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Of all the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have the longest records of involvement with al-Qaeda. CIA Director Tenet calls them al-Qaeda veterans. According to the CIA, Alhazmi first travels to Afghanistan in 1993 as a teenager, then fights in Bosnia with Alhazmi (see 1995). Almihdhar makes his first visit to Afghanistan training camps in 1996, and then fights in Chechnya in 1997. Both swear loyalty to bin Laden around 1998. Alhazmi fights in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance with his brother, Salem Alhazmi. He fights in Chechnya, probably in 1998. (Observer 9/23/2001; ABC News 1/9/2002; US Congress 6/18/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ) He then returns to Saudi Arabia in early 1999 where he shares information about the 1998 US embassy bombings. However it is not clear what information he disclosed to whom or where he obtained this information. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ) It is possible that some or all of this information came from the NSA, which is intercepting some of Alhazmi’s phone calls at this time (see Early 1999).
Russian arms merchant Victor Bout, who has been selling weapons to Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance since 1992, switches sides, and begins selling weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda instead. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002; Smith et al. 4/17/2002; Los Angeles Times 5/19/2002) The deal comes immediately after the Taliban captures Kabul in late October 1996 and gains the upper hand in Afghanistan’s civil war. In one trade in 1996, Bout’s company delivers at least 40 tons of Russian weapons to the Taliban, earning about $50 million. (Osborn 2/16/2002) Two intelligence agencies later confirm that Bout trades with the Taliban “on behalf of the Pakistan government.” In late 2000, several Ukrainians sell 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban in a deal conducted by the ISI, and Bout helps fly the tanks to Afghanistan. (van Niekerk and Verloy 2/5/2002) Bout formerly worked for the Russian KGB, and now operates the world’s largest private weapons transport network. Based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bout operates freely there until well after 9/11. The US becomes aware of Bout’s widespread illegal weapons trading in Africa in 1995, and of his ties to the Taliban in 1996, but they fail to take effective action against him for years. (Los Angeles Times 5/19/2002) US pressure on the UAE in November 2000 to close down Bout’s operations there is ignored. Press reports calling him “the merchant of death” also fail to pressure the UAE. (Financial Times 6/10/2000; Bowcott and Norton-Taylor 12/23/2000) After President Bush is elected, it appears the US gives up trying to get Bout, until after 9/11. (Farah 2/26/2002; Smith et al. 4/17/2002) Bout moves to Russia in 2002. He is seemingly protected from prosecution by the Russian government, which in early 2002 will claim, “There are no grounds for believing that this Russian citizen has committed illegal acts.” (Smith et al. 4/17/2002) The Guardian suggests that Bout may have worked with the CIA when he traded with the Northern Alliance, and this fact may be hampering current international efforts to catch him. (Smith et al. 4/17/2002)
Special CIA paramilitary teams enter Afghanistan again in 1997. (Ricks 11/18/2001) Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office during the late 1990’s, will later comment, “We had connections to the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud’s group of Tajik fighters up in the north. The CIA was sending teams into northern Afghanistan from ‘97 up until about 2000 to meet with Massoud’s people, to try to get them involved.” (Schroen 1/20/2006) (The CIA’s anti-Soviet covert operations officially ended in January 1992. (Coll 2004, pp. 233) ) Around 1999 there will be a push to recruit more agents capable of operating or traveling in Afghanistan. Many locals will be recruited, but apparently none is close to bin Laden (see 1999). This problem is not fixed in succeeding years. (Coll 2/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
The Northern Alliance capital of Afghanistan, Mazar-i-Sharif, is conquered by the Taliban. Military support of Pakistan’s ISI plays a large role; there is even an intercept of an ISI officer stating, “My boys and I are riding into Mazar-i-Sharif.” (Frantz 12/8/2001) This victory gives the Taliban control of 90 percent of Afghanistan, including the entire proposed pipeline route. CentGas, the consortium behind the gas pipeline that would run through Afghanistan, is now “ready to proceed. Its main partners are the American oil firm Unocal and Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia, plus Hyundai of South Korea, two Japanese companies, a Pakistani conglomerate and the Turkmen government.” However, the pipeline cannot be financed unless the government is officially recognized. “Diplomatic sources said the Taliban’s offensive was well prepared and deliberately scheduled two months ahead of the next UN meeting” where members are to decide whether the Taliban should be recognized. (Spillius 8/13/1998)
Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. (ABC News 2/18/2002; ABC News 2/18/2002; Sheehy 3/11/2004) By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). (Braun and Pasternak 11/18/2001) When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. (ABC News 2/18/2002; Sheehy 3/11/2004) Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” (Dana Rohrabacher 6/21/2004)
Worried about intercepts showing a growing likelihood of al-Qaeda attacks around the millennium, the CIA steps up ties with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The CIA sends a team of agents, led by bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee, to Massoud’s headquarters in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, seeking his help to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The CIA team and Massoud meet twice, and Blee tells him, “We have a common enemy.” Massoud complains that the US is too focused on bin Laden, and is not interested in the root problems of Taliban, Saudi, and Pakistani support for terrorism that is propping him up. He agrees to help nonetheless, and the CIA gives him more aid in return. However, the US is officially neutral in the Afghan civil war and the agents are prohibited from giving any aid that would “fundamentally alter the Afghan battlefield.” The CIA team will later be reported to admire Massoud greatly. They see him as “a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage,” and “a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability.” Author Steve Coll will write: “The CIA team had gone into the Panjshir [Valley, where Massoud’s headquarters is located] as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened even as they recognized that the agency’s new partnership with the Northern Alliance would be awkward, limited, and perhaps unlikely to succeed.” Perhaps because of this, the team members agree with Massoud’s criticism of US policy and agree to lobby for a policy change in his favor in Washington. (Coll 2004, pp. 469-472; Coll 2/23/2004) DIA agent Julie Sirrs, newly retired, is at Massoud’s headquarters at the same time as the CIA team (see October 1998). She gathers valuable intelligence from captured al-Qaeda soldiers while the CIA agents stay in their guesthouse. She will publish much of what she learns on this trip and other trips in the summer of 2001. (Washington Post 2/28/2004)
