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a.k.a. Mullah Mohammed Omar, Mohammed Omar, Amir al-Mu'minin
By early 1994, many people in Afghanistan have become fed up with widespread corruption and violence between warlords fighting for power. The Taliban starts as a small militia force near the town of Kandahar. It is led by Mullah Omar, a former mujaheddin fighter who preaches and teaches in a small remote village. Feeding on discontent, the Taliban’s popularity rapidly grows. (Coll 2004, pp. 285) The Pakistani ISI takes an interest in their success. Journalist Steve Coll will later comment, “There was a meeting at ISI headquarters with some of the early leaders of the Taliban—not Mullah Omar, but some of his aides—and the ISI chief in the late autumn of 1994.” (Coll 10/3/2006) The ISI floods them with weapons and new recruits taken from religious schools in Pakistan and soon effectively dominates the group (see October 1994 and Autumn 1994-Spring 1995). (Gannon 2005, pp. 37-39) Before long, as Coll put is, the Taliban becomes “an asset of the ISI.” (Coll 10/3/2006) Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a future president of Pakistan, is also an early supporter of the Taliban (see 1993-1994).
After the Taliban takes control of the area around Kandahar, Afghanistan, in September 1994, prominent Persian Gulf state officials and businessmen, including high-ranking United Arab Emirates and Saudi government ministers such as Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, frequently secretly fly into Kandahar on state and private jets for bird hunting expeditions. (Williams 11/18/2001) General Wayne Downing, who will later serve as one of President Bush’s counterterrorism “tsars,” says: “They would go out and see Osama, spend some time with him, talk with him, you know, live out in the tents, eat the simple food, engage in falconing, some other pursuits, ride horses.” (Mitchell 9/5/2003) One noted visitor is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai. Another is Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of the UAE. While there, some develop ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and give them money. Both Osama bin Laden and Taliban ruler Mullah Omar sometimes participate in these hunting trips. Al Maktoum allegedly hunts with bin Laden once in 1999 (see 1999). (Williams 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 120-121) On one occasion in 1999, the US will decide not to attack bin Laden with a missile because he’s bird hunting with important members of the UAE’s royal family (see February 11, 1999). US and Afghan officials suspect that the dignitaries’ outbound jets may also have smuggle out al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel. (Williams 11/18/2001) The CIA also develops suspicions that many royals use the hunting trips as cover to fly out of Afghanistan with large amounts of heroin, but they are unable to prove it (see 1998).
Relations between Taliban head Mullah Omar and bin Laden grow tense, and Omar discusses a secret deal with the Saudis, who have urged the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan. Head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal travels to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and brokers the deal. According to Turki, he seeks to have the Taliban turn bin Laden over to Saudi custody. Omar agrees in principle, but requests that the parties establish a joint commission to work out how bin Laden would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law. (Coll 2004, pp. 400-02) Note that some reports of a meeting around this time—and the deal discussed—vary dramtically from Turki’s version (see May 1996 and July 1998). If this version is correct, before a deal can be reached, the US strikes Afghanistan in August in retaliation for the US African embassy bombings (see August 20, 1998), driving Omar and bin Laden back together. Turki later states that “the Taliban attitude changed 180 degrees,” and that Omar is “absolutely rude” to him when he visits again in September (see Mid-September 1998). (Whitaker 11/5/2001; Reid 8/3/2002)
In the wake of the US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), the Taliban is under intense pressure to turn over bin Laden or face further attacks. Several days later, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar announces that he does not know where bin Laden is, except that he is no longer in Afghanistan. Journalist Kathy Gannon will later claim that the Pakistan army secretly gave bin Laden sanctuary in Pakistan at this time to ease US pressure on the Taliban. Taliban fighters traveling with bin Laden will later tell Gannon about a convoy of around 20 vehicles that brought bin Laden to Chirat, a commando training base in northwest Pakistan. He stayed there with his bodyguards and some senior Taliban leaders for several weeks. Gannon will later comment, “Mullah Omar needed some breathing space and Pakistan provided it.” (Gannon 2005, pp. 163-164)
Two days after the US missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), top Taliban leader Mullah Omar unexpectedly telephones the State Department in Washington. He talks to Michael Malinowski, office director for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs. Although Mullah Omar does not threaten the US, he suggests that the missile strikes could spark more terrorist attacks. He says the Taliban is open to the idea of establishing a secure communication channel with US officials, possibly through the US embassy in Pakistan (there is no embassy in Afghanistan). The State Department comments, “Omar’s contact with a US official is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American.” (US Department of State 8/23/1998 ; US Department of State 1/14/2002) The US then sends the Taliban some evidence of bin Laden’s militant activities (see August 23, 1998), but it appears the secure communications channel never materializes.
According to Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, he participates in a second meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar at this time. Supposedly, earlier in the year Omar made a secret deal with Turki to hand bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia (see June 1998) and Turki is now ready to finalize the deal. ISI Director Gen. Naseem Rana is at the meeting as well. But in the wake of the US missile bombing of Afghanistan (August 20, 1998), Omar yells at Turki and denies ever having made a deal. Turki leaves empty handed. (Wright 2006, pp. 244) However, other reports stand in complete contrast to this, suggesting that earlier in the year Turki colluded with the ISI to support bin Laden, not capture him (see May 1996 and July 1998).
According to US intelligence sources, Farouk Hijazi, the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, visits Afghanistan in late 1998 after US cruise missiles are fired on al-Qaeda training camps following the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Hijazi, who is also a longtime intelligence officer, meets Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and extends an offer from Baghdad to provide refuge for him and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Bin Laden reportedly rejects the offer because he doesn’t want his organization dominated by Saddam Hussein. After the 9/11 attacks, proponents of invading Iraq will claim the visit makes Hijazi a key link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Hijazi will be captured by US troops in late April 2003 after the US/British invasion of Iraq begins. (Borger 2/16/1999; Lumpkin 9/27/2001; Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; Associated Press 4/25/2003; Associated Press 7/13/2003) However, in 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that Hijazi did meet with bin Laden, but in 1995, not 1998 (see Early 1995).
After his released from an Indian prison at the end of 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999), Saeed Sheikh stays in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for several days and meets with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He also meets with bin Laden, who is said to call Saeed “my special son.” (Anson 8/2002) Saeed soon has a falling out with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar and draws closer to al-Qaeda. Based mostly in Karachi, Pakistan, he reports to al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Saeed is said to “soon [become] a key figure, especially in terms of fund-raising.” (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 286) He regularly travels to Afghanistan and helps train new al-Qaeda recruits in training camps there. (Jehl 2/25/2002; India Today 2/25/2002; Cienski 2/26/2002; McCarthy 7/16/2002) Saeed helps train some of the 9/11 hijackers, presumably in Afghanistan as well. (Bamber, Hastings, and Syal 9/30/2001) He also helps al-Qaeda develop a secure web-based communications system. His work is generally so impressive that there is talk he could one day succeed bin Laden. (O'Neill 7/16/2002; Anson 8/2002) Saeed forged a relationship while in Indian prison with Aftab Ansari, a Pakistani gangster who has fled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (see November 1994-December 1999). Thanks to this connection, Sheikh is able to establish an al-Qaeda base for himself in Dubai, UAE. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 286) Numerous 9/11 hijackers will later move through Dubai and some of the money sent to Mohamed Atta in 2001 will come from Sheikh and Ansari through Dubai (see Early August 2001). (McCarthy 2/9/2002) At the same time Saeed is strengthening his al-Qaeda ties, he is also openly working with the Pakistani ISI (see January 1, 2000-September 11, 2001).
