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Context of 'Early October-Mid-November, 2001: US Air Force Is Repeatedly Denied Permission to Bomb Top Al-Qaeda and Taliban Leaders'

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Donald Cook.Donald Cook. [Source: US Air Force]Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC), receives a call in which he is told the White House wants to know how quickly the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, can be deployed over Afghanistan. Cook, who is currently at ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, receives the call “less than one hour after” the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to journalist and author Richard Whittle, which means the call is made before around 9:45 a.m. The caller, Whittle will write, says that the “White House [wants] to know how soon the Air Force could get three Predators over Afghanistan—with missiles under their wings.” The identity of the caller is unstated. Later this morning, Cook will talk to Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the ACC, who is away in Arizona, and pass on this information to him (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236; Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Donald G. Cook

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rich Gibaldi.Rich Gibaldi. [Source: Rich Gibaldi]Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the Air Combat Command (ACC), and Colonel Rich Gibaldi, another senior Air Force intelligence officer, are ordered to return to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to get the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to deploy over Afghanistan. Boyle spent part of the summer organizing an expanded “expeditionary intelligence squadron” to fly Predators over Afghanistan for the CIA, beginning on September 25, but he has recently had time for some other business. He and Gibaldi flew to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where, yesterday, they attended some meetings.
Officers Learned of the Attacks While Driving to an Army Base - The two officers learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center this morning as they were driving from there to Fort Huachuca, an Army base in southern Arizona, where they were going to attend a change of command ceremony. They heard of the crashes on the car radio. After hearing about the second one, Boyle told his colleague, “We’ve got a problem.” The officers arrived at Fort Huachuca within half an hour.
Officer Was Told to Return to Langley Air Force Base - While they were at the gate, Boyle’s cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the ACC, calling from ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base. After Boyle said where he and Gibaldi were, Cook told him to get back to Langley Air Force Base as soon as possible and ordered him to call back from a secure phone. Boyle was unable to use a secure phone at Fort Huachuca. But with the ceremony there canceled in response to the terrorist attacks, he and Gibaldi apparently left the base promptly to head back to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Commander Asks about Getting Drones Airborne - Now, as they are driving to Davis-Monthan, Boyle calls Cook and explains that it will be some time before he can call from a secure phone. Cook then tells him he will need to get Predator drones ready for use as soon as possible. “You need to get your butt back here,” he says. He adds that General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, “wants to know when you can be operational and flying.”
Officer Is Told the White House Wants Drones over Afghanistan - After Boyle and Gibaldi arrive back at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Boyle finds a secure phone and calls Cook. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 232-233, 236] Cook received a call earlier this morning in which he was told the White House wanted to know when Predators could be deployed (see (Before 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] He now tells Boyle about this call, saying the White House wants to know how soon the Air Force can get three Predators, armed with Hellfire missiles, over Afghanistan. Boyle and Gibaldi will subsequently have to drive the long distance from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to Langley Air Force Base, and will arrive at Langley early on the morning of September 14. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236, 238-239] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Rich Gibaldi, Ed Boyle, John P. Jumper, Donald G. Cook

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A C-17.A C-17. [Source: Jeff Fisher / US Air Force]A C-17 cargo plane flies three Predator drones, along with the personnel and equipment needed to operate them, from California to Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, where they will be ready to be deployed over Afghanistan. [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-242] Around the time of the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, Colonel Bill Grimes, director of a highly secretive Air Force program called Big Safari, was called by an officer at Air Force headquarters and asked what had to be done to get three Predators ready for use in the airspace over Afghanistan (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] After that call, Grimes phoned members of his team in California and told them to prepare to deploy. [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334] Meanwhile, James Clark, a retired colonel who now works as a civilian for the Air Force, arranged, with some assistance from the CIA, for a C-17 to carry three Predators across the US while the nation’s airspace is shut down in response to the 9/11 attacks. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 240]
Cargo Plane Starts Its Journey within 24 Hours of the Attacks - The C-17 begins its journey to Andrews Air Force Base at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. After being called by Grimes on the morning of September 11, Major Mark Mattoon, who had been running flight tests with the Predator at China Lake, talked to the commanding admiral at the base and requested permission for a C-17 to land. He said the aircraft would be arriving at China Lake in five hours, which means it would have landed there early that afternoon. [Grimes, 2014, pp. 334; Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] However, the C-17 only leaves the base on the morning of September 12. It begins its journey across America “barely 24 hours after the attacks of 9/11,” according to journalist and author Richard Whittle.
Plane Stops Off at Several Bases - The plane stops off at an airfield in Palmdale, California, where additional equipment and personnel get on board. It stops again at Redstone Arsenal, an Army base in Alabama. There, about a dozen AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are loaded onto it. The plane stops once more at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. It arrives there at 4:00 a.m. on the morning of September 13 and remains on the ground for 20 hours. While at the base, it undergoes inspection, maintenance, and refueling.
Plane Arrives near Washington on September 14 - The plane’s next stop is Andrews Air Force Base, about 10 miles from Washington. It arrives there at 1:30 a.m. on the morning of September 14. On board, apart from the Hellfire missiles, are three disassembled Predators, along with a flight control console and a portable C-band radio antenna, which a small team could use to get the drones in and out of the air from almost any airfield in the world. A small number of experts who are needed to operate the Predators also travel from California to Andrews Air Force Base on the C-17. [Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-242] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Mark Mattoon, Bill Grimes, James Clark

