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Context of 'November 13, 2001: Kabul Falls to Northern Alliance; Rest of Country Soon Follows'

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In the winter of 1999, a covert four-man CIA and NSA team arrives in the part of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance. They set up a listening post within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. The Northern Alliance is shown how to run it, and then the team leaves. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198] In March 2000, CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a small CIA team into Northern Alliance territory (see March 2000). While there, they improve the existing listening post and set up a new one closer to Taliban-controlled territory. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 57-61] The US makes little use of the intelligence gained from these intercepts, leading Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud to conclude that the US is “not serious” about getting bin Laden. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Walker Lindh.
John Walker Lindh. [Source: Alexandria, Virginia, Sheriff's Department]John Walker Lindh, a young Caucasian man from California who has converted to Islam, travels to Peshawar, Pakistan, in an attempt to fight for Islamic causes. He had been studying the Koran for about six months elsewhere in Pakistan, but otherwise had no particularly special training, qualifications, or connections. Within days, he is accepted into al-Qaeda and sent to the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. Seven other US citizens are already training there (see April-August 2001). He inadvertently learns details of the 9/11 attacks. In June, he is told by an instructor that “bin Laden had sent forth some fifty people to carry out twenty suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel.” He learns that the 9/11 plot is to consist of five attacks, not the four that actually occur. The other fifteen operations are to take place later. He is asked if he wants to participate in a suicide mission, but declines. [Mahoney, 2003, pp. 162, 216; Bamford, 2004, pp. 234-36]
News of Upcoming Attacks Are Widespread in Camps - Although Lindh does not tell this information to any US officials, the fact that he learns this much so quickly is indicative of how widely news of the upcoming attacks are spreading in the al-Qaeda training camps. For instance, early 2001, bin Laden gave a speech at one of the camps talking about an attack on the US that would kill thousands (see Early 2001). In the summer, bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001). By July, a source will tell the CIA that (see July 2001)
What Could an Informant in the Camps Learn? - Author James Bamford comments, “The decision to keep CIA employees at arm’s length from [al-Qaeda] was a serious mistake. At the same moment the CIA was convinced al-Qaeda was impenetrable, a number of American citizens were secretly joining al-Qaeda in Afghanistan—and being welcomed with open arms.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 161]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, James Bamford, Al-Qaeda, Al Farooq training camp, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Summer 2001: Lindh Enlists in Taliban

John Walker Lindh, a young American citizen converted to Islam (see May-June 2001), enlists in the Taliban army. His intention, he later explains, is to aid the Taliban against the forces of the Northern Alliance, which he perceives as a brutal power guilty of “numerous atrocities… against civilians…: massacres, child rape, torture, and castration.” [Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 10/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, John Walker Lindh, Northern Alliance, Abdul Rashid Dostum

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Five days before the 9/11 attacks, US citizen John Walker Lindh arrives on the front line of Taliban forces in the region of Takhar in the north of Afghanistan in order to engage in battle against the Northern Alliance. [Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 10/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Northern Alliance, John Walker Lindh, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Amrullah Saleh.Amrullah Saleh. [Source: Associated Press' Kamran Jebreili]Northern Alliance leader Amrullah Saleh calls the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center to inform it of the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). His call is taken by Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Although Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an expert on Afghanistan, realizes the assassination means “something terrible [is] about to happen” (see September 9, 2001), Blee does not appear to connect the assassination to a spike in warnings about an al-Qaeda attack against US interests, even though he has been briefing senior officials about this all summer (see May 30, 2001, June 28, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Late July 2001). The Northern Alliance realizes that the Taliban will attack them immediately, because they are leaderless, and Saleh asks for support from the CIA. However, some at the CIA think that the Northern Alliance has no chance without Massoud, who held it together. Other officers “[call] frantically around Washington to find a way to aid the rump Northern Alliance before it [is] eliminated.” The CIA informs the White House of the assassination, and the news soon leaks to CNN. This prompts the Northern Alliance to call again, this time complaining about the leak. [Coll, 2004, pp. 582-4]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Counterterrorist Center, Amrullah Saleh, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Ahmed Shah Massoud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Northern Alliance releases a statement, saying, “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden.” Massoud was the head leader of the Northern Alliance, the main group fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, until he was assassinated the previous day (see September 9, 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2001; Newsday, 9/15/2001; Reuters, 10/4/2001] In June 2002, the New Yorker will report that there has been little to no investigation in Afghanistan into who was responsible for Massoud’s assassination. Even though the Northern Alliance has taken power, one of the figures some suspect of a role in the assassination is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a warlord with radical Islamist ties but who also has gained power in the new Afghan government. However, Afghan Defense Minister and Northern Alliance leader Mohammad Qasim Fahim will tell the New Yorker that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was at ISI headquarters hours after Massoud was assassinated, possibly celebrating the assassination with ISI officials there (see September 9, 2001). [New Yorker, 6/10/2002] If Fahim had been immediately aware of this intelligence, it could help explain how quickly the Northern Alliance blamed the ISI.