Two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists create a charity to help the Taliban. The scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had both retired the year before after long and distinguished careers, and had both become radical Islamists. They set up a charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), purporting to conduct relief work in Afghanistan, including helping to guide the Taliban on scientific matters. A number of pro-Taliban Pakistani generals and business leaders are on the board of directors, including Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI. But not long after setting up an office in Kabul, the two scientists meet with Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, and discuss weapons development. During a later visit, Mahmood provides one of bin Laden’s associates with information on how to construct a nuclear weapon. (Frantz and Collins 2007, pp. 264-265; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 310-311) The two scientists will have a more extensive meeting with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in August 2001, and will discuss how al-Qaeda can make a radioactive weapon (see Mid-August 2001). Shortly before 9/11, the CIA will learn of this meeting (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), and also learn that UTN offered to sell a nuclear weapon to Libya, but the CIA will take no effective action against the group (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). In late 2001, the Wall Street Journal will report that “One Pakistani military analyst said it was inconceivable that a nuclear scientist would travel to Afghanistan without getting clearance from Pakistani officials and being debriefed each time. Pakistan maintains a strict watch on many of its nuclear scientists, using a special arm of the Army’s general headquarters to monitor them even after retirement.” Furthermore, a former ISI colonel says the ISI “was always aware of UTN’s activities and had encouraged Dr. Mahmoud’s Afghanistan trips. He said the ISI learned last year that Dr. Mahmoud had recently discussed nuclear matters with Mr. bin Laden, and Dr. Mahmoud agreed not to do so again.” (Pearl 12/24/2001) The US will finally freeze UTN’s assets in December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).
ISI Director and “leading Taliban supporter” Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed visits Washington. He meets officials at the CIA and the White House. In a message meant for both Pakistan and the Taliban, US officials tell him that al-Qaeda has killed Americans and “people who support those people will be treated as our enemies.” (Gellman 12/19/2001; Coll 2004, pp. 508-510) US Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering bluntly tells Mahmood, “You are in bed with those who threaten us.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 409) The US threatens to support the Northern Alliance, who are still engaged in a civil war with the Taliban. A short time later, Mahmood goes to Afghanistan and delivers this message to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. However, no actual US action, military or otherwise, is taken against either the Taliban or Pakistan. Author Steve Coll will later note that these US threats were just bluffs since the Clinton administration was not seriously considering a change of policy. (Gellman 12/19/2001; Coll 2004, pp. 508-510)
Under interrogation after 9/11, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash will claim he met some of the 9/11 hijackers at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000. Although he will not be able to recall all of them, he will say the group includes Satam Al Suqami, Waleed and Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hamza Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed. He will say he was closest to Saeed Alghamdi, whom he convinced to become a martyr and whom he asked to recruit a friend, Ahmed Alghamdi, to the same cause. However, doubts will later be expressed about the reliability of such statements from prisoners like bin Attash, due to the methods used to obtain them (see June 16, 2004) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 233-4) Al-Qaeda’s division of passports and host country issues is based at the airport and it alters passports, visas and identification cards. Some people involved in the plot will later be reported to have altered travel documents (see July 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 56 ) 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami and would-be hijacker Mushabib al-Hamlan are also said to be at the same Kandahar camp, Al Farooq, and are assigned to guard the airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 526) By the late 1990s, the Kandahar airport will become the main logistics lifeline for al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the outside world. One Ariana pilot will later recall, “I would see Arabs with [satellite] phones walking around the terminal, in touch with the Taliban at the highest levels.” On one occasion, he sees Taliban ruler Mullah Omar meeting in the middle of the airport with a rebel leader from Tajikistan, surrounded by aides. “There they were, cross-legged on their mats, chattering into cell phones.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 140) At this time, the Kandahar airport is being mainly used by Ariana Airlines, which has been completely co-opted by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and aircraft companies controlled by international arms dealer Victor Bout (see 1998).
Taliban envoy Rahmatullah Hashimi meets with reporters, middle-ranking State Department bureaucrats, and private Afghanistan experts in Washington. He carries a gift carpet and a letter from Afghan leader Mullah Omar for President Bush. He discusses turning bin Laden over, but the US wants to be handed bin Laden and the Taliban want to turn him over to some third country. A CIA official later says, “We never heard what they were trying to say. We had no common language. Ours was, ‘Give up bin Laden.’ They were saying, ‘Do something to help us give him up.’… I have no doubts they wanted to get rid of him. He was a pain in the neck.” Others claim the Taliban were never sincere. About 20 more meetings on giving up bin Laden take place up until 9/11, all fruitless. (Washington Post 10/29/2001) Allegedly, Hashimi also proposes that the Taliban would hold bin Laden in one location long enough for the US to locate and kill him. However, this offer is refused. This report, however, comes from Laila Helms, daughter of former CIA director Richard Helms. While it’s interesting that this information came out before 9/11, one must be skeptical, since Helms’ job was public relations for the Taliban. (Fard and Ridgeway 6/6/2001) Hashimi will mention to a reporter in June 2001 that he was in the US for a total of six weeks. (de Borchgrave 6/14/2001) According to one article at the time, Hashimi meets with “several senior officials from the State Department, CIA and National Security Council but also from the non-governmental organization Council on Foreign Relations.” Secretary of State Colin Powell is reportedly irate at the meetings because he had not been informed that high level officials would be meeting with Hashimi in the US. He blames CIA Director George Tenet “having laid on a red carpet for [Mullah] Omar’s adviser.” (Intelligence Newsletter 4/19/2001) Hashimi reportedly directly meets with Tenet. (Marlow 11/19/2001)
The Taliban begins blowing up two giant stone Buddhas of Bamiyan—ancient statues carved into an Afghan mountainside, which are considered priceless treasures. They face great international condemnation in response, but no longer seem to be courting international recognition. Apparently, even ISI efforts to dissuade them fail. (Elliott 8/12/2002; Elliott 8/12/2002) Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf wrote Taliban head Mullah Omar a four-page letter urging him not to blow up the statues, and the letter was secretly hand-delivered to Omar by IS Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, but the letter had no effect. (Rashid 2008, pp. 409) Omar had previously announced the statues would not be harmed and even opened a National Museum in 2000. The change in policy appears to be due to bin Laden’s growing influence. Journalist Kathy Gannon will later write, “bin Laden’s hardliner rhetoric set the policy, and he campaigned vigorously for the destruction of the statues.” The destruction of the statues further isolates the Taliban internationally, leaving them more dependent on bin Laden’s generosity. (Gannon 2005, pp. 79-81)
An Asia Times article published just prior to 9/11 claims that Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, makes a clandestine visit to Pakistan around this time. After meeting with senior army officials, he visits Afghanistan with ISI Director Mahmood. They meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar and try to convince him that the US is likely to launch an attack on Afghanistan. They insist bin Laden be sent to Saudi Arabia, where he would be held in custody and not handed over to any third country. If bin Laden were to be tried in Saudi Arabia, Abdullah would help make sure he is acquitted. Mullah Omar apparently rejects the proposal. The article suggests that Abdullah is secretly a supporter of bin Laden and is trying to protect him from harm. (Shahzad 8/22/2001) A similar meeting may also take place about a week after 9/11 (see September 19, 2001).