In the winter of 1999, a covert four-man CIA and NSA team arrives in the part of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance. They set up a listening post within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. The Northern Alliance is shown how to run it, and then the team leaves. (Gellman 12/19/2001; Miniter 2003, pp. 197-198) In March 2000, CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a small CIA team into Northern Alliance territory (see March 2000). While there, they improve the existing listening post and set up a new one closer to Taliban-controlled territory. (Berntsen and Pezzullo 2005, pp. 57-61) The US makes little use of the intelligence gained from these intercepts, leading Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud to conclude that the US is “not serious” about getting bin Laden. (Miniter 2003, pp. 197-198)
The BBC explains one reason why the Northern Alliance has been able to hold out for so long in its civil war against the Taliban in Afghanistan: “Iran has stirred up the fighting in order to make sure an international oil pipeline [goes] through its territory and not through Afghanistan.” (Simpson 12/20/1999)
By the start of 2000, US intelligence has had a particular focus on Darunta Camp, one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. This simple camp near Jalalabad draws attention because of intelligence gathered during the last year indicating that al-Qaeda is experimenting with poisons and chemical weapons. The CIA has inserted a special device in the vicinity that can take high quality photographs of the camp from over ten miles away. Sometime in late January, the CIA learns that bin Laden has arrived in the camp. They pass this information on to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, who are fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Massoud dispatches a small team on mules to get near the camp and fire rockets at bin Laden. However, when Massoud tells the CIA about this, the CIA’s lawyers are alarmed. They don’t want the CIA legally complicit if the operation kills innocent civilians and they order Massoud to withdraw his team. But due to poor communications the team goes ahead anyway and apparently shells the camp. However, bin Laden is not hurt and the incident passes without notice. Some US intelligence officials are upset at the legal policy that led to the order for Massoud’s team to withdraw. A new policy is drawn up allowing the CIA to assist Massoud on an operation if the primary purpose of the operation is to kill bin Laden or one of his top assistants. Otherwise, the US officially remains neutral in the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. (Coll 2004, pp. 487-490)
Around this time, special CIA paramilitary teams begin “working with tribes and warlords in southern Afghanistan” and help “create a significant new network in the region of the Taliban’s greatest strength.” (Ricks 11/18/2001) Journalist Bob Woodward will later report that from 2000 through March 2001, the CIA also deploys paramilitary teams at least five times into Afghanistan to work with the Northern Alliance in the north part of the country. (Woodward 2006, pp. 77-78)
The Taliban bans poppy growing in Afghanistan. As a result, the opium yield drops dramatically in 2001, from 3,656 tons to 185 tons. Of that, 83 percent is from Northern Alliance-controlled lands. This is supposedly done in response to Western pressure. (Harris 11/25/2001; Hopkins and Taylor 2/21/2002; Reuters 3/3/2002) However, United Nations officials later suggest that the ban was actually used by the Taliban to drive up their drug profits. According to these officials, for several years, the Taliban had stockpiled over half of their annual opium harvest in a series of warehouses around the country. When the ban begins, a kilogram of opium sells for around $44 wholesale, but one year later the price rises to $400. (Leinwand, Locy, and Walt 10/16/2001) Time magazine will later suggest that the ban was the idea of al-Qaeda’s financial experts working with Haji Juma Khan (see December 2001 and After) and other alleged top Afghan drug traffickers. The ban “meant huge profits for the Taliban and their trafficker friends who were sitting on large stockpiles when prices soared.” (McGirk 8/2/2004)
The Taliban take the Northern Alliance stronghold of Taloqan after a month-long seige. The battle is unusual, because, for the first time, a large portion of the Taliban’s force—about one-third of the 15,000 force besieging Taloqan—is made up of non-Afghans loosely allied to al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda had been organizing a special unit known as the 055 Brigade, and this is one of the unit’s first battles. Furthermore, the Pakistani ISI provides more than 100 Pakistani military officials to manage artillery and communications, and the ISI generally directs the Taliban offensive. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid writes at the time about the role of foreigners and the ISI in the Taliban offensive, after interviewing Western intelligence figures, UN diplomats, and Afghans. He will later write that this battle marked “the first time people in the United States and Europe began to take notice” of these ISI and al-Qaeda roles in the Taliban offensives. (Rashid 2008, pp. 17, 409)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda over a period of three to five years until it is ineffectual. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The main component is a dramatic increase in covert aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to first tie down the terrorists and then “eliminate the sanctuary” for bin Laden. Financial support for terrorist activities will be systematically attacked, nations fighting al-Qaeda will be given aid to defeat them, and the US will plan for direct military and covert action in Afghanistan. The plan will cost several hundred million dollars. However, since there are only a few weeks left before the Bush administration takes over, it is decided to defer the decision until the new administration is in place. One senior Clinton official later says, “We would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office on January 20. That wasn’t going to happen.” However, the plan is rejected by the Bush administration and no action is taken (see January 25, 2001). According to one senior Bush administration official, the proposal amounts to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.” (Elliott 8/12/2002)
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies. He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Tenet 2007, pp. 130-131) The National Security Council counterterrorism staff also prepares a strategy paper, incorporating ideas from the Blue Sky Memo. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
New United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect, adding to those from November 1999 (see November 14, 1999). The sanctions limit travel by senior Taliban authorities, freeze bin Laden’s and the Taliban’s assets, and order the closure of Ariana Airlines offices abroad. The sanctions also impose an arms embargo against the Taliban, but not against Northern Alliance forces battling the Taliban. (Associated Press 12/19/2000) The arms embargo has no visible effect because the sanctions fail to stop Pakistani military assistance. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The sanctions also fail to stop the illegal trade network that the Taliban is secretly running through Ariana. Two companies, Air Cess and Flying Dolphin, take over most of Ariana’s traffic. Air Cess is owned by the Russian arms dealer Victor Bout (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and Flying Dolphin is owned by the United Arab Emirates’ former ambassador to the US, who is also an associate of Bout. In late 2000, despite reports linking Flying Dolphin to arms smuggling, the United Nations will give Flying Dolphin permission to take over Ariana’s closed routes, which it does until the new sanctions take effect. Bout’s operations are still functioning and he has not been arrested. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002; van Niekerk and Verloy 2/5/2002) Ariana will essentially be destroyed in the October 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan. (Williams 11/18/2001)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a proposal to National Security Adviser Rice and “urgently” asks for a Cabinet-level meeting on the al-Qaeda threat. (Clarke 2004, pp. 230-31) He forwards his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 “Delenda Plan”
