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Context of 'November 14-25, 2001: US Secretly Authorizes Airlift of Pakistani and Taliban Fighters'

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President Bush briefly considers sealing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent the escape of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, but then decides against it. According to journalist Bob Woodward, a National Security Council (NSC) meeting held on this day is attended by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and others. Intelligence indicates that about 100 people per day are going from Pakistan to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. Woodward will claim, “There was some talk of sealing the border.” But he adds the idea is immediately dismissed: “It seemed an impossible idea, not practical given the hundreds of miles of mountainous and rough terrain, some of the most formidable in the world. There were few roads. Getting from one point to another could only be done on foot, with mules, or on horseback.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 205] CIA official Michael Scheuer will later comment, “There is no denying that closing that border was a hard job, but if the NSC did not believe that the best military in the world could close the border and trap bin Laden, why did it decide that the task could be safely allotted to the poorly armed and trained and generally anti-US Pakistani forces?” [Scheuer, 2008]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The Taliban abandon the strategic northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, allowing the Northern Alliance to take control. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] The Taliban abandons the rest of Northern Afghanistan in the next few days, except the city of Kunduz, where most of the Taliban flee. Kunduz falls on November 25, but not before most of the thousands of fighters there are airlifted out (see November 14-25, 2001). [New Yorker, 1/21/2002]

Entity Tags: Northern Alliance, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

At the request of the Pakistani government, the US secretly allows rescue flights into the besieged Taliban stronghold of Kunduz, in Northern Afghanistan, to save Pakistanis fighting for the Taliban (and against US forces) and bring them back to Pakistan. Pakistan’s President “Musharraf won American support for the airlift by warning that the humiliation of losing hundreds—and perhaps thousands—of Pakistani Army men and intelligence operatives would jeopardize his political survival.” [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Dozens of senior Pakistani military officers, including two generals, are flown out. [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003] In addition, it is reported that the Pakistani government assists 50 trucks filled with foreign fighters to escape the town. [New York Times, 11/24/2001] Many news articles at the time suggest an airlift is occurring. [Independent, 11/16/2001; New York Times, 11/24/2001; BBC, 11/26/2001; Independent, 11/26/2001; Guardian, 11/27/2001; MSNBC, 11/29/2001] Significant media coverage fails to develop, however. The US and Pakistani governments deny the existence of the airlift. [US Department of State, 11/16/2001; New Yorker, 1/21/2002] On December 2, when asked to assure that the US did not allow such an airlift, Rumsfeld says, “Oh, you can be certain of that. We have not seen a single—to my knowledge, we have not seen a single airplane or helicopter go into Afghanistan in recent days or weeks and extract people and take them out of Afghanistan to any country, let alone Pakistan.” [MSNBC, 4/13/2003] Reporter Seymour Hersh believes that Rumsfeld must have given approval for the airlift. [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003] However, The New Yorker magazine reports, “What was supposed to be a limited evacuation apparently slipped out of control and, as an unintended consequence, an unknown number of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters managed to join in the exodus.” A CIA analyst says, “Many of the people they spirited away were in the Taliban leadership” who Pakistan wanted for future political negotiations. US intelligence was “supposed to have access to them, but it didn’t happen,” he says. According to Indian intelligence, airlifts grow particularly intense in the last three days before the city falls on November 25. Of the 8,000 remaining al-Qaeda, Pakistani, and Taliban, about 5,000 are airlifted out and 3,000 surrender. [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Hersh later claims that “maybe even some of bin Laden’s immediate family were flown out on those evacuations.” [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Pakistan, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

When US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is asked by a reporter what the US might do to prevent the Arab Taliban and Chechen soldiers surrendering in Kunduz from going free, Rumsfeld responds, “It would be most unfortunate if the foreigners in Afghanistan—the al-Qaeda and the Chechens and others who have been there working with the Taliban—if those folks were set free and in any way allowed to go to another country and cause the same kind of terrorist acts.” [US Department of Defense, 11/20/2001; Fox News, 11/22/2001; Associated Press, 11/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Donald Rumsfeld, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

A mass grave dug up near Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.
A mass grave dug up near Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. [Source: Physicians for Human Rights]Even as the US is allowing some Taliban and al-Qaeda to secretly fly out of Kunduz, Afghanistan (see November 14-25, 2001), it allows a brutal massacre of those who had to stay behind. The Glasgow Sunday Herald later says, “It seems established, almost beyond doubt, that US soldiers oversaw and took part in horrific crimes against humanity,” which resulted in the death of thousands of Taliban supporters who surrendered after Kunduz fell to the Northern Alliance. The documentary, Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death, exposes this news widely in Europe, but the massacre goes virtually unreported in the US. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 6/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Northern Alliance, United States, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld publicly questions the relevance of the Geneva Conventions to modern day conflicts. “The reality is the set of facts that exist today with the al-Qaeda and the Taliban were not necessarily the set of facts that were considered when the Geneva Convention was fashioned.” [Human Rights Watch, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties


Roger Lane.
Roger Lane. [Source: British Ministry of Defence]Brigadier Roger Lane, the commander of British forces in Afghanistan, says the war there against al-Qaeda and the Taliban is “all but won.” He claims that military operations will end in a matter of weeks rather than months. [BBC, 5/8/2002] In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will announce that the Afghanistan war is over.(see May 1, 2003). But his pronouncement will be just as inaccurate as Lane’s. Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces will begin regrouping in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2002 (see Autumn 2002).

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Roger Lane

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

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