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].” (Waterman 4/9/2004)
United Press International (UPI) reporter Arnaud de Borchgrave interviews top Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan on June 13, 2001. The next day, in an article about the interview, de Borchgrave writes, “Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates] secretly fund the Taliban government by paying Pakistan for its logistical support to Afghanistan. Despite Pakistan’s official denials, the Taliban is entirely dependent on Pakistani aid. This was verified on the ground by UPI. Everything from bottled water to oil, gasoline and aviation fuel, and from telephone equipment to military supplies, comes from Pakistan.” (de Borchgrave 6/14/2001; Waterman 4/9/2004)
Baker Atyani, a reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company interviews bin Laden. Keeping a promise made to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, bin Laden does not say anything substantive, but Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders promise that “[the] coming weeks will hold important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world.” (Mroue 6/24/2001; Associated Press 6/25/2001) Atyani says, “There is a major state of mobilization among the Osama bin Laden forces. It seems that there is a race of who will strike first. Will it be the United States or Osama bin Laden?” (Reuters 6/23/2001) He adds, “I told my channel that his followers were telling me that the coffin business will increase in the states, the United States.” (CNN 8/23/2006) After 9/11, Aytani will conclude, “I am 100 percent sure of this, and it was absolutely clear they had brought me there to hear this message.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 236) He is also shown a several-months-old videotape in which bin Laden declares, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most.” The video is soon made public (see June 21, 2001). (CNN 6/21/2001) Author James Bamford theorizes that the original 9/11 plot involved a simultaneous attack on Israel and that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have originally wanted to target an Israeli aircraft around this time. For instance, Reid flies to Tel Aviv, Israel on July 12, 2001, to test if airline security would check his shoes for bombs. (Bamford 2004, pp. 236-39)
Three former American officials, Tom Simons (former US Ambassador to Pakistan), Karl Inderfurth (former Deputy Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs), and Lee Coldren (former State Department expert on South Asia) meet with Pakistani and Russian intelligence officers in a Berlin hotel. (Cave 8/16/2002) This is the third of a series of back-channel conferences called “brainstorming on Afghanistan.” Taliban representatives sat in on previous meetings, but boycotted this one due to worsening tensions. However, the Pakistani ISI relays information from the meeting to the Taliban. (Steele et al. 9/22/2001) At the meeting, Coldren passes on a message from Bush officials. He later says, “I think there was some discussion of the fact that the United States was so disgusted with the Taliban that they might be considering some military action.” (Leigh 9/26/2001) Accounts vary, but former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik later says he is told by senior American officials at the meeting that military action to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan is planned to “take place before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest.” The goal is to kill or capture both bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, topple the Taliban regime, and install a transitional government of moderate Afghans in its place. Uzbekistan and Russia would also participate. Naik also says, “It was doubtful that Washington would drop its plan even if bin Laden were to be surrendered immediately by the Taliban.” (Arney 9/18/2001) One specific threat made at this meeting is that the Taliban can choose between “carpets of bombs” —an invasion—or “carpets of gold” —the pipeline. (Brisard and Dasquie 2002, pp. 43) Naik contends that Tom Simons made the “carpets” statement. Simons claims, “It’s possible that a mischievous American participant, after several drinks, may have thought it smart to evoke gold carpets and carpet bombs. Even Americans can’t resist the temptation to be mischievous.” Naik and the other American participants deny that the pipeline was an issue at the meeting. (Cave 8/16/2002)
In his 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will write that on this day, “From Afghanistan came word that the Taliban intelligence chief, Qari Amadullah, was interested in establishing secret contact, outside the country and without Mullah Omar’s knowledge, “to save Afghanistan.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 156) However, it is unclear if the offer was acted upon because Tenet has nothing more to say about it. The 9/11 Commission will later report that in July a deep schism developed in the Taliban and even al-Qaeda leadership over the wisdom of going through with the 9/11 attacks. Apparently, even top Taliban leader Mullah Omar was ideologically opposed to the attacks at this time, though he may have changed his mind before 9/11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 251-252)
At around 8:00 p.m., Afghanistan time (11:30 a.m., New York time), Taliban leader Mullah Omar allegedly says, “Things have gone much further than expected.” This is according to what the New Yorker will describe as “Afghan intelligence sources” who monitor the call. (It is unclear what “Afghan intelligence sources” means, since the Taliban control nearly all of Afghanistan at this time, but it could be a reference to Northern Alliance forces; the CIA gave them equipment to monitor the Taliban (see Winter 1999-March 2000).) Omar’s comment takes place over an hour after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed, which means thousands have been killed in the attacks, not hundreds (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). An Afghan intelligence official will later say: “They were expecting a reaction. But they thought it would be a Clinton-type reaction. They didn’t anticipate the kind of revenge that occurred.” (Anderson 6/10/2002) The “Clinton-type reaction” presumably is a reference to the August 1998 missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan during the Clinton administration (see August 20, 1998).
At around 9:30 p.m., Afghanistan time (1:00 p.m., New York time), Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil holds a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claims that the 9/11 attacks did not originate from Afghanistan. He reads a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar, which claims that Osama bin Laden also was not involved: “This type of terrorism is too great for one man,” the statement says. (Anderson 6/10/2002)
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). (Baker 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. (Raghavan 11/29/2001) The US will continue to remain uninterested in what Khaksar has to say (see February 25, 2002).
Pakistani ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is periodically meeting and communicating with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar during this time. He is advising him to resist the US and not to hand over bin Laden (see September 17-18 and 28, 2001). According to journalist Kathy Gannon, he is also giving Omar and other Taliban leaders advice on how to resist the US military. Omar has almost no education and very little understanding of the Western world. Mahmood, by contrast, has just come from meetings with top officials in the US (see September 13-15, 2001). Gannon will later write that each time Mahmood visited Omar, he gave him “information about the likely next move by the United States. By then, [he] knew there weren’t going to be a lot of US soldiers on the ground. He warned Mullah Omar that the United States would be relying heavily on aerial bombardment and on the Northern Alliance.” Mahmood gives additional pointers on targets likely to be hit, command and control systems, anti-aircraft defense, what types of weapons the US will use, and so forth. (Gannon 2005, pp. 93-94) Immediately after 9/11, Mahmood had promised Pakistan’s complete support to help the US defeat the Taliban (see September 13-15, 2001).
On September 17, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed heads a six-man delegation that visits Mullah Omar in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It is reported he is trying to convince Omar to extradite bin Laden or face an immediate US attack. (Press Trust of India 9/17/2001; Bokhari 9/18/2001; Hussain 9/18/2001) Also in the delegation is Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, an ex-ISI official who appears to be one of Saeed Sheikh’s contacts in the ISI. (Press Trust of India 9/17/2001) On September 28, Mahmood returns to Afghanistan with a group of about ten religious leaders. He talks with Omar, who again says he will not hand over bin Laden. (Agence France-Presse 9/28/2001) A senior Taliban official later claims that on these trips Mahmood in fact urges Omar not to extradite bin Laden, but instead urges him to resist the US. (Gannon 2/21/2002; McGirk 5/6/2002) Another account claims Mahmood does “nothing as the visitors [pour] praise on Omar and [fails] to raise the issue” of bin Laden’s extradition. (Zielenziger and Tamayo 11/3/2001) Two Pakistani brigadier generals connected to the ISI also accompany Mahmood, and advise al-Qaeda to counter the coming US attack on Afghanistan by resorting to mountain guerrilla war. The advice is not followed. (Shazed 9/11/2002) Other ISI officers also stay in Afghanistan to advise the Taliban.
