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Context of 'Autumn 2002: Taliban and Al-Qaeda Regrouping in Afghanistan'

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Mullah Mohammed Khaksar.Mullah Mohammed Khaksar. [Source: Amir Shah / Associated Press]High-level Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Khaksar secretly meets with CIA officials to explore cooperating with them, but the CIA is not interested. Khaksar had been the Taliban’s intelligence minister, but he recently switched posts to deputy interior minister. He is friends with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, has thousands of policemen under his command, and has solid links to intelligence sources within the Taliban. He secretly meets with US diplomats Gregory Marchese and Peter McIllwain in Peshawar, Pakistan. Marchese will later confirm the meeting took place. Khaksar says he fears the Taliban has been hijacked by the Pakistani ISI and al-Qaeda. He believes Mullar Omar has fallen under the influence of bin Laden and wants to oust him. Khaksar later claims he told them that he was worried about al-Qaeda because “one day they would do something in the world, but everything would be on the head of Afghanistan.” The diplomats pass his offer to Washington (though it is unknown if it was relayed to high-level officials or not). Khaksar soon receives a letter back rejecting his offer. The letter is later shown to the Associated Press, and states, in part, “We don’t want to make mistakes like we made in the holy war [in the 1980s]. We gave much help and it later went against us.” [Associated Press, 6/9/2002; Guardian, 6/11/2002] Khaksar later says he did provide the CIA with information on two or three other occasions before 9/11, but it is not known if this takes place before or after this meeting. Starting in 1997, he also keeps a regular secret dialogue with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The Northern Alliance’s foreign minister will note after 9/11 that Khaksar was in “constant contact” with Massoud until 9/11, giving him a steady stream of valuable information. [Knight Ridder, 11/29/2001; Washington Post, 11/30/2001] After 9/11, the US will show no interest in Khaksar’s intelligence about the Taliban (see Between September 12 and Late November 2001 and February 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Mullah Mohammed Khaksar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Reclusive top Taliban leader Mullah Omar says the Taliban would like to resolve the Osama bin Laden issue, so there can be “an easing and then lifting of UN sanctions that are strangling and killing the people of [Afghanistan].” [United Press International, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The US is not interested in help from a high-level Taliban informant. Mullah Mohammed Khaksar was the Taliban’s intelligence minister and is currently their deputy interior minister. He is in charge of security in the Afghan capital of Kabul and regularly meets with other high ranking Taliban leaders. But since 1997, he has also been secretly providing a steady stream of intelligence to the Northern Alliance, the enemies of the Taliban. Further, he had offered to help the US defeat the Taliban, and several times before 9/11 CIA agents disguised as journalists visited him to solicit inside information (see April 1999). [Washington Post, 11/30/2001] However, in the weeks after 9/11, he passes letters to get in contact with US intelligence, but never hears back from them. Time magazine will later report, “Khaksar said he was ready to pass on information that might lead to the capture of the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar and to some al-Qaeda hideouts in Afghanistan. But he waited days, weeks, months, and nobody contacted him.” [Time, 2/25/2002] Finally in late November 2001, he will publicly defect to the Northern Alliance, thus ending his ability to get real-time information on the movements of Omar and others. [Knight Ridder, 11/29/2001] The US will continue to remain uninterested in what Khaksar has to say (see February 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, Mullah Omar, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Mullah Mohammed Omar.Mullah Mohammed Omar. [Source: CBC]The US allegedly locates former Taliban leader Mullah Omar and 1,500 of his soldiers in the remote village of Baghran, Afghanistan. After a six-day siege, and surrounded by US helicopters and troops, Omar and four bodyguards supposedly escape the dragnet in a daring chase on motorcycles over dirt roads. His soldiers are set free in return for giving up their weapons, in a deal brokered by local leaders. Yet it remains unclear if Omar was ever in the village in the first place. [Observer, 1/6/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Military spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem says, “We’re going to stop chasing… the shadows of where we thought [bin Laden and Mullah Omar were] and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. The job is not complete and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al-Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, we are casting a wide net—a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.” This announcement comes just two days after reports that Mullah Omar escaped an encirclement near Kandahar and fled into the nearby hills (see January 6, 2002). [Reuters, 1/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Abu Nidal, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar.Mullah Mohammed Khaksar. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Time magazine reports the CIA is still not interested in talking to Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, easily the highest ranking Taliban defector. Khaksar was the Taliban’s deputy interior minister, which put him in charge of vital security matters. He was secretly giving the Northern Alliance intelligence on the Taliban since 1997, and he had sporadic and mostly unsuccessful efforts trying to give information to the US while he still worked for the Taliban (see April 1999 and Between September 12 and Late November 2001). In late November 2001, he defected to the Northern Alliance and was given an amnesty due to his secret collaboration with them. He continues to live in his house in Kabul after the defeat of the Taliban, but is unable to get in contact with US intelligence. In February 2002, Time magazine informs US officials that Khaksar wants to talk, but two weeks later the magazine will report that he still has not been properly interviewed. [Time, 2/25/2002] The US may be reluctant to speak to him because much of what he has to say seems to be about al-Qaeda’s links with the Pakistani ISI, and the US is now closely working with Pakistan. Time magazine reports, “The little that Khaksar has divulged to an American general and his intelligence aide—is tantalizing.… He says that the ISI agents are still mixed up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” and that the three groups have formed a new political group to get the US out of Afghanistan. He also says that “the ISI recently assassinated an Afghan in the Paktika province who knew the full extent of ISI’s collaboration with al-Qaeda.” [Time, 2/19/2002] He will similarly comment to journalist Kathy Gannon that bin Laden’s foreign fighters in Afghanistan “were all protected by the Taliban leadership, but their money and instructions came direction from Pakistan’s ISI.” [Gannon, 2005, pp. 161] Khaksar will continue to live in Afghanistan until early 2006, when he is apparently assassinated by the Taliban. [Washington Post, 1/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Mullah Omar, Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan


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

With the US having diverted much of their best troops and equipment to Iraq, the Taliban and al-Qaeda begin regrouping inside Afghanistan. In August 2002, it is reported that former Taliban head Mullah Omar has secretly returned to Afghanistan and is living in remote hideouts near Kandahar. [Guardian, 8/30/2002] In September, US intelligence officials say “al-Qaeda operatives who found refuge in Pakistan are starting to regroup and move back into Afghanistan… The movement back into Afghanistan is still relatively small and involves al-Qaeda members traveling in small groups, the officials say.… American officials say the world’s largest concentrations of al-Qaeda operatives are now in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the recent influx into Afghanistan is creating new dangers.” [New York Times, 9/10/2002] In December, a United Nations report claims that al-Qaeda training camps have recently been reactivated in Afghanistan, and new volunteers are making their way to the camps. While the new camps are basic, they are said to be “increasing the long-term capabilities of the al-Qaeda network.” [Associated Press, 12/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, United Nations, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Map of Afghanistan, showing areas of control by various warlords and factions.Map of Afghanistan, showing areas of control by various warlords and factions. [Source: ABC News]In May 2002, the commander of British forces in Afghanistan declared that the war in Afghanistan would be over within weeks (see May 8, 2002). The perception amongst many in the US is that the war is over. However, it appears that US leaders begin to believe the war is going to last longer and be more difficult than previously believed. On October 8, the US ambassador says, “The war is certainly not over. Military operations are continuing, especially in the eastern part of the country and they will continue until we win.” Most of the country is controlled by warlords who are now being supplied with weapons and money by the US government. [Daily Telegraph, 10/8/2002] On November 8, 2002, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard B. Myers says of Afghanistan, “I think in a sense we’ve lost a little momentum there, to be frank. They’ve made lots of adaptations to our tactics, and we’ve got to continue to think and try to out-think them and to be faster at it.” [Washington Post, 11/8/2002] A few days after Myers’ remarks, Time magazine reports, “The fear of failure in Afghanistan has lately prompted some hard new thinking in both Washington and Kabul. General Myers’ candid remarks to the Brookings Institution suggests the Pentagon is trying to be more creative in its pursuit of stability in Afghanistan.” One strategy is to put more resources into reconstruction. [Time, 11/11/2002]

Entity Tags: United States, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

US commanders have rejected as too risky many special operations missions to attack Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. After Army Green Beret A-Teams received good intelligence on the whereabouts of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, commanders turned down the missions as too dangerous. Soldiers traced the timidity to an incident in June 2002 called Operation Full Throttle, which resulted in the death of 34 civilians. [Washington Times, 12/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar, United States