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In mid-November 2001, the Washington Post will report that senior Air Force officials are upset they have missed opportunities to hit top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the start of the bombing of Afghanistan. According to these officials, the Air Force believes it has the leaders in its crosshairs as many as ten times, but they are unable to receive a timely clearance to fire. Cumbersome approval procedures, a concern not to kill civilians, and a power play between the Defense Department and the CIA contribute to the delays. One anonymous Air Force official later says, “We knew we had some of the big boys. The process is so slow that by the time we got the clearances, and everybody had put in their 2 cents, we called it off.” The main problem is that commanders in the region have to ask for permission from General Tommy Franks, based in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. Air Force generals complain to Franks about the delay problem, but never receive a response. For example, at one point in October, a Taliban military convoy is moving north to reinforce front line positions. Targeters consider it an easy mark of clear military value. But permission from Central Command is denied on the suspicion that the target is so obvious that “it might be a trick.” In another example, a target is positively identified by real-time imagery from a Predator drone, but Central Command overrides the decision to strike, saying they want a second source of data. An anonymous official calls this request for independent verification of Predator imagery “kind of ridiculous.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] The London Times paraphrase officials who claim that, “Attempts to limit collateral damage [serve] merely to prolong the war, and force the Pentagon to insert commandos on the ground to hunt down the same targets.” [London Times, 11/19/2001] By the end of the war, only one top al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, is killed in a bombing raid (see November 15, 2001), and no top Taliban leaders are killed.

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Taliban, Donald Rumsfeld, Thomas Franks, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

On the first night of the Afghan war, an unmanned Predator drone identifies a convoy of vehicles fleeing Kabul. Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, is determined to be inside this convoy. The CIA is in control of the Predator attack drone and wants to use it to kill Omar, but they have to ask for permission from military commanders who are based in Florida. General Tommy Franks decides not to fire any missiles or launch an air strike against the building in which Omar takes shelter. Eventually fighters attack and destroy the building, but by then Omar and his associates have moved on. One anonymous senior official later says of this failure to kill Omar, “It’s not a f_ckup, it’s an outrage.” According to one senior military officer, “political correctness” and/or slow bureaucratic procedures are to blame. [New Yorker, 10/16/2001] It is later revealed that this is part of a pattern of delays that will hinder many attacks on al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders (see Early October-Mid-November, 2001).

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, Central Intelligence Agency, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Mohammed Atef.Mohammed Atef. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs) is believed to have been killed in Gardez, near Kabul, Afghanistan. Atef is considered al-Qaeda’s military commander, and one of its top leaders. Initial reports claim he was killed by a US bombing raid, but later reports will reveal he was hit by Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. [US Department of State, 11/16/2001; ABC News, 11/17/2001; Newsweek, 11/11/2002] CIA Director George Tenet will later indicate that Atef was “a key player in the 9/11 attacks,” but the exact nature of his role has not been revealed. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 187] Documents and videotapes are discovered by US forces in the rubble after the raid. Details on two upcoming al-Qaeda attacks are discovered. Investigators examining the videotapes find images of about 50 al-Qaeda operatives (see November 15-Late December 2001). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 57]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In Doha, Qatar, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the purpose of detaining “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) is to obtain information from him. “Our interest, really, in this case, is not law enforcement,” he says. “It is not punishment. Because he was a terrorist or working with the terrorists, our interest at the moment is to try to find out everything he knows so hopefully we can stop other terrorist acts.” To illustrate his argument, Rumsfeld describes a recent situation in which intelligence gained from a prisoner in Kandahar, Afghanistan, led to the prevention of three terrorist attacks in Singapore (this may be a garbled reference to the killing of Mohammed Atef, see November 15, 2001 and November 15-Late December 2001). “If someone had said when we found that information or that person, ‘Well, now, let’s arrest the person and let’s start the process of punishing that person for having done what he did,’ we never would have gotten that information, and people would have died.” [American Forces Press Service, 6/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Jose Padilla