The publicly funded Voice of America (VOA), which broadcasts its radio signal throughout much of Europe and the Middle East, pulls a 12-minute interview with Taliban leader Mullah Omar after Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and senior National Security Council officials object to the broadcast. (Guardian 9/26/2001) The VOA has been attempting to exert some editorial independence ever since it was removed from State Department oversight in 1999 and placed under the oversight of a board of governors. (Guardian 9/25/2001)
'Voice of America is Not ... the Voice of the Taliban' - The VOA’s plan was to run excerpts from the interview as part of a four-minute segment on Afghan reactions to a speech by President Bush. Instead, many in the White House and elsewhere object, arguing that running such a broadcast merely gives a voice to terrorists. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher tells reporters, “We told members of the board of broadcast governors that we didn’t think it was appropriate for the Voice of America to be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban into Afghanistan and we didn’t think it was consistent with their charter.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; National Public Radio 7/23/2004) “… Its charter says that they should explain US government policy and present responsible discussion about it. We don’t consider Mullah Omar to be responsible discussion.” Unless Omar is prepared to announce the turnover of Osama bin Laden, currently under the protection of the Taliban, such an interview would provide “no news or anything newsworthy,” Boucher says. “Carrying the interview would be confusing to the millions of listeners to what is essentially a US government broadcast, paid for by the US government.” (CNN 9/25/2001) Another State Department official says, “Voice of America is not the Voice of Mullah Omar and not the Voice of the Taliban.” One VOA staffer retorts, “If this is an indication of the gag order they’re going to impose on us, we can’t do our jobs.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; National Public Radio 7/23/2004)
'We Tell the Whole Story' - VOA’s deputy director for external affairs, Joe O’Connell, says in response, “We were never going to give him an open mike.” A member of VOA’s Board of Governors, Norman Pattiz, chairman of radio conglomerate Westwood One, tells CNN that the decision not to air the broadcast was made by VOA staffers and not by the governors. (CNN 9/25/2001; York 4/21/2003) (The New York Times reports that Pattiz indicated staffers had discussed the interview but had not decided whether to suppress it.) Pattiz goes on to say: “I happen to believe that any legitimate news organization in the world would do that interview. And if the United States is going to be a proponent of a free press, it has to walk the walk.” (Barringer 9/26/2001) “A lot of people in the United States are angry and think the Voice of America is not serving their country the way we should,” says VOA spokeswoman Tara King. “They are getting the wrong impression, but we feel we are providing reliable news. The people in Afghanistan are tuning into us because they trust us, and we tell the whole story.” (Reporters' Committee for a Free Press 9/28/2001)
Mass Resignations Threatened - In a letter to the board, over 100 VOA journalists describe themselves as “deeply distressed to learn of the suppression” of Mullah Omar’s interview. “These comments were legitimate news,” the letter states. “We believe the integrity of the VOA is at stake. This censorship sets a most unfortunate precedent and damages our credibility with our worldwide audience.” (CNN 9/25/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001) Andre DeNesnera, the VOA news director, writes in an e-mail to staff: “The State Department’s decision is a totally unacceptable assault on our editorial independence, a frontal attack on our credibility. This certainly was a dark, dark day for those of us who have—for years—fought to uphold journalist ethics, balance, accuracy and fairness.” (Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001) The VOA staff threatens a public mass resignation and eventually runs a drastically edited version of the interview—“like 22 seconds” of tape, then-director Myrna Whitworth will later recall. After VOA runs the edited interview, a government spokesperson warns that the station’s “defiance” would be looked into. Whitworth will be relieved of her duties shortly thereafter and replaced, she will recall, “by a gentleman who had strong ties to the National Security Council.” When she leaves, she leaves a memo telling reporters “not to fall under the spell of self-censorship.” She exhorts journalists to “[c]ontinue to interview, anyone, anywhere.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; Hurst 9/8/2002; National Public Radio 7/23/2004)
The Voice of America radio station (VOA) prints a transcript of the recently censored interview it did with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It also airs a short excerpt from the interview. VOA did not air it on its slated broadcast date of September 21 due to objections from the US’s Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, and senior officials on the National Security Council (see September 21-26, 2001). Omar tells the interviewer that his organization is sheltering Osama bin Laden because the issue is not bin Laden, but “Islam’s prestige [and] Afghanistan’s tradition.… If we did, it means we are not Muslims… that Islam is finished.” He says that he sees the US’s war on terrorism as two conflicting promises: “One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God’s path, you can reside anywhere on this earth and will be protected.… The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled.… We are confident that no one can harm us if God is with us.” When asked what he means in his repeated statements that “America has taken the Islamic world hostage,” Omar replies: “America controls the governments of the Islamic countries. The people ask to follow Islam, but the governments do not listen because they are in the grip of the United States. If someone follows the path of Islam, the government arrests him, tortures him or kills him. This is the doing of America. If it stops supporting those governments and lets the people deal with them, then such things won’t happen. America has created the evil that is attacking it. The evil will not disappear even if I die and Osama dies and others die. The US should step back and review its policy. It should stop trying to impose its empire on the rest of the world, especially on Islamic countries.” (Guardian 9/26/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001)
ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed meets with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar on September 17-18, 2001, and again on September 28. He is supposed to encourage the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden or face immediate US attack, but in fact he encourages the Taliban to fight and resist the upcoming US invasion (see Mid-September-October 7, 2001). He is also in regular communication with Omar and other Taliban leaders, and gives them advice on how to resist the US invasion (see Mid-September-October 7, 2001). The CIA quickly learns of Mahmood’s double dealing, and informs Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf replaces Mahmood on October 7 (see October 7, 2001). But despite the ISI’s obvious double dealing, the CIA continues to heavily rely on the ISI for its intelligence about the Taliban (see November 3, 2001). (Rashid 2008, pp. 77)
Leaders of Pakistan’s two Islamic parties are negotiating bin Laden’s extradition to Pakistan to stand trial for the 9/11 attacks during this period, according to a later Mirror article. Under the plan, bin Laden will be held under house arrest in Peshawar and will face an international tribunal, which will decide whether to try him or hand him over to the US. According to reports in Pakistan (and the Daily Telegraph ), this plan has been approved by both bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. (Pilger 7/8/2002) Based on the first priority in the US’s new “war on terror” proclaimed by President Bush, the US presumably would welcome this plan. For example, Bush had just announced, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” (ABC News 9/17/2001) Yet, Bush’s ally in the war on terror, Pakistani President Musharraf, rejects the plan (stating that his reason for doing so was because he “could not guarantee bin Laden’s safety”). Based on a US official’s later statements, it appears that the US did not want the deal: “Casting our objectives too narrowly” risked “a premature collapse of the international effort [to overthrow the Taliban] if by some lucky chance Mr. bin Laden was captured.” (Pilger 7/8/2002)
An agent of the Defense Intelligence Agency sends two classified cables to various US government agencies detailing how Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) created the Taliban and helped al-Qaeda. The agent writes that during the Soviet-Afghan War, the “Pakistan government also had a hidden agenda… Pakistan decided to deliberately influence the outcome. Rather than allow the most gifted Afghan commanders and parties to flourish, who would be hard to control later, Pakistan preferred to groom the incompetent ones [because] they would be wholly reliant on Pakistan for support… Pakistan also encouraged, facilitated, and often escorted Arabs from the Middle East into Afghanistan. Eventually a special facility was constructed… with [ISI] funding.” When Ahmed Shah Mossoud captured Kabul in the early 1990s, “Pakistan could not accept this result and the fragile Afghan coalition began another civil war, with the Pakistan stooge (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) being backed to seize total power. In the end Pakistan was proved right about only one thing, Hekmatyar was incompetent. He was never able to wrest Kabul from Massoud, despite massive logistical and material (including manpower) support from Pakistan.” When Hekmatyar failed, “[Pakistan] created another force they hoped to have better control over than Hekmatyar’s rabble. It was called Taliban… To lead the Taliban Pakistan chose Mullah Mohammad (Omar), who was willing to do as he was told… Omar’s emergence is credited to Pakistan ISI actions… The fully supported (by Pakistan) Taliban prevailed over the unsupported legitimate government of Afghanistan…” (Defense Intelligence Agency 10/2/2001 ; Defense Intelligence Agency 10/2/2001 )
On the first night of the Afghan war, an unmanned Predator drone identifies a convoy of vehicles fleeing Kabul. Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, is determined to be inside this convoy. The CIA is in control of the Predator attack drone and wants to use it to kill Omar, but they have to ask for permission from military commanders who are based in Florida. General Tommy Franks decides not to fire any missiles or launch an air strike against the building in which Omar takes shelter. Eventually fighters attack and destroy the building, but by then Omar and his associates have moved on. One anonymous senior official later says of this failure to kill Omar, “It’s not a f_ckup, it’s an outrage.” According to one senior military officer, “political correctness” and/or slow bureaucratic procedures are to blame. (Hersh 10/16/2001) It is later revealed that this is part of a pattern of delays that will hinder many attacks on al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders (see Early October-Mid-November, 2001).
Ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, as part of his attempt to gather evidence that could tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, contacts the Taliban. He works with Mansoor Ijaz, a US businessman of Pakistani origin, who is a lobbyist for Pakistan in the US, an occasional Fox News commentator, and has extensive political ties in the US. Woolsey is also vice chairman of the board of Ijaz’s company. Woolsey and Ijaz work with Khalid Khawaja, a friend of Osama bin Laden and ex-ISI operative. The three plus an unnamed US journalist arrange to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on October 8. The Taliban agree to tell Woolsey about a meeting between Iraqi and al-Qaeda officials that took place in 1997, and possibly other similar information. Apparently in return they hope to avert the US invasion of Afghanistan. However, the US bombing begins on October 7, and the meeting is called off. (Sharif 2/15/2002; Huband 3/6/2003) At least part of this team will later play another behind-the-scenes role. After being given a tip that Mansoor Ijaz is connected to leading militant Muslims in Pakistan, reporter Daniel Pearl will connect with Khalid Khawaja, who in turn connects him with militant Muslims who kidnap and eventually kill him. A leading Pakistani newspaper will claim that at one point Newsweek is about to accuse Khawaja of involvement in the plot to kidnap Pearl, but Ijaz vouches for Khawaja and convinces Newsweek to pull back its accusations. (Sharif 2/15/2002; Anson 8/2002)
US special forces conduct their first two significant raids in the Afghanistan war on this day. In the first, more than a hundred Army Rangers parachute into a supposedly Taliban-controlled airbase near Kandahar. But in fact, the airbase had already been cleared by other forces, and the raid apparently is staged for propaganda purposes. Footage of the raid is shown that evening on US television. In the other raid, a combination of Rangers and Delta Force attack a house outside Kandahar occasionally used by Taliban leader Mullah Omar. This raid is publicly pronounced a success, but privately the military deems it a near-disaster. Twelve US soldiers are wounded in an ambush as they leave the compound, and neither Mullah Omar nor any significant intelligence is found at the house. Prior to these raids, top military leaders were already reluctant to use special forces for fear of casualties, but after the raids, the military is said to be even more reluctant. (Hersh 11/5/2001) Author James Risen will later note that Gen. Tommy Franks was “under intense pressure from [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld to limit the number of US troops being deployed to the country.” (Risen 2006, pp. 185) Only around three-dozen US special forces will take part in the pivotal battle for Tora Bora (see December 5-17, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later blame the failure to capture bin Laden during the war to “the abject fear of American casualties. It’s something that cuts across both [the Clinton and Bush] administrations.” (Scheuer 6/20/2006)
The Chinese internet news site Zhongxin Wang publishes a detailed account of the purported assassination of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, according to James S. Robbins, a professor of international relations at the National Defense University’s School for National Defense Studies. According to the account, both men were killed by associates at an underground base near Kandahar on October 16. The associates shot them twice in the back, and one of bin Laden’s sons and two of Omar’s were also killed. The report will be picked up by a Japanese daily and the National Review Online, which will cite some circumstantial evidence it says supports the claim. (Lopez 10/25/2001) However, both bin Laden and Mullah Omar will later be reported to have lived past this date (see, for example, November 7, 2001 and October 6, 2002).
On November 11, 2001, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar concedes defeat and orders thousands of Taliban to retreat to Pakistan. Within a week, large sections of Afghanistan are abandoned by the Taliban. The Northern Alliance, however, does not have the means or the support to occupy those areas, and warlords take effective control of most of the country. On November 19, the New York Times reports, “The galaxy of warlords who tore Afghanistan apart in the early 1990s and who were vanquished by the Taliban because of their corruption and perfidy are back on their thrones, poised to exercise power in the ways they always have.” The warlords all claim some form of loyalty to the Northern Alliance, but some of the same warlords had previously been allied with the Taliban and bin Laden. For instance, the new ruler of Jalalabad let bin Laden move from Sudan to Jalalabad in 1996. (Burns 11/15/2001; Harding 11/15/2001; Perlez 11/19/2001) For the next few weeks, there is widespread “chaos, rape, murder, and pillaging” in most of Afghanistan as old scores are settled. The Western media does little reporting on the brutality of the situation. (Harris 12/2/2001) The central Afghanistan government will later officially confirm the warlords’ positions with governor and minister titles (see June 20, 2002). In late 2005, it will be reported that warlords generally still retain their positions and power, even after regional elections. (Huggler 10/8/2005) The US made a conscious decision shortly after 9/11 not to allow peacekeepers outside of the capital city of Kabul, creating a power vacuum that was filled by the warlords (see Late 2001). Further, in some cases the US military facilitates the return of former warlords. For instance, Gul Agha Sherzai ruled the Kandahar area in the early 1990s; his rule was notorious for bribery, extortion, drug dealing, and widespread theft. Yet the US arms his militia and US Special Forces personally escort him back to Kandahar, and he will become governor of Kandahar province. (Maass 1/6/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) In 2003, Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor will look back at the US decisions in late 2001 and opine, “Perhaps the most serious tactical error was the restoration of warlords in Afghanistan. The common people were disaffected by the proteges and stooges of foreign occupiers who had carved Afghanistan into fiefdoms. Most or all of them were driven out by the Taliban and Pakistan and the remainder were on the verge of collapse or on the run.… US forces brought the warlords back, arming, financing and guiding them back to their lost thrones.” (Gizabi 2/24/2003) Journalist Kathy Gannon will later write, “At the heart of these misguided machinations was Zalmay Khalilzad, the US president’s hand-picked envoy to Afghanistan, who choreographed the early US decisions” in the country. (Gannon 2005, pp. 113)
US troops are set to land near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, Afghanistan (see November 26, 2001). (Kugler 8/19/2002) Apparently, as the noose tightens around Kandahar, Hamid Karzai, the new leader of Afghanistan, makes a deal with the Taliban. He gives them a general amnesty in return for surrender of the city. Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar is allowed to escape “with dignity” as part of the deal. However, the US says it will not abide by the deal and Karzai then says he will not let Omar go free after all. Taliban forces begin surrendering on December 7. (Baker 12/8/2001) Omar escapes.
