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Context of 'Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001: US-Allied Afghan Warlords Help Bin Laden Escape Tora Bora'

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Mohamed Harkat.Mohamed Harkat. [Source: CBC]In February 1997, Mohamed Harkat, an Islamic militant living in Canada who is being monitored by Canadian intelligence (CSIS), contacts a person in Pakistan whom he refers to as Haji Wazir. Harkat asks him about Ibn Khattab, a warlord in Chechnya linked to al-Qaeda, and other people linked to Islamic militancy. Canadian intelligence is monitoring the call. In October 1997, Harkat is interviewed by Canadian intelligence and he tells them he has a banker friend named Haji Wazir and that he has deposited some money in Wazir’s bank. Canadian intelligence will later comment in court documents that Haji Wazir is another name for Pacha Wazir (haji is an honoric for someone who has been on the haj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca), and that Wazir is a “shadowy financial kingpin from the United Arab Emirates.… Wazir was the main money-handler for Osama Bin Laden.” Furthermore, Harkat is involved with terrorist financing for Khattab and al-Qaeda in association with Wazir. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file] Presumably Wazir becomes known to Western intelligence agencies at this time, if he is not known already, but no country will take any action against him until one year after 9/11 (see Late September 2002).

Entity Tags: Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Ibn Khattab, Mohamed Harkat, Pacha Wazir, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Hazrat Ali.Hazrat Ali. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, warlords in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, both later claim that they are first approached in the middle of November by US officers and asked to take part in an attack on Tora Bora. They agree. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] By late November, the US-allied warlords assemble a motley force of about 2,500 Afghans supported by a fleet of old Russian tanks at the foot of the Tora Bora mountains. They are poorly equipped and trained and have low morale. The better-equipped Taliban and al-Qaeda are 5,000 feet up in snow-covered valleys, forests, and caves. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] On December 3, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor overhears Ali in a Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hotel making a deal to give three al-Qaeda operatives safe passage out of the country. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The US chooses to rely mainly on Hazrat Ali’s forces for the ground offensive against Tora Bora. Ali supposedly pays one of his aides $5,000 to block the main escape routes to Pakistan. But in fact this aide helps Taliban and al-Qaeda escape along these routes. Afghan villagers in the area later even claim that they took part in firefights with fighters working for Ali’s aide who were providing cover to help al-Qaeda and Taliban escape. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Author James Risen later claims, “CIA officials are now convinced that Hazrat Ali’s forces allowed Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants to flee Tora Bora into Pakistan. Said a CIA source, ‘We realized those guys just opened the door. It wasn’t a big secret.’” While the US will never publicly blame Ali for assisting in the escape, the CIA will internally debate having Ali arrested by the new Afghan government. But this idea will be abandoned and Ali will become the new strongman in the Jalalabad region. [Risen, 2006, pp. 168-169] CIA official Michael Scheuer later will comment, “Everyone who was cognizant of how Afghan operations worked would have told Mr. Tenet that [his plan to rely on Afghan warlords] was nuts. And as it turned out, he was.… The people we bought, the people Mr. Tenet said we would own, let Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Michael Scheuer, Hazrat Ali, Al-Qaeda, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Haji Zaman Ghamsharik  speaking to reporters on December 16, 2001.Haji Zaman Ghamsharik speaking to reporters on December 16, 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]US-allied warlord Haji Zaman Ghamsharik makes radio contact with some al-Qaeda commanders in Tora Bora and offers a cease-fire so bin Laden can negotiate a surrender. The other US-allied warlord, Hazrat Ali, is also in secret talks with al-Qaeda and acquiesces to the deal. The US military is reportedly furious, but the fighting stops for the night. US intelligence later concludes that about 800 al-Qaeda fighters escape Tora Bora that night during the cease fire. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other rival Afghan commanders in the area later accuse Ghamsharik of accepting a large bribe from al-Qaeda so they can use the cease fire to escape. [New York Times, 9/30/2002] There are other accounts that the US-allied warlords helped instead of hindered al-Qaeda (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, Hazrat Ali, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections

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