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam).Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam). [Source: FBI]The New York Times reports that 10 out of the 24 al-Qaeda leaders considered most important by the CIA before 9/11 have been killed or captured. [New York Times, 9/10/2002] The four most important figures considered still at large are:
bullet Osama bin Laden (Saudi). He will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011).
bullet Ayman al-Zawahiri (Egyptian).
bullet Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (Kuwaiti/Pakistani). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003).
bullet Saif al-Adel (Egyptian).
Other figures considered still at large are:
bullet Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Egyptian).
bullet Mustafa Muhammad Fadhil (Egyptian).
bullet Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2006 (see April 12, 2006).
bullet Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam) (Kenyan). He will be killed in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
bullet Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) (Comoros Islander). He will be killed in 2011 (see June 10, 2011).
bullet Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) (Mauritanian).
bullet Amin ul-Haq (Afghan).
bullet Midhat Mursi (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2008 (see July 28, 2008).
bullet Anas al-Liby (Libyan). He may have been secretly captured already (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
bullet Suliman abu Ghaith (Kuwaiti).
bullet Saad bin Laden (Saudi). He apparently will be killed in 2009 (see July 22, 2009).
bullet Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
The four leaders captured are:
bullet Abu Zubaida (Palestinian) (see March 28, 2002).
bullet Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (Yemeni) (see Late 2001 and February 7, 2002).
bullet Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Libyan) (see December 19, 2001).
bullet Abu Zubair al-Haili (Saudi) (see June 8, 2002 and After). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
Five of the six leaders believed killed are:
bullet Mohammed Atef (Egyptian) (see November 15, 2001).
bullet Abu Jaffa (a.k.a. Abu Jafar al-Jaziri) (Algerian).
bullet Abu Salah al-Yemeni (Yemeni).
bullet Tariq Anwar al-Sayyid Ahmad (Egyptian).
bullet Muhammad Salah (a.k.a. Nasr Fahmi Nasr Hasanayn) (Egyptian). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
The sixth leader believed killed is not named. One year after 9/11, US intelligence identifies 20 current high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, though it is not mentioned who the six new leaders are who replaced some of the killed or captured leaders. [New York Times, 9/10/2002] This list of leaders, while instructive, is curiously incomplete because it fails to mention al-Qaeda leaders known as important to US intelligence before 9/11, such as Hambali, Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.

Entity Tags: Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Muhammad Salah, Mohammed Atef, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Suliman abu Ghaith, Saif al-Adel, Saad bin Laden, Usama al-Kini, Midhat Mursi, Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid, Osama bin Laden, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Abu Jaffa, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, Abu Salah al-Yemeni, Abu Zubaida, Abu Zubair al-Haili, Anas al-Liby, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Amin ul-Haq, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In the evening of March 11, 2004, a group claims responsibility for the Madrid train bombings that took place that morning. The London-based Arabic Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper claims to have been sent a letter from a group called the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. Abu Hafs is an common alias for al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2001 (see November 15, 2001). The newspaper received similar letters claiming responsibility for previous incidents. However, some of the group’s claims have been patently false. For instance, the group took credit for the August 14, 2003 blackout in the northeastern US that was caused by technical failure. The Guardian comments, “The authenticity of such letters is difficult to establish, and might anyway be an attempt to spread fear and confusion.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/18/2003; Guardian, 3/12/2004] The group will soon stop making claims for attacks and slowly fade away. It is unknown if it ever had any real link to al-Qaeda. But in the crucial first hours after the Madrid bombings, the letter begins to shift public opinion to the possibility that al-Qaeda might be responsible.

Entity Tags: Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Top: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (left) shaking hands with Mohammed Atef (right). Bottom: Bin al-Shibh (left) with bin Laden (right).Top: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (left) shaking hands with Mohammed Atef (right). Bottom: Bin al-Shibh (left) with bin Laden (right). [Source: Al Jazeera]Al Jazeera television broadcasts previously unseen footage of Osama bin Laden meeting with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was a roommate and close associate of some of the 9/11 hijackers. The footage is said to have been released by al-Qaeda’s production company, As-Sahab, in time for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Bin al-Shibh is seen sitting and talking with bin Laden and al-Qaeda military leader Mohammed Atef. Atef was killed in November 2001 (see November 15, 2001), so the footage has to be from before then, but it is unknown if it was filmed before or after 9/11. Bin Laden is also shown strolling through an Afghanistan training camp meeting followers. Al Jazeera says some of these followers include some of the 9/11 hijackers, but their faces are not seen so it is unclear if this is the case. But bin Laden addresses the camera at one point and says of his followers preparing for missions, “I ask you to pray for them and to ask God to make them successful, aim their shots well, set their feet strong, and strengthen their hearts.” The video also includes the last testaments of two of the hijackers, Wail Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi filmed in Kandahar, Afghanistan in March 2001 (see September 7, 2006 and (December 2000-March 2001)). [Associated Press, 9/7/2006; CNN, 9/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Wail Alshehri, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Hamza Alghamdi, Mohammed Atef, As-Sahab, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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