After CIA Director George Tenet visits Pakistan and pressures the Pakistani government to take stronger action against the charity front Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) (see Early October-December 2001), the CIA learns more about the organization. The CIA was previously aware that the two prominent nuclear scientists who co-founded UTN, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and advised them on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). However, the CIA discovers that other nuclear scientists are also connected to UTN, including Mirza Yusef Beg, a former member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and Humayun Niaz, also formerly with the PAEC. At least two senior Pakistani military officers are also connected to UTN. All these men are brought in and questioned by US officials. But the CIA is unable to question two others connected to UTN, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, a nuclear physicist who worked for the PAEC as a weapons expert, and Suleiman Asad, who worked at A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) in its weapons design division. The CIA reasons that these two scientists would be the type of nuclear bomb makers bin Laden was most interested in. However, the Pakistani government claims that the two are in Burma working on a top secret project and cannot be brought back to Pakistan for questioning. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 320-321) Shortly after 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called one of the leaders of Burma and asked if the two scientists could be given asylum there. (Sanger 12/9/2001) The CIA is also interested in talking to Hamid Gul, a former ISI director and UTN’s honorary patron, but Pakistan will not allow him to be questioned either, even though he had met with Mahmood in Afghanistan around the time Mahmood met with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. As a result, the CIA is unable to learn just how much UTN could have assisted al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 320-321)
Yunus Qanooni, the interior minister of Afghanistan’s new government, accuses elements of Pakistan’s ISI of helping bin Laden and Mullah Omar escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He further asserts that the ISI are still “probably protecting” both bin Laden and Mullah Omar and “concealing their movements and sheltering leaders of Taliban and al-Qaeda.” (BBC 12/30/2001; Jehl 2/13/2002) In addition, New Yorker magazine will report in early 2002, “Some CIA analysts believe that bin Laden eluded American capture inside Afghanistan with help from elements of the [ISI].” (Hersh 1/21/2002) Another report suggests that Hamid Gul, former director of the ISI, is behind moves to help the Taliban establish a base in remote parts of Pakistan just across the Afghanistan border. Gul was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, but has remained close to Afghan groups in subsequent years and has been nicknamed the “godfather of the Taliban.” One report will later suggest that he was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 plot (see July 22, 2004). The US is said to be interested in interrogating Gul, but “because of his high profile and the ripples it would cause in the Pakistan army, this is unlikely to happen…” Yet, at the same time that the ISI is reportedly helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape, the Pakistan army is deployed to the Afghanistan border in large numbers to prevent them from escaping. (Shahzad 12/13/2001) In November 2001, it was reported that the US was continuing to rely on the ISI for intelligence about Afghanistan, a move none other than Gul publicly derided as “foolish.”(see November 3, 2001).
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. (Carroll 1/6/2002)
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)
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.” (McGirk 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. (Witte 1/15/2006)
Al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman Abu Ghaith allegedly claims that al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, plus Taliban leader Mullah Omar, are alive and well. “I want to assure Muslims that Sheik Osama bin Laden… is in good and prosperous health and all what is being rumored about his illness and injury in Tora Bora has no truth,” he says. He adds that al-Qaeda is ready to attack new targets, and says it is responsible for a recent bombing of a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia (see April 11, 2002). Although he does not explicitly say al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, he calls the attacks a “great historic victory that broke the backs of the Americans, the strongest power in this world.” The comments are made in an audiotape played on Al Jazeera. The authenticity of the recording has not been independently confirmed, and Al Jazeera does not explain how it got the recording or when it was made. (Associated Press 6/22/2002) Abu Ghaith previously issued video recordings of his statements (see October 10, 2001).
A CIA case officer tells Adam Rice, a US Special Forces operations sergeant working out of a safe house near Kandahar, Afghanistan, that a figure believed to be top Taliban leader Mullah Omar has been tracked by a Predator drone to a location in Shah-i-Kot Valley, a short flight away. Omar and the group with him would be vulnerable to a helicopter assault. However, whenever Rice’s team wants to move more than five kilometers from their safe house, they are required to file a request in advance. If fighting is involved, the request has to pass through several layers of bureaucracy, and a three-star general has to give the final okay. The process can take days, and in this case it does. The target eventually moves on before permission is given. (Thomas 8/28/2007)
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. (Harding 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.” (Risen and Filkins 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)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead, but former Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive. Karzai makes the comments in a CNN interview on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. “I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead,” Karzai says. “But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive. The more we don’t hear of him, and the more time passes, there is the likelihood that he probably is either dead or seriously wounded somewhere.” However, Mullah Omar is alive. “We know of that,” he says. “And we have come close to arresting him several times, but he’s been able to escape.” Karzai adds: “I believe he is most of the time inside Afghanistan. He could go, from time to time, toward our borders, but he stays around the Afghan area, sometimes close to the borders.” (CNN 10/6/2002)
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. (Scarborough 12/9/2002)
There are several credible sightings by CIA and military informants of top Taliban leader Mullah Omar entering a mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan. A Green Beret team located at a base just minutes away are ready to deploy to go after Omar, but each time US military commanders follow strict protocol and call in the Delta Force commando team instead. But this team is based hundreds of miles away near Kabul and it takes them several hours to arrive in Kandahar. By that time, Omar has disappeared. Apparently this is part of a pattern only allowing certain Special Forces units to go after important targets. The Washington Post will report in 2004 that any mission that takes Special Forces farther than two miles from a “firebase” requires as long as 72 hours to be approved. And on the rare occasions that such forces are authorized to act, they are required to travel in armed convoys, a practice that alerts the enemy. (Vistica 1/5/2004)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai travels to Islamabad, Pakistan, and meets with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Karzai hands Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Quetta, Pakistan, and urges Musharraf to have them arrested. The list includes the names of senior Taliban leaders Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, and Mullah Akhter Mohammed Usmani. All are believed to be in Quetta. The list is leaked to the press. The Pakistani government denounces Karzai and denies any Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. The US government declines to back the list, even though the US embassy in Kabul had helped make it. Journalist Ahmed Rashid will later explain: “The Americans were already deeply involved in Iraq and wanted no distractions such as a cat fight between the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. [The US] was unwilling to push the Pakistanis, and the Afghans were angry that the Americans had allowed Karzai’s credibility to suffer.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 246)
On July 8, 2004, the New Republic predicts a “July surprise” from the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign involving the arrest of a high-value target in Pakistan by the end of the month. The magazine reports that in the spring of 2004, the administration increased pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, all believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Bush officials such as CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his assistant, Christina Rocca, State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and others all visited Pakistan in recent months to urge Pakistan to increase its efforts in the war on terrorism. The New Republic comments, “This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November.” Bush spokespeople deny that the administration exerted any such pressure. But according to one source in the Pakistani ISI, “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the US administration to deliver before the [upcoming] US elections.” Another source in the Pakistani Interior Ministry says, “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.” And another ISI source says that the Pakistanis “have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must.” The Pakistanis have even been given a target date, according to the second ISI source: “The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ISI director Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” The source says that a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July”—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. One Pakistani general said recently, “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess [relating to A. Q. Khan] up our _sshole.” The Bush administration apparently is using a carrot-and-stick approach to make sure such an arrest takes place on schedule. The New Republic observes: “Pushing Musharraf to go after al-Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president’s reelection is at stake.” (Judis, Ackerman, and Ansari 7/29/2004) Pakistan will announce the capture of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on July 29, just hours before Democratic presidential John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The authors of the New Republic article will claim vindication for their prediction (see July 25-29, 2004).