(see August 27, 1998). He lays out a proposed agenda for urgent action:
Approve covert assistance to Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Significantly increase funding for CIA counterterrorism activity. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Respond to the USS Cole bombing with an attack on al-Qaeda. (The link between al-Qaeda and that bombing had been assumed for months and is confirmed in the media two days later.) According to the Washington Post, “Clarke argue[s] that the camps [are] can’t-miss targets, and they [matter]. The facilities [amount] to conveyor belts for al-Qaeda’s human capital, with raw recruits arriving and trained fighters departing either for front lines against the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel coalition, or against American interests somewhere else. The US government had whole libraries of images filmed over Tarnak Qila and its sister camp, Garmabat Ghar, 19 miles farther west. Why watch al-Qaeda train several thousand men a year and then chase them around the world when they left?” No retaliation is taken on these camps until after 9/11. (Gellman 1/20/2002)
Go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready (see January 10-25, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Step up the fight against terrorist fundraising. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Be aware that al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the US are not just a potential threat, but are a “major threat in being.” Additionally, more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion (see January 25, 2001). (Gellman 1/20/2002) Rice’s response to Clarke’s proposal is that the Cabinet will not address the issue until it has been “framed” at the deputy secretary level. However, this initial deputy meeting is not given high priority and it does not take place until April 2001. (Clarke 2004, pp. 230-31) Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman until 9/11, says, “The squeaky wheel was Dick Clarke, but he wasn’t at the top of their priority list, so the lights went out for a few months. Dick did a pretty good job because he’s abrasive as hell, but given the [bureaucratic] level he was at” there was no progress. (Benjamin and Simon 2002, pp. 335-36; Benjamin 3/30/2004) Some counterterrorism officials think the new administration responds slowly simply because Clarke’s proposal originally came from the Clinton administration. (Elliott 8/12/2002) For instance, Thomas Maertenson, on the National Security Council in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, “They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration. So anything [that administration] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it.” (Bumiller and Miller 3/24/2004; Black 3/25/2004) The Bush administration will finally address the gist of Clarke’s plan at a cabinet-level meeting on September 4, 2001, just one week before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). Clarke will later comment that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley chairs an informal meeting of some counterparts from other agencies to discuss al-Qaeda. They begin a broad review of the government’s approach to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the approach is “two-pronged and included a crisis warning effort to deal with immediate threats and longer-range planning by senior officials to put into place a comprehensive strategy to eradicate al-Qaeda.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke again pushes for immediate decisions on assisting Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Hadley suggests dealing with this as part of the broad review. Clarke supports a larger program, but he warns that delay risks the Alliance’s defeat. Clarke also advocates using the armed Predator drone. However, despite an increasing number of alarming warnings following this meeting, there is little follow-up. “By June, a draft of a presidential directive authorizing an ambitious covert action plan is circulating through the upper echelons of the administration, but there seem[s] little urgency about putting the plan into effect.” (Marquis and Strolberg 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Semple 4/4/2004)
Jane’s Intelligence Review reports that the US is working with India, Iran, and Russia “in a concerted front against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime.” India is supplying the Northern Alliance with military equipment, advisers, and helicopter technicians and both India and Russia are using bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for their operation. (Bedi 3/15/2001)
Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, has been trying to get aid from the US but his people are only allowed to meet with low level US officials. In an attempt to get his message across, he addresses the European Parliament: “If President Bush doesn’t help us, these terrorists will damage the US and Europe very soon.” (Islam 4/7/2001; Elliott 8/12/2002) A classified US intelligence document states, “Massoud’s intelligence staff is aware that the attack against the US will be on a scale larger than the 1998 embassy bombings, which killed over two hundred people and injured thousands (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).” (Defense Intelligence Agency 11/21/2001 ) Massoud also meets privately with some CIA officials while in Europe (see Early April 2001). He tells them that his guerrilla war against the Taliban is faltering and unless the US gives a significant amount of aid, the Taliban will conquer all of Afghanistan. No more aid is forthcoming. (Coll 2/23/2004)
The Bush administration finally has its first Deputy Secretary-level meeting on terrorism. (Elliott 8/12/2002) According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, he advocates that the Northern Alliance needs to be supported in the war against the Taliban, and the Predator drone flights need to resume over Afghanistan so bin Laden can be targeted. (Clarke 2004, pp. 231) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the focus on al-Qaeda is wrong. He states, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden,” and “Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?” Wolfowitz insists the focus should be Iraqi-sponsored terrorism instead. He claims the 1993 attack on the WTC must have been done with help from Iraq, and rejects the CIA’s assertion that there has been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993 (see April 30, 2001). (A spokesperson for Wolfowitz later calls Clarke’s account a “fabrication.”) (Clarke 2004, pp. 30, 231; Isikoff and Thomas 3/22/2004) Wolfowitz repeats these sentiments immediately after 9/11 and tries to argue that the US should attack Iraq. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agrees with Clarke that al-Qaeda is an important threat. Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, chairing the meeting, brokers a compromise between Wolfowitz and the others. The group agrees to hold additional meetings focusing on al-Qaeda first (in June and July), but then later look at other terrorism, including any Iraqi terrorism. (Clarke 2004, pp. 30, 231-32) Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin also attend the hour-long meeting. (Elliott 8/12/2002)
