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Context of 'Autumn 1998: US Intelligence Aware of ‘Unholy Alliance’ between ISI, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda'

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By this time, US intelligence has documented many links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. It is discovered that the ISI maintains about eight stations inside Afghanistan which are staffed by active or retired ISI officers. The CIA has learned that ISI officers at about the colonel level regularly meet with bin Laden or his associates to coordinate access to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The CIA suspects that the ISI is giving money and/or equipment to bin Laden, but they find no evidence of direct ISI involvement in al-Qaeda’s overseas attacks. The ISI generally uses the training camps to train operatives to fight a guerrilla war in the disputed Indian province of Kashmir. But while these ISI officers are following Pakistani policy in a broad sense, the CIA believes the ISI has little direct control over them. One senior Clinton administration official will later state that it was “assumed that those ISI individuals were perhaps profiteering, engaged in the drug running, the arms running.” One US official aware of CIA reporting at this time later comments that Clinton’s senior policy team saw “an incredibly unholy alliance that was not only supporting all the terrorism that would be directed against us” but also threatening “to provoke a nuclear war in Kashmir.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 439-440]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Nawaz Sharif meeting with US Defense Secretary William Cohen at the Pentagon on December 3, 1998.Nawaz Sharif meeting with US Defense Secretary William Cohen at the Pentagon on December 3, 1998. [Source: US Department of Defense]Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes to Washington to meet with President Clinton and other top Clinton administration officials. The number one issue for Clinton is Pakistan’s nuclear program, since Pakistan had recently illegally developed and exploded a nuclear weapon (see May 28, 1998). The second most important issue is Pakistan’s economy; the US wants Pakistan to support free trade agreements. The third most important issue is terrorism and Pakistan’s support for bin Laden. Author Steve Coll will later note, “When Clinton himself met with Pakistani leaders, his agenda list always had several items, and bin Laden never was at the top. Afghanistan’s war fell even further down.” Sharif proposes to Clinton that the CIA train a secret Pakistani commando team to capture bin Laden. The US and Pakistan go ahead with this plan, even though most US officials involved in the decision believe it has almost no chance for success. They figure there is also little risk or cost involved, and it can help build ties between American and Pakistani intelligence. The plan will later come to nothing (see October 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 441-444]

Entity Tags: Nawaz Sharif, Clinton administration, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet tells a closed session of Congress, “We have seen numerous reports that bin Laden and his associates are planning terrorist attacks against US officials and facilities in a variety of locations, including in the US.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 454] However, six months later and after a well-publicized attempted al-Qaeda attack on the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), he will not mention in an open session that bin Laden has the capability to stage attacks inside the US (see February 2, 2000).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Congress, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA readies an operation to capture or kill bin Laden, secretly training and equipping approximately 60 commandos from the Pakistani ISI. Pakistan supposedly agrees to this plan in return for the lifting of economic sanctions and more economic aid. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Pakistan proposed the plan in December 1998 (see December 2, 1998). US officials were said to be “deeply cynical” of the plan, knowing that Pakistani intelligence was allied with bin Laden (see Autumn 1998). They figured that if Pakistan really wanted bin Laden captured or killed, they could just tell the US when and where he would be, but Pakistan never revealed this kind of information. But the US went ahead with the plan anyway, figuring it held little risk and could help develop intelligence ties with Pakistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444] After months of training, the commando team is almost ready to go by this month. However, the plan is aborted because on October 12, General Musharraf takes control of Pakistan in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ties to use the commando team to protect himself during the coup, but the team dissolves rather than fight on what they judge to be the losing side. Musharraf refuses to reform the team or continue any such operation against bin Laden despite the promise of substantial rewards. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444, 478-480] Some US officials later say the CIA was tricked, that the ISI just feigned to cooperate as a stalling tactic, and never intended to get bin Laden. [New York Times, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaz Sharif, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. [Source: Government of Pakistan]Gen. Pervez Musharraf becomes leader of Pakistan in a coup, ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. One major reason for the coup is the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) felt Sharif had to go “out of fear that he might buckle to American pressure and reverse Pakistan’s policy [of supporting] the Taliban.” [New York Times, 12/8/2001] Shortly thereafter, Musharraf replaces the leader of the ISI, Brig Imtiaz, because of his close ties to the previous leader. Imtiaz is arrested and convicted of “having assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.” It is later revealed that he was keeping tens of millions of dollars earned from heroin smuggling in a Deutsche Bank account. [Financial Times, 8/10/2001] Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, a close ally of Musharraf, is instrumental in the success of the coup. Ahmed actually secured the capital and detained Sharif, but then honored the chain of command and stepped aside so Musharraf, as head of the military, could take over. Ahmed is rewarded by being made the new director of the ISI. [Guardian, 10/9/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 504-505]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Deutsche Bank, Mahmood Ahmed, Brig Imtiaz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Karl Inderfurth.Karl Inderfurth. [Source: Harikrishna Katragadda Mint]Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, accompanied by State Department counterterrorism expert Michael Sheehan, visits Pakistan, shortly after Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Inderfurth meets with Musharraf, and is disappointed with Musharraf’s reluctance to take any action against al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is living openly in the Pakistani town of Peshawar, and the previous month was implicated in an attempted bomb plot in Jordan (see November 30, 1999). A number of intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s communications (see October 1998 and After), and one of his top aides, Khalil Deek, appears to be a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). There are allegations that the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency has been protecting Zubaida (see 1998-2001). Musharraf indicates to Inderfurth that he is unwilling to act on US intelligence about Zubaida. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam will later say: “The Pakistanis told us they could not find him, even though everyone knew where he was. The ISI just turned a blind eye to his activities.” In fact, there is evidence Zubaida was working with the ISI, helping them vet and train militants to later fight in the disputed region of Kashmir (see 1998-2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] Musharraf also tells Inderfurth that he is unwilling to support any program to capture Osama bin Laden, as his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, had been willing to do (see October 1999). And asked to pressure the Taliban, Musharraf sends ISI Director Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mahmood is well known to be a supporter of the Taliban, so his visit is considered an empty gesture. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] Robert Einhorn, a specialist on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Clinton administration, does not go on the trip. Inderfurth will later say Einhorn’s absence showed a lack of interest by the administration in non-proliferation: “The fact that Mike [Sheehan] was included and Bob left out showed our priorities at that time. Our agenda was counterterrorism, al-Qaeda, and democracy. We had somehow divorced these from the nuclear threat and A. Q. Khan.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 292]

Entity Tags: Robert Einhorn, Pervez Musharraf, Michael Sheehan, Abu Zubaida, Osama bin Laden, Karl Inderfurth, Mahmood Ahmed, Khalil Deek, William Milam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate committee in open session that bin Laden “wants to strike further blows against America.” He points out the close links between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and says this is part of an “intricate web of alliances among Sunni extremists worldwide, including North Africans, radical Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Central Asians.” He points out ties between drug traffickers and the Taliban and says, “There is ample evidence that Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden use profits from the drug trade to support their terror campaign.” But there is no mention of Pakistan’s support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite CIA knowledge of this (see Autumn 1998). Instead, he claims Iran is “the most active state sponsor” of terrorism. Additionally, he does not mention that bin Laden is capable of planning attacks inside the US, even though he told that to Congress in a closed session six months earlier (see June 24, 1999). [Senate, 2/2/2000]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, US Congress, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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