A June 2005 Guantanamo file on a relatively low-level Taliban detainee allegedly mentions in passing a February 2005 meeting of militant leaders in Quetta, Pakistan. According to intelligence reports referred to in the file, Mullah Omar, top head of the Taliban, leads the meeting. Other high-level Taliban leaders such as Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani also attend. But most interestingly, representatives from the Pakistani government and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, are at the meeting as well. In the meeting, “Mullah Omar [tells] the attendees that they should not cooperate with the new infidel government (in Afghanistan) and should keep attacking coalition forces.” The Guantanamo file mentioning the meeting will be leaked to the public in 2011. (Joint Task Force Guantanamo 6/3/2005 ; Burke 4/25/2011)
The Pakistani government signs a little-noticed agreement with Baitullah Mahsud, the chieftain of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. Waziristan is in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, and numerous media accounts suggest that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders may be hiding out there. The deal, signed in the town of Sararogha and known as the Sararogha peace pact, prohibits forces in South Waziristan led by Abdullah Mahsud, another member of the same tribe as Baitullah Mahsud, from attacking the Pakistani army and giving shelter to foreign terrorists. However, it does not prevent these forces from attacking US troops across the border in Afghanistan. It also does not require these forces to surrender or register foreign terrorists in Waziristan. Abdullah Mahsud is a wanted fugitive in Pakistan and has pledged his loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. But as part of the deal his forces are even given some money to repay debts owed to al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants. As a result of this deal, the Pakistan army soon leaves South Waziristan entirely. A similar deal will be made with North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). The area becomes a Taliban base to attack US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. The number of Taliban attacks there will rise from 1,600 in 2005 to more than 5,000 in 2006. (Mir 5/4/2005; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 433) Abdullah Mahsud was held by the US in the Guantanamo prison from December 2001 to March 2004 (see March 2004). In July 2007, renewed fighting between the Pakistani army and tribal militants will cause the Waziristan truce to collapse (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He will blow himself up to avoid capture a few days after the truce ends. (Masood 7/25/2007) The CIA will later claim that Baitullah Mahsud was involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. (Warrick 1/18/2008)
Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, gives an interview on Pakistani television, and says Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban. (Reuters 6/18/2005) Several days later, US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will criticize Pakistan, pointing out that if a TV station could get in contact with a top Taliban leader, Pakistani intelligence should be able to find them too (see June 18, 2005).
Pakistani journalist Amir Mir tells CNN: “Pakistan is essentially for the Taliban. Almost their entire leadership of Taliban is hiding in Quetta.” Quetta is a Pakistani town close to the Afghan border. CNN further reports that “American intelligence officials say, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar is also living in Quetta.” Senior British government officials say they are angry Pakistan has not rounded up the Taliban leadership “who they say are planning and plotting and getting stronger from the safety of Pakistan.” (CNN 9/12/2006) The Christian Science Monitor came to a similar conclusion in May 2006 (see May 2, 2006). Several months later, a captured Taliban spokesman will say that Omar is living in Quetta under the protection of the Pakistani ISI (see January 17, 2007).
Lieutenant General David Richards, the British general commanding NATO troops in Afghanistan, meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on October 9, 2006, in an effort to persuade him to stop the Pakistani ISI from training Taliban fighters to attack US and British soldiers in Afghanistan. The day before, he tells the Sunday Times there is “a Taliban problem on the Pakistan side of the border.… Undoubtedly something has got to happen.” Richards has evidence compiled by NATO, US, and Afghan intelligence of satellite pictures and videos showing training camps for Taliban soldiers and suicide bombers inside Pakistan. The evidence includes the exact address of where top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in Pakistan. Richards wants Pakistan to arrest Omar and other Taliban leaders. One senior US commander tells the Times: “We just can’t ignore it any more. Musharraf’s got to prove which side he is on.” (Lamb 10/8/2006) What happens between Richards and Musharraf is unknown, but there are no subsequent signs of the ISI reducing its support for the Taliban or of Pakistan arresting Taliban leaders.