John Walker Lindh, a young American citizen converted to Islam (see May-June 2001), enlists in the Taliban army. His intention, he later explains, is to aid the Taliban against the forces of the Northern Alliance, which he perceives as a brutal power guilty of “numerous atrocities… against civilians…: massacres, child rape, torture, and castration.” (Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 10/4/2002)
The US considers substantially aiding Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance. As one counterterrorism official put it, “You keep [al-Qaeda terrorists] on the front lines in Afghanistan. Hopefully you’re killing them in the process, and they’re not leaving Afghanistan to plot terrorist operations.” A former US special envoy to the Afghan resistance visits Massoud this month. Massoud gives him “all the intelligence he [has] on al-Qaeda” in the hopes of getting some support in return. However, he gets nothing more than token amounts and his organization isn’t even given “legitimate resistance movement” status. (Elliott 8/12/2002)
The Wall Street Journal reports that Pakistan and India are discussing jointly building a gas pipeline from Central Asian gas fields through Iran to circumvent the difficulties of building the pipeline through Afghanistan. Iran has been secretly supporting the Northern Alliance to keep Afghanistan divided so no pipelines could be put through it. (Pearl 6/27/2001)
President Bush’s cabinet-rank advisers discuss terrorism for the second of only two times before 9/11. (Gellman 5/17/2002) National Security Adviser Rice chairs the meeting; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attends. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that in this meeting, he and CIA Director Tenet speak passionately about the al-Qaeda threat. No one disagrees that the threat is serious. Secretary of State Powell outlines a plan to put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting al-Qaeda. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appears to be more interested in Iraq. The only debate is over whether to fly the armed Predator drone over Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda (see September 4, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237-38) Clarke’s earlier plans to “roll back” al-Qaeda first submitted on January 25, 2001 (see January 25, 2001) have been discussed and honed in many meetings and are now presented as a formal National Security Presidential Directive. The directive is “apparently” approved, though the process of turning it into official policy is still not done. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) There is later disagreement over just how different the directive presented is from Clarke’s earlier plans. For instance, some claim the directive aims not just to “roll back” al-Qaeda, but also to “eliminate” it altogether. (Elliott 8/12/2002) However, Clarke notes that even though he wanted to use the word “eliminate,” the approved directive merely aims to “significantly erode” al-Qaeda. The word “eliminate” is only added after 9/11. (Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) Clarke will later say that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.” (Clarke 4/8/2004) The Washington Post will similarly note that the directive approved on this day “did not differ substantially from Clinton’s policy.” (Milbank and Eggen 3/27/2004) Time magazine later comments, “The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.” (Elliott 8/12/2002) The primary change from Clarke’s original draft is that the approved plan calls for more direct financial and logistical support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban groups. The plan also calls for drafting plans for possible US military involvement, “but those differences were largely theoretical; administration officials told the [9/11 Commission’s] investigators that the plan’s overall timeline was at least three years, and it did not include firm deadlines, military plans, or significant funding at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks.” (Milbank and Eggen 3/27/2004; Holland 4/2/2004)
Five days before the 9/11 attacks, US citizen John Walker Lindh arrives on the front line of Taliban forces in the region of Takhar in the north of Afghanistan in order to engage in battle against the Northern Alliance. (Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 10/4/2002)
General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two al-Qaeda agents posing as Moroccan journalists. (Elliott 8/12/2002) A legendary mujaheddin commander and a brilliant tactician, Massoud had pledged to bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan. The BBC says the next day, “General Massoud’s death might well have meant the end of the [Northern] alliance” because there clearly was no figure with his skills and popularity to replace him. (Clark 9/10/2001; NPA 9/10/2001) “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught.” (Martin 9/9/2002) It appears the assassination was supposed to happen earlier: the “journalists” waited for three weeks in Northern Alliance territory to meet Massoud. Finally on September 8, an aide says they “were so worried and excitable they were begging us.” They were granted an interview after threatening to leave if the interview did not happen in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Taliban army (together with elements of the Pakistani army) had massed for an offensive against the Northern Alliance in the previous weeks, but the offensive began only hours after the assassination. Massoud was killed that day but Northern Alliance leaders pretend for several days that Massoud was only injured in order to keep the Northern Alliance army’s morale up, and they are able to stave off total defeat. The timing of the assassination and the actions of the Taliban army suggest that the 9/11 attacks were known to the Taliban leadership. (Elliott 8/12/2002) Though it is not widely reported, the Northern Alliance releases a statement the next day: “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden” (see September 10, 2001). (Wesolowsky 9/10/2001; Gardiner and Rayman 9/15/2001; Reuters 10/4/2001) This suggests that the ISI may also have had prior knowledge of the attack plans.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf meets with Hamid Gul, former head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, according to a 2002 report in the New Yorker. The meeting is said to take place this evening at ISI headquarters. Gul has just returned from Northern Afghanistan. This information is according to Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the defense minister in Afghanistan’s government at the time of the 2002 New Yorker article. Also on this day, Ahmed Shah Massoud, top leader of the Northern Alliance, is assassinated (see September 9, 2001). Fahim is Massoud’s second in command, and takes over leadership of the Northern Alliance. At this time, Pakistan is supporting the Taliban, who are fighting the Northern Alliance. An intelligence officer “close to Massoud” will tell the New Yorker that Musharraf and Gul are at ISI headquarters for a party to celebrate Massoud’s death. While Fahim alleges Musharraf and Gul are there, he will only say “maybe” there is a party. (Anderson 6/10/2002) The Northern Alliance will claim that the ISI and al-Qaeda are behind Massoud’s assassination (see September 10, 2001). Gul retired from the ISI in 1989 (see April 1987), but there are allegations that he has continued to actively support Islamist militants ever since (see December 7, 2008 and July 26, 2010). In 2004, UPI will report allegations that he was a central figure in the 9/11 plot (see July 22, 2004). There will also be claims that the head of the ISI at the time of 9/11, Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, helped fund some of the 9/11 hijackers (see October 7, 2001).