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

When asked to comment on the current situation in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld replies, “It is encouraging. They have elected a government through the Loya Jirga process. The Taliban are gone. The al-Qaeda are gone.” [CNN, 12/18/2002] In May 2003, Rumsfeld will prematurely declare that the conflict in Afghanistan is over (see May 1, 2003).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announces that the 8,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan have ended major combat operations there and will now shift their focus to rebuilding the country. The US talks about reducing the number of troops in 2004 and replacing them with newly trained Afghan soldiers. Rumsfeld’s announcement comes on the same day that President Bush declares that combat operations have ended in Iraq (see May 1, 2003). Rumsfeld says that small-scale combat operations will continue to mop up pockets of Taliban and al-Qaeda resistance. [Washington Post, 5/2/2003] Over two years later, in June 2005, the New York Times will report that despite periodic predictions of the Taliban’s collapse, recent intense fighting “reveals the Taliban to be still a vibrant fighting force supplied with money, men and weapons.” While the Taliban may not be able to hold ground in the “almost forgotten war,” they have enough personnel and weapons to “continue their insurgency indefinitely” and render parts of the country ungovernable. [New York Times, 6/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Classified US documents later found by reporters (see April 10, 2006) but dating from this time suggest that the Taliban is planning to attack US troops from bases inside Pakistan with the acquiescence or even support of elements within the Pakistani government. For instance, an August 2004 presentation accuses Pakistan of making “false and inaccurate reports of border incidents.” A document from early 2005 mentions that the US military is attempting to stop the flow of weapons to the Taliban from Pakistan and stop infiltration routes from Pakistan. Another document includes a US military commander commenting, “Pakistani border forces [should] cease assisting cross border insurgent activities.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006] Later in 2005, a report by Congress’ research arm will echo these concerns, stating, “Among the most serious sources of concern is the well-documented past involvement of some members of the Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organization with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the possibility that some officers retain sympathies with both groups.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Pakistan, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A close up of one of the maps showing the location of al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan. AQ stands for al-Qaeda and TB stands for Taliban.A close up of one of the maps showing the location of al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan. AQ stands for al-Qaeda and TB stands for Taliban. [Source: ABC News]Classified files stolen from a US army base in Afghanistan and sold in a local market that date from this time include maps marking the location of al-Qaeda training camps and leaders in Pakistan. One map shows the location of four al-Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border. This map also shows the location in Pakistan of al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Other maps and documents indicate 16 al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan. This includes Mullah Omar, the top Taliban leader. But bin Laden is not mentioned. [ABC News, 6/22/2006] One document dated October 2004 indicates two of the Taliban’s main leaders, Mullah Akhter Osmani and Mullah Obaidullah, are in Pakistan, while top leader Mullah Omar and four others are in southern Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

US officials will later claim that Osama bin Laden begins living in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2006. However, one of bin Laden’s wives will later be more specific and say that bin Laden and his family move to the Abbottabad compound near the end of 2005. (She also will claim they lived in a nearby town for two and a half years prior to that (see 2003-Late 2005).) Bin Laden and members of his family will hide inside the Abbottabad compound for five years until he is killed there in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011; New York Times, 6/23/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Small flash computer drives for sale in a bazaar just outside the Bagram US military base.Small flash computer drives for sale in a bazaar just outside the Bagram US military base. [Source: NBC]The Los Angeles Times reveals that stolen computer drives containing important classified information can be purchased cheaply at the local bazaar just outside the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Shop owners at the bazaar say a variety of Afghan menial workers at the base continually sell them equipment stolen from inside the base. The drives had been sold cheaply as used equipment and only recently did a reporter discover some of them contained classified information. The drives purchased by reporters include:
bullet Deployment rosters that identify about 700 US soldiers and their social security numbers.
bullet Maps showing the locations of Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan (see January 2005).
bullet Presentations that name suspected militants targeted or “kill or capture.”
bullet A list of officials in the Afghan government profiting from the illegal drug trade (see Early 2005).
bullet Documents and maps suggest the Taliban are staging attacks from across the Pakistan border with Pakistani support (see Late 2004-Early 2005).
bullet A classified briefing about capabilities of a special radar used to find where mortar rounds have been fired, including a map of where the radar was deployed in Iraq in March 2004.
bullet A January 2005 presentation identifying a dozen Afghan governors and police chiefs as “problem makers” involved in kidnappings, support for the Taliban, and/or attacks on US troops.
bullet Discussions of US efforts to “remove” or “marginalize” problematic Afghan officials. One governor on the list was removed from his post in December 2005 after he was caught with almost 20,000 pounds of opium in his office. But President Hamid Karzai then appointed him to Afghanistan’s upper parliament. [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006]
bullet Some psychological operations are detailed, including attempts to manage the Afghan media. For instance, one list contains the item, “Prepare radio news stories for local stations highlighting Afghan National Police support.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/12/2006]
bullet “Scores of military documents marked ‘secret,’ describing intelligence-gathering methods and information.”
bullet The names, photographs, and telephone numbers of Afghan spies informing on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Some spies are described as having networks of informants working for them.
bullet Descriptions of meetings of Taliban commanders held in Pakistan.
bullet A file describing the layout of a US Special Forces base in Afghanistan complete with photographs of its perimeter and procedures for defending the base if attacked. [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] The US immediately launches an investigation into the security breach. One US official says, “We’re obviously concerned that certain sources or assets have been compromised.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] Several days after the first press reports, US soldiers buy up every computer drive from the bazaar that they can find, presumably to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. But within two weeks, there are plenty of drives for sale again, some containing classified information. One shopkeeper says he had been selling pilfered US military computer drives for four years: “I may have sold thousands of [them] since I have come and opened this shop.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/25/2006] A month after the security breach was first reported, shopkeepers at the bazaar say they still receive goods from inside the US base, but not at the rate they once did. [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Los Angeles Times, Taliban, Hamid Karzai

