focuses on airstrikes, which wastes America's money in just stirring up sand."

    The Pentagon had no official reaction to the comments. But privately, U.S. military officials scoffed at them, saying U.S. forces enjoy freedom of movement throughout Afghanistan and continue offensive operations against al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

    Al-Zawahiri, a 53-year-old Egyptian-born physician, spoke in a studio-like setting.

    He did not refer to any dates, but he did mention the Iraqi transitional government. Al-Jazeera's anchor also said he mentioned the Darfur crisis in Sudan. The network said it would release more of the tape later.

    Al-Jazeera's anchor said the mujahedeen fighters claimed they had been getting a lot of support in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    The anchor said they claimed that had it not been for the Pakistani army offensive along the border, U.S. forces would have been "driven out a long time ago."

    A CIA spokesman said the agency was analyzing the tape to determine "whether it really is new" and what other information it might offer.

    U.S. intelligence officials said al-Zawahiri was believed to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.

    The video came almost a year to the day since al Qaeda last released a videotaped message -- and followed the terror group's history of releasing video messages ahead of the anniversary commemorating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

    Last year, on September 10, the group released video of bin Laden walking in a mountainous area with other al Qaeda members, with an audio message from al-Zawahiri calling on the mujahedeen to "attack and devour the Americans and bury them in the graveyard of Iraq."

    On September 9, 2002, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape from bin Laden, who named the 9/11 hijackers and said, "When you talk about the invasion of New York and Washington, you talk about the men who changed the face of history and went against the traitors."

    Al Qaeda has released audiotaped messages over the past year, but it has rarely used video since the 9/11 attacks.

    According to senior U.S. intelligence sources, groups of about 600 to 800 Taliban or al Qaeda fighters are able to roam in parts of Afghanistan, primarily in the south and east.

    The southeastern portion of Afghanistan is controlled mostly by Pashtun tribes and poses one of the greatest security threats to U.S. forces in the country.

    CNN's Nic Robertson, Octavia Nasr and David Ensor contributed to this report.

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