The Northern Alliance releases a statement, saying, “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden.” Massoud was the head leader of the Northern Alliance, the main group fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, until he was assassinated the previous day (see September 9, 2001). (Wesolowsky 9/10/2001; Gardiner and Rayman 9/15/2001; Reuters 10/4/2001) In June 2002, the New Yorker will report that there has been little to no investigation in Afghanistan into who was responsible for Massoud’s assassination. Even though the Northern Alliance has taken power, one of the figures some suspect of a role in the assassination is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a warlord with radical Islamist ties but who also has gained power in the new Afghan government. However, Afghan Defense Minister and Northern Alliance leader Mohammad Qasim Fahim will tell the New Yorker that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was at ISI headquarters hours after Massoud was assassinated, possibly celebrating the assassination with ISI officials there (see September 9, 2001). (Anderson 6/10/2002) If Fahim had been immediately aware of this intelligence, it could help explain how quickly the Northern Alliance blamed the ISI.
Another deputies meeting further considers policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, and makes further revisions to the National Security Presidential Directive regarding al-Qaeda. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) By the end of the meeting, a formal, three-phase strategy is agreed upon. An envoy is to go to Afghanistan and give the Taliban another chance to expel Osama bin Laden. If this fails, more pressure will be put on the Taliban, including more support for the Northern Alliance and other groups. If the Taliban still refuse to change, the US will try to overthrow them through more direct action. The time-frame for this strategy is about three years. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) CIA Director George Tenet is formally tasked to draw up new authorities for the covert action program envisioned and request funding to implement it. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The directive is then to be sent to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for approval. President Bush is apparently aware of the directive and prepared to sign it (though he hasn’t attended any of the meetings about it), but he will not sign it until October. (MSNBC 5/16/2002; Drogin 5/18/2002; Wright 4/1/2004)
In 2007, Los Angeles Times journalist Steven Braun, coauthor of a book on arms dealer Victor Bout, will claim, “We now know that one of Bout’s pals approached an American intelligence agent soon after the [9/11] attacks, suggesting that the US use his operation in arming the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We don’t know for sure if the US accepted, but European intelligence officials believe a relationship blossomed. Within two years, Bout was flying for us not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.” (Silverstein 7/26/2007) The Bout associate Braun refers to is Sanjivan Ruprah. In November 2001, Ruprah contacts an FBI agent and offers a deal. He and Bout will secretly help the US arm the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban, and help the US gain information on al-Qaeda and other militant groups. He and Bout would provide and deliver many millions of dollars’ worth of weapons that the Northern Alliance has already told Bout that they need. It is unclear if the deal ever goes through, and some experts and officials doubt it. However, one European official will later say, “We know Bout had his aircraft near Afghanistan and made them available to the US efforts almost immediately. They needed him and he had the only airlift capacity in the region.… The deal was, if he flew, the US would leave him alone.” Richard Chichakli, a close associate of Bout’s, will later boast that Bout organized three flights carrying US personnel to Afghanistan. (He will later withdraw the claim.) Ruprah twice flies to the US for secret talks with the FBI about such deals, despite being on a UN travel ban list. Such contacts are kept secret from US officials attempting to arrest Bout. Ruprah will be arrested in Belgium in February 2002, and documents found in his possession are the only reason anything is known about his secret talks with the FBI. Two months later, he is freed on bail and immediately skips the country. He is soon arrested in Italy, then curiously freed on bail again, and then escapes again. He has not been rearrested since. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 194-202) Prior to 9/11, Bout was the main arms dealer for the Taliban, greatly assisting al-Qaeda in the process. He had been supplying weapons to the Northern Alliance until about 1996, but switched sides once the Taliban gained the upper hand in the conflict (see October 1996-Late 2001). But despite these alleged US ties, it 2002 it will be reported that Bout has recently been helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban transport gold (see Summer 2002). He will work for the US military in Iraq in 2003 (see Late April 2003-2007).
CIA Director George Tenet and Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, meet at 9:30 a.m. in the White House Situation Room with President Bush and the National Security Council. Tenet presents a plan for tracking down Osama bin Laden, toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and confronting terrorism worldwide. According to journalist Bob Woodward, the plan involves “bringing together expanded intelligence-gathering resources, sophisticated technology, agency paramilitary teams and opposition forces in Afghanistan in a classic covert action. They would then be combined with US military power and Special Forces into an elaborate and lethal package designed to destroy the shadowy terrorist networks.” A key concept is to utilize the Northern Alliance, which is the main opposition force in Afghanistan. Despite being “a strained coalition of sometimes common interests,” Tenet says that along with the CIA teams “and tons of money, the Alliance could be brought together into a cohesive fighting force.” Black gives a presentation describing the effectiveness of covert action. He says they will need to go after the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda, as the two are joined at the hip. He wants the mission to begin as soon as possible, and adds, “When we’re through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” Black claims that once they are on the ground, victory could be achieved in weeks. According to Bob Woodward, “No one else in the room, including Tenet, believed that was possible.” Black also warns the president, “Americans are going to die.… How many, I don’t know. Could be a lot.” Bush responds, “That’s war. That’s what we’re here to win.” This is the second presentation laying out an increasingly detailed set of CIA proposals for expanding its fight against terrorism. (George Tenet had given the first when he met with the president the day before (see September 12, 2001).) Tenet will give a more detailed presentation of the CIA’s covert action plan two days later, at Camp David (see September 15, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 50-53; Balz, Woodward, and Himmelman 1/29/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 233-234)
President Bush meets with his advisers at Camp David for a day of intensive discussions about how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. CIA Director George Tenet has arrived there “with a briefcase stuffed with top-secret documents and plans, in many respects the culmination of more than four years of work on bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network and worldwide terrorism.” With him is his deputy, John McLaughlin, and counterterrorism chief Cofer Black. Also in the conference room with them, among others, are Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell. For his 30-minute presentation, Tenet gives out a briefing packet titled “Going to War.” His presentation covers several key components for the fight against terrorism:
Tenet advocates substantially stepping up “direct support of the Northern Alliance,” the main Afghan opposition group, as part of a strategy to create “a northern front, closing the safe haven” of Afghanistan. His idea is that “Afghan opposition forces, aided by the United States, would move first against the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, try to break the Taliban’s grip on that city and open up the border with Uzbekistan. From there the campaign could move to other cities in the north.” Tenet also explains that the CIA had begun working with a number of tribal leaders in the south of Afghanistan the previous year, and these could be enticed to joint a US-led campaign.
