CAIRO, Egypt – A top Taliban commander claims that Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden is alive and directed the attack in February against a U.S. base in Afghanistan during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, according to an interview aired Wednesday on Al-Jazeera.
Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's top military commander, told Al-Jazeera that bin Laden planned and supervised the attack that killed 23 people outside the big U.S. base at Bagram during Cheney's visit.
"You may remember the martyr operation inside the Bagram base, which targeted a senior U.S. official. ... That operation was the result of his wise planning. He (bin Laden) planned that operation and guided us through it. The operation was a success," Dadullah told Al-Jazeera. He did not say how he knew that bin Laden planned the attack.
A U.S. military official, however, immediately reacted with skepticism, calling Dadullah's interview "an opportunistic claim."
"It's unclear the perpetrators even knew the vice president was even going to be there," the official said on the condition of anonymity. "There are no indications that he's playing any operational role at this point."
Dadullah, who has had close associations with Al Qaeda, also insisted that bin Laden was alive and well, according to the interview.
"Thank God he is alive. We get updated information about him. Thank God he planned operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan," he told Al-Jazeera, according to the English translation of the interview provided by the station.
The bombing killed about 20 Afghan civilians, a U.S. soldier, a U.S. contractor and a South Korean soldier outside Bagram while Cheney was meeting with officials inside the base. The Taliban claimed the attack was aimed at Cheney, but officials have said it posed no real threat to the vice president.
The attacker never tried to penetrate even the first of several U.S.-manned security checkpoints at Bagram, instead detonating himself among a group of Afghan workers outside the base.
The bearded Dadullah, wearing a black turban and a gray traditional Afghani robe, was interviewed by Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Afghanistan. In the interview, the Taliban commander was seen sitting on the ground in the middle of a field with some trees.
In the video, a man covering his head and face with a white scarf and wearing an ammunition belt can be seen in the background.
Parts of the interview were broadcast on Al-Jazeera's English and Arabic satellite TV channels and were posted the stations' Web sites.
Al-Jazeera, which is based in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, said it planned to show the entire interview later Wednesday. The station declined to provide any more details about the interview.
Al-Jazeera's interview was not the first time in recent months that Dadullah has said bin Laden was alive. On March 1, London television Channel 4 aired an interview with Dadullah who said the Al Qaeda leader was alive and in contact with Taliban officers. The station did not say when the tape was made.
U.S. officials have said they assume bin Laden is alive but do not have proof one way or the other. U.S.-led forces drove the head of the terror network from his Afghanistan haven in late 2001 by overthrowing the Taliban's militia government after al-Qaida was blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Bin Laden is assumed to be living now in a rugged area of neighboring Pakistan, where remnants of the Taliban are living and attacking coalition forces in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Afghan officials claimed their forces trapped up to 200 Taliban in a southern village, possibly including Dadullah. But the Taliban later denied that claim. Dadullah is a close aide to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and a commander with a reputation for ruthlessness.