A captured Taliban spokesman claims that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is living in Pakistan under the protection of the ISI. Muhammad Hanif, a.k.a. Abdul Haq Haji Gulroz, one of two Taliban spokesmen, was recently captured by the Afghan government. He is seen on video saying to his captors, “[Omar] lives in Quetta [a Pakistan border town]. He is protected by the ISI.” He further claims that the ISI funds and equips Taliban suicide bombings and former ISI Director Hamid Gul supports and funds the insurgency. The Pakistani government denies the allegations and claims Omar has not been seen in Pakistan. (BBC 1/17/2007; Coghlan 1/19/2007)
The Taliban’s former chief spokesman, Mullah Mohammad Is’haq Nizami, reveals that talks are being held between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and key lieutenants of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mullah Nizami says that he has been relaying messages for months from Kabul to Mullah Omar’s aides in the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s ruling council based in Pakistan. The Quetta Shura is thought to be responsible for orchestrating attacks across the border in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, Afghanistan. The disclosure contradicts British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s carefully worded statement to Parliament a day earlier insisting that no negotiations would be held with Taliban leaders. “We are not negotiating with the leadership, but we want to support President Karzai in his efforts at reconciliation. If he is successful in bringing across those members of the insurgency who then declare that they will give up fighting and support democracy and be part of the system, then these are efforts at reconciliation that are important to the future of the whole country,” Brown states during a session of prime minister’s questions. Mullah Nizami, who also ran the regime’s radio station Voice of Sharia until 2001, says that the negotiations aim to isolate Mullah Omar by wooing his lieutenants in the Quetta Shura. “Karzai is trying to get the 18 people in the Quetta Shura. If he succeeds it will be a defeat for Mullah Omar. The Taliban and the government are tired of fighting and they want to negotiate,” he says. Nizami fled to Pakistan in 2001 when the Taliban regime collapsed, but returned to Kabul under an ongoing reconciliation programme in an effort to open talks. Mullah Nazimi further explains that the Taliban want to take part in the Afghan government, want sharia law instituted, and want the withdrawal of international forces. The Belfast Telegraph reports that talks will continue “under the table” until the two sides can agree on something warranting a public announcement. The Independent reports that the British government was prepared to admit that the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban had taken place and that dialogue should be opened with Taliban leaders, but Gordon Brown changed his mind just before prime minister’s questions on December 12, denying any negotiations with Taliban leadership. Brown’s denial is further contradicted by a report that British MI6 agents had engaged in secret talks with the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent leaders in Helmand Province earlier this summer (see Summer 2007). (Brown 12/12/2007; Starkey and Brown 12/13/2007)
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” (Davies 2/11/2008) Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) (Savage 2/11/2008) But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” (Davies 2/11/2008)
A US military newspaper reports that continued resurgence of the Taliban has led residents in Kabul to surmise that the US is supporting the Taliban. US support for the Taliban is “virtually ubiquitous” in Kabul, according to Stars and Stripes. “Now we think America is supporting both the Taliban and the Afghan government. That’s what everyone says,” states Kabul shopkeeper Qand Mohmadi. “We don’t know for sure why they are doing it,” says real estate broker Daoud Zadran. “Politics is bigger than our thoughts. But maybe America wants to build up the Taliban so they have an excuse to remain in Afghanistan because of the Iranian issue.” Stars and Stripes also reports that many residents suspect that the US and Western companies are colluding with Afghan officials to pilfer the economy. (Gisick 2/15/2009)
National Opinion Survey Reveals Public Alarm, Plummeting Confidence - A public opinion survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and the German TV station ARD finds plummeting public confidence in and support for the Afghan government and its Western allies. Just 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel the country is heading in the right direction, down from 77 percent in 2005. Approval of overall US efforts in Afghanistan is only 32 percent, compared to 68 percent three years ago. The poll also shows falling support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2005, 80 percent of Afghans said they supported the Karzai regime, but just 49 percent say the same thing today. In addition to corruption and complaints about food, fuel, and the economy, the resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public’s alarm: 58 percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year in comparison to 24 percent who think the movement has weakened. (Langer 2/9/2009)
Police Chief Doubts Veracity of Public Suspicions - One district police chief in Kabul expresses frustration with American efforts, but finds it hard to believe that the US is supporting the Taliban. “People see that America is so strong and they wonder—why can’t it wipe out the Taliban?” says Col. Najeeb Ullah Samsour, adding that he does not personally think the US is supporting the insurgents. “People are saying that for six or seven years we have all these international troops, but everything is getting worse… security, the economy, everything. So they think America must be supporting the Taliban.”
Osama bin Laden - “This government is so corrupt that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were crossing the street together right outside, no one would call the police because they know the police would just take a bribe to let them go,” says resident Habib Rahman. “A lot of people say that Osama is really from America,” according to Nasrallah Wazidi. “They say he’s just playing a role like a movie star.” (Gisick 2/15/2009)
Mullah Agha Jan Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister and member of the group’s political council, tells al-Samoud magazine that the Taliban are willing to work with all Afghan groups to achieve peace. “We would like to take an Afghan strategy that is shared and large-scale, in consultation with all the Afghan groups, to reach positive and fruitful results,” Mutassim is quoted as saying in an interview translated by the US-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi web sites. Mutassim, thought to be close to Mullah Omar, stresses that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved only if foreign troops withdraw from the country. “If these forces leave, the problem will be over, the question will be finished, and peace will prevail,” he says. Despite harsh words for the West, Mutassim praises the government of Saudi Arabia, according to the report. Saudi Arabia, which has allegedly been a source of funding for the Taliban (see 1996) and was one of only three states to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan between 1997 and 2001 (see May 26, 1997), has hosted talks between former Taliban, Afghan government officials, and others (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Mutassim adds that the Taliban are not seeking to share power in an “agent government,” but want the institution of an Islamic Emirate in which “educating women is as necessary as educating men.” (Site Intelligence Group 2/25/2009; Salahuddin 2/26/2009)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accuses the Pakistani government of knowing where Osama bin Laden and other top militant leaders are hiding. She says, “I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more co-operation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.” A Pakistani government spokesperson dismisses Clinton’s claim. (Crilly 5/11/2010) In March 2011, a US strike force will assault a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
An unnamed senior NATO official says that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a house somewhere in northwest Pakistan. Al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding in a house somewhere nearby, but not in the same place as bin Laden. The official says, “Nobody in al-Qaeda is living in a cave.” This person adds that al-Qaeda’s top leadership is likely living in relative comfort, protected by locals and some members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Additionally, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi. It is unknown how the NATO official would know all this, but CNN says the person has access to classified information. (Starr 10/18/2010) When a US raid kills bin Laden in May 2011, he will be found in a house in northwest Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), and there will be accusations that the ISI must have protected him there (see May 2, 2011 and After).
A meeting about Osama bin Laden’s possible hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005), is held at CIA headquarters. The attendees include commander of Joint Special Operations Command Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and other senior CIA officials. They meet around a large and highly accurate scale model of the suspect Abbottabad compound built by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from satellite imagery. They discuss the intelligence about the compound and possible courses of action. Three choices of action are discussed: a Stealth bomber bomb strike; a Special Forces helicopter raid; and a joint operation raid with the Pakistani government. Analysts have concluded that there is a high-value target in the compound (which is now called Abbottabad Compound One, or AC1), and there is a strong possibility that the target is bin Laden. However, it is also possible the target could be someone else important like al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri or top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, or bin Laden’s family could be there without him. To be more certain, a “red team” analysis is ordered, which means that analysts so far unaware of the compound are given the evidence and asked to critically appraise it. (Gorman and Barnes 5/23/2011; Tapper 6/9/2011) Three months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says that he believes even senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hidden (see May 2, 2011) and they still know the location of other top militants.
Knowledge at High Levels - Levin says: “At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service… they knew it.… I can’t prove it. [But] I can’t imagine how someone higher up didn’t know it. The thing that astounds me more than anything else is the idea that people in Pakistan higher up in the intelligence service [the ISI] or their police or their local officials didn’t know he was there. I find that difficult to believe.”
Possible Hearings - He says that the Senate Armed Services Committee has started a preliminary investigation into the issue of Pakistan’s possible knowledge of bin Laden’s location before his death, and the committee may hold public hearings on the issue in the future.
Pakistan Shelters Other Militant Leaders - Levin adds that he has “no doubt” that people at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government are protecting others, including top Taliban head Mullah Omar and leaders of the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. He says that Omar and others “live openly” in Pakistan. “They cross the border into Afghanistan and kill us. And the Pakistan government knows where they’re at, they’re openly living in north Waziristan. The Pakistan government knows where the so-called Quetta Shura is, which is the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.”
Denials Predicted - He concludes: “[T]he government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn’t know bin Laden was there. It’s kind of hard to believe that higher level people didn’t know, but they’ll continue to say that. But what they won’t say is that they don’t know where the Haqqani terrorists are because they do know, and they’ve told us they know.” (Karl 5/5/2011)
Amrullah Saleh, head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, from 2004 to 2010, claims that the Pakistani government is hiding the top Taliban leaders. He says that he is certain Taliban top head Mullah Omar is hiding in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, run by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. “He is protected by ISI. [ISI head Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha knows as I am talking to you where is Mullah Omar and he keeps daily briefs from his officers about the location of senior Taliban leaders, simple.” (Boone 5/5/2011) Saleh’s comments come shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011).
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