The plan includes “a full-scale covert attack on the financial underpinnings of the terrorist network, including clandestine computer surveillance and electronic eavesdropping to locate the assets of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
The CIA and FBI would work together to track down bin Laden supporters in the US.
A key proposal is a recommendation that the president give the CIA “exceptional authorities” to destroy al-Qaeda. Tenet wants a broad intelligence order allowing the agency to conduct covert operations without requiring formal approval for each specific operation, thus authorizing it to operate without restraint. Tenet and his senior deputies would be permitted to approve “snatch” operations abroad. Journalist Bob Woodward calls this “truly exceptional power.”
Tenet has with him a draft of a presidential intelligence order—a “finding”—that would give the CIA power “to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force.”
Another proposal is that, with additional hundreds of millions of dollars for new covert action, the CIA could “buy” intelligence services of key Arab nations including Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria. These could act as surrogates for the US. As Bob Woodward points out, this “would put the United States in league with questionable intelligence services, some of them with dreadful human rights records. Some had reputations for ruthlessness and using torture to obtain confessions.”
Tenet calls for the initiation of intelligence contact with certain rogue states, such as Libya and Syria, so as to obtain helpful information about the terrorists. (Subsequently, by early 2002, Syria will have emerged as one of the CIA’s most effective allies in the fight against al-Qaeda (see Early 2002-January 2003).)
He has with him a top-secret document called the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.” This details covert operations in 80 countries that he is recommending or are already underway. “Actions ranged from routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks.” As Woodward describes, this proposal represents “a striking departure for US policy. It would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.”
The president reportedly is much pleased with Tenet’s proposals, “virtually shouting ‘Great job!’” (Woodward 2002, pp. 74-78; Woodward and Balz 1/31/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 234) He will grant all Tenet’s requests by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001). Tenet had presented a cruder version of the CIA plan at the White House two days earlier (see September 13, 2001).
Long-time CIA operative Gary Schroen is assigned on September 13, 2001 to lead a small team into Afghanistan to link up with the Northern Alliance and prepare for the US bombing campaign. His team totalling seven officers and three air crew land in Afghanistan on this day. This team will be the only US forces in the country for nearly a month, until special forces begin arriving on October 19 (see October 19, 2001). Schroen will later comment, “I was surprised at how slow the US military was to get themselves in a position where they could come and join us.” During this month, Schroen’s team gives the Northern Alliance money and assurances that the US is serious with their attack plans. They also survey battlefields with GPS units to determine where opposing forces are located. (Schroen 1/20/2006)
Veteran CIA officer Gary Schroen and his team of CIA operatives known as “Jawbreaker” is helicoptered into the Panjshir Valley of northeastern Afghanistan. This area, about 70 miles north of Kabul, is controlled by the Northern Alliance. The team of about 10 operatives carries communications equipment so they can directly communicate with CIA headquarters back in the US. Schroen also carries a suitcase containing $3 million in non-sequential $100 bills. That same evening, Schroen meets with Muhammed Arif Sawari, known as Engineer Aref, head of the Northern Alliance’s intelligence service. He gives Aref $500,000 and promises much more money and support soon. The Jawbreaker team will remain the only US forces on the ground in Afghanistan until about the middle of October. (Woodward 11/18/2002) Before the Jawbreaker team deploys, J. Cofer Black, the CIA’s Washington coordinator for Jawbreaker, gave the men instructions that author Jeremy Scahill will later call “direct and macabre.” Black told the men: “I don’t want bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead.… They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden’s head to the president. I promised him I would do that” (see September 19, 2001). Schroen will later say it was the first time in his career he had been ordered to assassinate an enemy rather than attempt a capture. (Scahill 8/20/2009)
The ISI secretly assists the Taliban in its defense against a US-led attack. The ISI advises Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that the Taliban will hold out against the US invasion until the spring of 2002 at least, and then will be able to hold out through a guerrilla war. Encouraged, Musharraf allows the ISI to continue to supply the Taliban on a daily basis. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later explain, “The ISI justified its actions as stemming from fear of an Indian controlled Northern Alliance government after the overthrow of the Taliban. It also did not want to totally abandon the Taliban, its only proxy in Afghanistan. At the same time, the [Pakistani] army wanted to keep the Americans engaged, fearing that once Kabul had fallen, they would once again desert the region. With one hand Musharraf played at helping the war against terrorism, while with the other he continued to deal with the Taliban.”
