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Context of 'Early 2005: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Cancels Mission to Capture Al-Zawahiri in Pakistan'

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorizes the creation of a “special-access program,” or SAP, with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets in the Bush administration’s war on terror.” The operation, known as “Copper Green,” is approved by Condoleezza Rice and known to President Bush. A SAP is an ultra secret project, the contents of which are known by very few officials. “We’re not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,” a former senior intelligence official tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. The SAP is brought up occasionally within the National Security Council (NSC), chaired by the president and members of which are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Powell. The former intelligence official tells Hersh, “There was a periodic briefing to the National Security Council giving updates on results, but not on the methods.” He also says he believes NSC members know about the process by which these results are acquired. This official claims that fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers were “completely read into the program.” Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone is generally in charge of running such operations. Motive for the SAP comes from an initial freeze in the results obtained by US agents from their hunt for al-Qaeda. Friendly foreign intelligence services on the other hand, from countries in the Middle East and South-East Asia, which employ more aggressive tactics on prisoners, are giving up much better information by the end of 2001. By authorizing the SAP, Rumsfeld, according to Hersh, desires to adopt these tactics and thus increase intelligence results. “Rumsfeld’s goal was to get a capability in place to take on a high-value target—a stand-up group to hit quickly,” the former intelligence official tells Hersh. The program’s operatives were recruited from among Delta Force, Navy Seals, and CIA’s paramilitary experts. They are permitted to carry out “instant interrogations—using force if necessary—at secret CIA detention centers scattered around the world.” Information obtained through the program is sent to the Pentagon in real-time. The former intelligence official tells Hersh: “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” The operation, according to Seymour Hersh, “encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation.” [New Yorker, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 9/13/2004] Both the Defense Department and CIA deny the existence of Copper Green. One Pentagon spokesman says of Hersh’s article about it, “This is the most hysterical piece of journalist malpractice I have ever observed.” [CNN, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, Richard B. Myers, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Operation Copper Green

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence learns through communications intercepts about a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in Bajaur, in the remote border regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan (one account says the meeting is in nearby North Waziristan instead). Intelligence officials have an “80 percent confidence” that al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri and/or other top al-Qaeda leaders are attending the meeting. One intelligence official involved in the operation says, “This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen” about a high-value target. [New York Times, 7/8/2007; Newsweek, 8/28/2007; New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Size of US Force Grows - The original plan calls for cargo planes to carry 30 Navy Seals near the target, then they will use motorized hang gliders to come closer and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. The plan is enthusiastically endorsed by CIA Director Porter Goss and Joint Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Stephen Cambone are uncertain. They increase the size of the force to 150 to take care of contingencies. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] One senior intelligence official involved later says for effect, “The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
"Frenzied" Debate - But even as US special forces are boarding C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan, there are “frenzied exchanges between officials at the Pentagon, Central Command, and the CIA about whether the mission was too risky.” Some CIA officials in Washington even try to give orders to execute the raid without informing US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, who apparently is often opposed to such missions. [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Rumsfeld Gives Up Without Asking - Having decided to increase the force, Rumsfeld then decides he couldn’t carry out such a large mission without Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s permission. But with the cargo planes circling and the team waiting for a green light, Rumsfeld decides that Musharraf would not approve. He cancels the mission without actually asking Musharraf about it. It is unclear whether President Bush is informed about the mission. The New York Times will later report that “some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units” are frustrated at the decision to cancel the operation, saying the US “missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007] It is not clear why the US does not hit the meeting with a missile fired from a Predator drone instead, as they will do to kill an al-Qaeda leader inside Pakistan a couple of months later (see May 8, 2005).

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, US Special Forces, Porter J. Goss, Pervez Musharraf, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ryan C. Crocker, Central Intelligence Agency, Navy Seals, Donald Rumsfeld, Stanley A. McChrystal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The CIA launches a missile from a remotely piloted Predator drone and kills al-Qaeda leader Haitham al-Yemeni. He is killed in a village in northwest Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. He had been tracked since attending a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders a few months earlier (see Early 2005). [ABC News, 5/13/2005; New York Times, 7/8/2007] US intelligence officials say they were hoping al-Yemeni would lead them to bin Laden, but after al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi was captured in early May 2005, they worried al-Yemeni would go into hiding and decided to kill him instead. Officials claim that al-Yemeni was going to replace al-Libbi as al-Qaeda’s operations leader. However, little is known about him (including his real name since al-Yemeni means “from Yemen”), and he is not listed in either the FBI or Pakistani “Most Wanted” list. There are no prior media mentions of his name and no publicly released photographs of him either. [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] One anonymous US intelligence source disputes claims that al-Yemeni was high-ranking. [CNN, 5/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Haitham al-Yemeni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US Special Operations and CIA paramilitary forces more than quadruple the number of clandestine kill or capture raids they carry out in Afghanistan. The secret teams carry out 90 raids in November as compared to 20 in May, according to US officials. The Los Angeles Times reports that top commander General Stanley McChrystal orders the change in US military strategy, which intensifies Special Operations missions and shifts away from hunting al-Qaeda leaders to targeting mid-level Taliban commanders. Black operations teams involved in the missions reportedly include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs’ Team Six, working together with CIA paramilitary units. [Los Angeles Times, 12/16/2009] These special units fall under the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive structure formerly headed by McChrystal (see May 11, 2009).

Entity Tags: US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Joint Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Stanley A. McChrystal, Taliban, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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