Entity Tags: Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Northern Alliance, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The main routes al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape US and Nothern Alliance forces.The main routes al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape US and Nothern Alliance forces. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]James Risen will report in his 2006 book, State of War, there was “a secret debate within the Bush administration over how vigorously to support the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel group that had been battling the Taliban for years.” The Northern Alliance was dominated by Tajik ethnic minority in the north while the Pakistani government backed the Pashtun ethnic majority in the south. [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170] As a result, as New Yorker magazine would later note, “The initial American aim in Afghanistan had been not to eliminate the Taliban’s presence there entirely but to undermine the regime and al-Qaeda while leaving intact so-called moderate Taliban [and Pashtun] elements that would play a role in a new postwar government. This would insure that Pakistan would not end up with a regime on its border dominated by the Northern Alliance.” [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] On October 17, the Washington Post reports that the US and Pakistan are “working together to form a representative government” and Secretary of State Colin Powell says that he hopes moderate Taliban could be persuaded to join such a government. [Washington Post, 10/17/2001] As a result of these goals, US bombers are “ordered to focus their attacks on Afghan government infrastructure targets in Kabul and elsewhere, far from the battlefields in the north, and the Taliban front lines [are] left relatively unscathed.” This policy not only delays the defeat of the Taliban but also gives al-Qaeda leaders extra time to prepare their escape. However, in early November the US bombing finally begins targeting the Taliban frontlines, especially near the key northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif. The results are immediate and dramatic, allowing the Northern Alliance to conquer the capital of Kabul within days (see November 13, 2001). [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170]

Entity Tags: Pakistan, Bush administration (43), Northern Alliance, Taliban, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

The Northern Alliance, under the direction of General Dostum and with US support, manage to break through the Taliban line in Kunduz, eventually leading to the surrender of Taliban forces. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Abdul Rashid Dostum, John Walker Lindh

Timeline Tags: 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

Northern Alliance forces entering Kabul. One holds a poster of recently assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.Northern Alliance forces entering Kabul. One holds a poster of recently assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, falls to the Northern Alliance. The Taliban will abandon the rest of the country over the next few weeks. [BBC, 11/13/2001] The US and Pakistan did not want the Northern Alliance to conquer Kabul for ethnic and strategic regions. But after a change in US bombing tactics, the Taliban front line unexpectedly and suddenly collapsed, making this conquest all but inevitable (see October-Early November 2001). It is later reported that the US paid about $70 million in bribes to get dozens of Taliban leaders to surrender or change sides. This is credited with assisting the sudden collapse of Taliban forces. [Washington Times, 2/7/2002; Washington Post, 11/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Northern Alliance, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Ismail Khan.Ismail Khan. [Source: US Navy]Independent warlord Ismail Khan’s troops and other Northern Alliance fighters are reportedly ready to take back Pashtun areas from Taliban control at this time. Khan, former and future governor of Herat province and one of Afghanistan’s most successful militia leaders, later maintains that “we could have captured all the Taliban and the al-Qaeda groups. We could have arrested Osama bin Laden with all of his supporters.” [USA Today, 1/2/2002] However, according to Khan, his forces hold back at the request of the US, who allegedly do not want the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance to conquer Pashtun areas. British newspapers at the time report bin Laden is surrounded in a 30-mile area, but the conquest of Kandahar takes weeks without the Northern Alliance (see November 25, 2001). However, more reliable reports place bin Laden near Tora Bora by mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [CNN, 11/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, United States, Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Ismail Khan, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

When asked under what terms the US might be willing to accept a surrender from Taliban Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld responds: “The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders, nor are we in a position, with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners.… Any idea that those people in that town who have been fighting so viciously and who refuse to surrender should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent. They’re people who have done terrible things.… The idea of their getting out of the country and going off to make their mischief somewhere else is not a happy prospect. So my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner [by the Northern Alliance].” [US Department of Defense, 11/19/2001; London Times, 11/20/2001]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Uzbek Northern Alliance leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum meets with Mullah Faizal, the Taliban commander in Kunduz, to discuss what should be done with the Taliban’s fanatical “foreign legion.” They agree that the 5,000 Afghan Taliban fighters “would be given safe passage after surrender, but the foreign fighters would be handed over to General Dostum.” [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001] This is in line with orders from Washington, which has demanded that the foreign fighters not be freed. Top US officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have publicly opposed any plan that would allow the foreign Taliban troops to be freed in exchange for their surrender (see November 19, 2001). John Walker Lindh, an American Muslim, is among the legion of foreign fighters (see September 6, 2001). [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 10/4/2002]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, Donald Rumsfeld, Mullah Faizal, Abdul Rashid Dostum

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Northern alliance fighters retaking Qala-i-Janghi fortress.Northern alliance fighters retaking Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]After a number of survivors are discovered in the basement of the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, Northern Alliance soldiers drop artillery rockets into the basement and detonate them by fuses. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; CNN, 8/3/2002] Northern Alliance soldiers then redirect an irrigation stream into the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress where surviving Taliban soldiers are, flooding it with freezing cold water. John Walker Lindh almost drowns and suffers from hypothermia. Most of the remaining prisoners die because of the water, and throughout the basement “the stench from decaying human remains becomes particularly acute.” [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Taliban, John Walker Lindh, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

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