ISI Supplies and Advisers - Fuel tankers and supply trucks cross the border so frequently that one border crossing in the Pakistani province of Balochistan is closed to all regular traffic so ISI supplies can continue to the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar with little notice. (Rashid 2008, pp. 77-78) Between three and five ISI officers give military advice to the Taliban in late September. (Rashid 10/10/2001) At least five key ISI operatives help the Taliban prepare defenses in Kandahar, yet none are punished for their activities. (McGirk 5/6/2002) Secret advisers begin to withdraw in early October, but some stay on into November. (Zielenziger and Tamayo 11/3/2001) Large convoys of rifles, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers for Taliban fighters cross the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan on October 8 and 12, just after US bombing of Afghanistan begins and after a supposed crackdown on ISI fundamentalists. The Pakistani ISI secretly gives safe passage to these convoys, despite having promised the US in September that such assistance would immediately stop. (Frantz 12/8/2001)
US Aware of ISI Double Dealing - Rashid will later comment, “Thus, even as some ISI officers were helping US officers locate Taliban targets for US bombers, other ISI officers were pumping in fresh armaments for the Taliban.” On the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan, Northern Alliance operatives keep track of the ISI trucks crossing the border, and keep the CIA informed about the ISI aid. Gary Berntsen, one of the first CIA operatives to arrive in Afghanistan, will later say, “I assumed from the beginning of the conflict that ISI advisers were supporting the Taliban with expertise and material and, no doubt, sending a steady stream of intelligence back to [Pakistan].” (Rashid 2008, pp. 77-78)
Taliban Collapses as ISI Aid Slows - Secret ISI convoys of weapons and other supplies continue into November. (Bryant 11/1/2001; McGirk 5/6/2002) An anonymous Western diplomat will later state, “We did not fully understand the significance of Pakistan’s role in propping up the Taliban until their guys withdrew and things went to hell fast for the Talibs.” (Frantz 12/8/2001)
James Risen will report in his 2006 book, State of War, there was “a secret debate within the Bush administration over how vigorously to support the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel group that had been battling the Taliban for years.” The Northern Alliance was dominated by Tajik ethnic minority in the north while the Pakistani government backed the Pashtun ethnic majority in the south. (Risen 2006, pp. 169-170) As a result, as New Yorker magazine would later note, “The initial American aim in Afghanistan had been not to eliminate the Taliban’s presence there entirely but to undermine the regime and al-Qaeda while leaving intact so-called moderate Taliban [and Pashtun] elements that would play a role in a new postwar government. This would insure that Pakistan would not end up with a regime on its border dominated by the Northern Alliance.” (Hersh 1/21/2002) On October 17, the Washington Post reports that the US and Pakistan are “working together to form a representative government” and Secretary of State Colin Powell says that he hopes moderate Taliban could be persuaded to join such a government. (Constable 10/17/2001) As a result of these goals, US bombers are “ordered to focus their attacks on Afghan government infrastructure targets in Kabul and elsewhere, far from the battlefields in the north, and the Taliban front lines [are] left relatively unscathed.” This policy not only delays the defeat of the Taliban but also gives al-Qaeda leaders extra time to prepare their escape. However, in early November the US bombing finally begins targeting the Taliban frontlines, especially near the key northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif. The results are immediate and dramatic, allowing the Northern Alliance to conquer the capital of Kabul within days (see November 13, 2001). (Risen 2006, pp. 169-170)
“Operation Enduring Freedom,” the US’s first military answer to the attacks of 9/11, starts with a bombing campaign on selected targets in the Afghan countryside. On October 19, Special Forces troops are deployed to occupy parts of the country in collaboration with the Northern Alliance, an armed faction hostile towards the Taliban government. In the following weeks, a fierce hunt ensues for members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. (White House 5/10/2005)
ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is replaced in the face of US pressure after links are discovered between him, Saeed Sheikh, and the funding of the 9/11 attacks. Mahmood instructed Saeed to transfer $100,000 into hijacker Mohamed Atta’s bank account prior to 9/11. This is according to Indian intelligence, which claims the FBI has privately confirmed the story. (Press Trust of India 10/8/2001; Joshi 10/9/2001; Gupta and Mehkri 10/15/2001; Kak 10/18/2001) The story is not widely reported in Western countries, though it makes the Wall Street Journal. (Zubrzycki 10/10/2001; Agence France-Presse 10/10/2001; Taranto 10/10/2001) It is reported in Pakistan as well. (Dawn (Karachi) 10/8/2001) The Northern Alliance also repeats the claim in late October. (Federal News Service 10/31/2001) In Western countries, the usual explanation is that Mahmood is fired for being too close to the Taliban. (Hussain 10/9/2001; Harding 10/9/2001) The Times of India reports that Indian intelligence helped the FBI discover the link, and says, “A direct link between the ISI and the WTC attack could have enormous repercussions. The US cannot but suspect whether or not there were other senior Pakistani Army commanders who were in the know of things. Evidence of a larger conspiracy could shake US confidence in Pakistan’s ability to participate in the anti-terrorism coalition.” (Joshi 10/9/2001) There is evidence some ISI officers may have known of a plan to destroy the WTC as early as July 1999. Two other ISI leaders, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan and Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, are sidelined on the same day as Mahmood (see October 8, 2001). (Kaplan 10/8/2001) Saeed had been working under Khan. The firings are said to have purged the ISI of its fundamentalists. However, according to one diplomat, “To remove the top two or three doesn’t matter at all. The philosophy remains.… [The ISI is] a parallel government of its own. If you go through the officer list, almost all of the ISI regulars would say, of the Taliban, ‘They are my boys.’” (Hersh 10/29/2001) It is believed Mahmood has been living under virtual house arrest in Pakistan (which would seem to imply more than just a difference of opinion over the Taliban), but no charges have been brought against him, and there is no evidence the US has asked to question him. (Shahzad 1/5/2002) He also has refused to speak to reporters since being fired (Gannon 2/21/2002) , and outside India and Pakistan, the story has only been mentioned infrequently in the media since. (Mackay 2/24/2002; Fielding 4/21/2002) He will reemerge as a businessman in 2003, but still will not speak to the media (see July 2003).