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

In October 2007, Fox News military commentator Col. David Hunt claims that in August 2007, the US military had a chance to kill Osama bin Laden, but did not. “We know, with a 70 percent level of certainty—which is huge in the world of intelligence” that bin Laden was in a convoy heading south from Tora Bora. He claims that bin Laden was seen on satellite imagery and heard through communications intercepts. “We had the world’s best hunters/killers—SEAL Team 6—nearby. We had the world class Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating with the CIA and other agencies. We had unmanned drones overhead with missiles on their wings; we had the best Air Force on the planet, begging to drop one on the terrorist.” But, “[u]nbelievably, and in my opinion, criminally, we did not kill Osama bin Laden.” He blames risk-aversion and incompetence for the failure to act. His account has not been corroborated by other sources. [Fox News, 10/23/2007]

Entity Tags: Joint Special Operations Command, US Military, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, David Hunt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

As the Democratic Party’s nominee for US president, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is given his first classified intelligence briefing. The briefing includes information on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that Obama already is under the impression that bin Laden has to be hiding in Pakistan, and the briefing solidifies that view. The official says, “What I remember in terms of the aftermath of that briefing and into the transition was just how much the focus became on Pakistan.” [Reuters, 5/12/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US intelligence, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2008 Elections

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik says in an interview that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders are not in Pakistan, so US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region are futile. Malik says: “If Osama was in Pakistan we would know, with all the thousands of troops we have sent into the tribal areas in recent months.… If he and all these four or five top people were in our area they would have been caught, the way we are searching.… According to our information Osama is in Afghanistan, probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar.” He adds that US drone strikes are hitting mid-level militants at best, and are “counterproductive because they are killing civilians and turning locals against our government. We try to win people’s hearts, then one drone attack drives them away.” [London Times, 7/12/2009] Malik’s statement about bin Laden not being in Pakistan is not consistent with the facts (see January 2005, Late 2005-Early 2006, August 2007, September 2008, and May 2, 2011).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Rehman Malik

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone.Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone. [Source: Reuters] (click image to enlarge)Osama bin Laden is shot and killed inside a secured private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US government sources. The operation is carried out by US Navy SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The covert operation takes place at 1:00 a.m. local time (+4:30GMT). Two US helicopters from bases in Afghanistan fly low over the compound in Abbottabad, and 30 to 40 SEALs disembark and storm the compound. According to White House sources, bin Laden and at least four others are killed. The team is on the ground for only 40 minutes; most of that time is spent searching the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans. The helicopters are part of the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, itself a detachment from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA oversees the operation, but the operation is tasked to, and carried out by, Special Forces. When President Obama announces bin Laden’s death, he says: “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Justice has been done.” Of the soldiers that eliminated bin Laden, and the other military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere, Obama says: “We are reminded that we are fortunate to have Americans who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are there every day on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed.” The members of Team Six are never identified, and it is unlikely their names will ever be made public. [CNN News, 5/1/2011; ABC News, 5/2/2011] Bin Laden is said to have ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other al-Qaeda strikes against American and Western targets. In a 1997 CNN interview, he declared “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the US. He had been number one on American military and law enforcement “Most Wanted” lists well before the 9/11 attacks. [CNN News, 5/1/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Department of the Navy, Obama administration, Al-Qaeda, Leon Panetta, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Joint Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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