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Rare video of elite al Qaeda fighters

A member of al Qaeda's Force 055 in a frame from one of the videos
A member of al Qaeda's Force 055 in a frame from one of the videos  

From Mike Boettcher

(CNN) -- Members of Force 055 are Osama bin Laden's closest bodyguards, and right now the elite fighters are playing cat and mouse with U.S. troops in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Videotapes obtained exclusively by CNN provide a rare glimpse of the elite al Qaeda fighters who kept the Taliban in power before the regime's collapse.

One tape shows Force 055 members getting advanced live-fire training with shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft weapons. There is plenty of ammunition at their disposal.

The core of the fighters is made up of so-called Afghan Arabs -- men from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other countries. Some of these men have fought along bin Laden in Afghanistan since the guerrilla war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

"Most Force 055 members are from the Gulf, North Africa, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Xinjiang [western China] and Southeast Asia," said Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda," who viewed the tapes

One of the tapes, taken two years before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, shows the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies were fighting for survival in the Afghan civil war that ensued after the Soviets left in 1989.

CNN's Mike Boettcher reports on newly obtained videotapes showing al Qaeda's Force 055 in action three years ago (August 7)

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On August 1, 1999, the Taliban, with the aid of Force 055, achieved a crucial victory by taking Bagram Air Base and the surrounding area from the Northern Alliance.

On the tapes, the troops can be seen celebrating their victory with an al Qaeda commander.

"Thanks to God, we are participating in the Jihad in Afghanistan," the commander says on the tape.

"And when the jihad is over in Afghanistan, we will move from Afghanistan to other countries that were Islamic before," he says.

While the tapes date from two or three years ago and fighters were preparing for future battles against the Northern Alliance, the same Force 055 is now hiding out in and around Afghanistan.

"Force 055 is the guerrilla arm of al Qaeda that is now preparing to fight the Americans. It is conducting probing attacks. It is mounting reconnaissance and it is engaging in some clandestine training," said Gunaratna, a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

On a recent U.S. operation, CNN accompanied Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 187th Infantry, of the 101st Airborne Division when it launched an assault on a suspected al Qaeda hideout. The soldiers hoped to find members of Force 055 in the caves but the al Qaeda fighters had disappeared.

Some of the people on these tapes may have already died fighting the United States and the Northern Alliance. Others could even be in custody -- either in Afghanistan or in Cuba.

But because members of Force 055 are bin Laden's closest bodyguards, wherever he is hiding out, they are at his side.




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