US Special Forces ground forces arrive in Afghanistan. (MSNBC 11/2001) However, during the Afghanistan war, special forces soldiers are mainly employed in small numbers as observers, liaisons, and spotters for air power to assist the Northern Alliance—not as direct combatants. (Smucker 3/4/2002) The first significant special forces operation on October 20 will be a near disaster, leaving military commanders increasingly reluctant to use US troops directly in battle (see October 20, 2001). (Smucker 3/4/2002) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will suggest in 2004 that the Bush administration did not commit more ground forces to Afghanistan because it wanted to have enough troops available to stage a large offensive against Iraq. “I can’t prove this, but I believe they didn’t want to put in a lot of regular infantry because they wanted to hold it in reserve,” Richard Clarke explains. “And the issue is the infantry. A rational military planner who was told to stabilize Afghanistan after the Taliban was gone, and who was not told that we might soon be doing Iraq, would probably have put in three times the number of infantry, plus all the logistics support ‘tail.’ He would have put in more civil-affairs units, too. Based on everything I heard at the time, I believe I can make a good guess that the plan for Afghanistan was affected by a predisposition to go into Iraq. The result of that is that they didn’t have enough people to go in and stabilize the country, nor enough people to make sure these guys didn’t get out.” The first regular US combat troops will be deployed in late November and play a more limited role. (Fallows 10/2004)
The Taliban abandon the strategic northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, allowing the Northern Alliance to take control. (Kugler 8/19/2002) The Taliban abandons the rest of Northern Afghanistan in the next few days, except the city of Kunduz, where most of the Taliban flee. Kunduz falls on November 25, but not before most of the thousands of fighters there are airlifted out (see November 14-25, 2001). (Hersh 1/21/2002)
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)
Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, falls to the Northern Alliance. The Taliban will abandon the rest of the country over the next few weeks. (BBC 11/13/2001) The US and Pakistan did not want the Northern Alliance to conquer Kabul for ethnic and strategic regions. But after a change in US bombing tactics, the Taliban front line unexpectedly and suddenly collapsed, making this conquest all but inevitable (see October-Early November 2001). It is later reported that the US paid about $70 million in bribes to get dozens of Taliban leaders to surrender or change sides. This is credited with assisting the sudden collapse of Taliban forces. (Bushell 2/7/2002; Woodward 11/18/2002)
Independent warlord Ismail Khan’s troops and other Northern Alliance fighters are reportedly ready to take back Pashtun areas from Taliban control at this time. Khan, former and future governor of Herat province and one of Afghanistan’s most successful militia leaders, later maintains that “we could have captured all the Taliban and the al-Qaeda groups. We could have arrested Osama bin Laden with all of his supporters.” (Komarow 1/2/2002) However, according to Khan, his forces hold back at the request of the US, who allegedly do not want the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance to conquer Pashtun areas. British newspapers at the time report bin Laden is surrounded in a 30-mile area, but the conquest of Kandahar takes weeks without the Northern Alliance (see November 25, 2001). However, more reliable reports place bin Laden near Tora Bora by mid-November (see November 13, 2001). (CNN 11/18/2001)
After a sleepless night in the overcrowded basement in Dostum’s fortress, a group of Taliban prisoners, including John Walker Lindh, are led out, one by one, by the guards. They are searched, tied up and later seated in rows on an open lawn. (Soloway 12/1/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001) Simon Brooks, head of the International Committee for the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan, arrives at the Qala-i-Janghi compound seeking an assurance from Said Kamal, Dostum’s security chief, that the prisoners will be treated in accordance with international law. He also wants to write the prisoners’ names down and get messages for their families. (Harding et al. 12/1/2001) Another official from the Red Cross, Olivier Martin, is also inside Qala-i-Janghi making sure that the prisoners are being cared for in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. (Huggler 11/29/2001) Meanwhile, Northern Alliance fighters are tying up prisoners at the south end of the fortress. (August 11/28/2001; Hilto 11/29/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001) The prisoners are scared and think the Northern Alliance is preparing to execute them. They believe that the two television crews—from Reuters and the German station ARD—present intend to film their deaths. One of the prisoners recalls, “Our hands were tied, and they were beating and kicking some of us. Some of the Mujahedin [Taliban] were scared, crying. They thought we were all going to be killed.” (Gall 11/28/2001; Soloway 12/1/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001) One guard hits Lindh in the back of his head, so hard that he “nearly [loses] consciousness.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 )
One of the prisoners who is being interrogated by the two CIA agents tells Mike Spann that he has come to Afghanistan “to kill” him. With that, the prisoner lunges towards him. At this point accounts differ over what happens. According to an early account, Mike Spann immediately shoots the prisoner and three others dead with his pistol before the nearby Taliban prisoners join the skirmish and “beat, kick, and bite” Spann to death. (August 11/28/2001) In the other account, the prisoner who lunged towards Spann, used a grenade to blow him and Spann up, killing both of them immediately. (Harding et al. 12/1/2001) “Dave,” the second CIA agent, then shoots at least one of the foreign Taliban fighters dead and flees the vicinity. He goes to General Dostum’s headquarters in the north side of the fort where he contacts the American embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan using a satellite phone borrowed from the German TV crew. He tells the embassy, “We have lost control of the situation. Send in helicopters and troops.” (Harding et al. 12/1/2001) One witness later recalls, “David asked his superiors for choppers to be brought in, as well as ground troops to get everyone out. They sent about 40 American soldiers, but the choppers were too far away in Uzbekistan. David’s people offered to bring in gunships and bomb the Taliban. They would flatten the whole castle and kill us all. David told them twice they shouldn’t do that. They were really pressing for airstrikes and after three hours they started.” (August 11/28/2001) Meanwhile, Dostum’s soldiers began to shoot indiscriminately at the rows of bound prisoners. Some are killed and as prisoners stand up and run for cover, more are shot in their flight. John Walker Lindh too tries to run but after two or three paces a bullet hits him in his right thigh and he falls to the ground. Unable to walk, with chaos all around him, Lindh pretends to be dead. He remains on the ground for the next twelve hours. The Taliban soldiers soon overpower their Northern Alliance captors, take their weapons and break into the arms depot located towards the center for the compound where they help themselves to Dostum’s mortars and rocket launchers. (August 11/28/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 )
Northern Alliance troops establish a command post near Qala-i-Janghi’s northeast tower where they position a tank and begin shelling prisoners at the south end of the compound. (BBC 12/1/2001; CNN 8/3/2002)
In the morning, CIA agent “Dave,” US Special Forces, SAS soldiers, and an additional 200 Northern Alliance troops arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fortress to fight the remaining ten or so Taliban fighters who are still resisting. One of the US soldiers warns journalists not to be inside the compound at night. (August 11/28/2001; BBC 12/1/2001; CNN 8/3/2002) “To clear the last pockets of Taliban resistance in the afternoon, Alliance soldiers approached the houses in the middle of the compound and fired at random into basement windows,” the London Times later reports. “Some 20-liter petrol canisters were thrown in, then grenades.” (August 11/28/2001) Alliance soldiers roaming the complex shoot at the bodies to make sure there are no survivors. They also loot corpses, stealing rifles, boots, clothing, and even gold fillings from their teeth. (Huggler 11/29/2001) According to an escaped prisoner, a Northern Alliance tank runs over the bodies of injured survivors. (Pakistan News Service (Newark, CA) 12/3/2001) A tank attacks the western half of the compound and reportedly kills the last two remaining holdouts who are still fighting. By noon, “the ground was littered with countless mangled bodies,” the London Times reports. (August 11/28/2001; BBC 12/1/2001) Foreign reporters are allowed in the compound. One Associated Press photographer sees Northern Alliance soldiers removing the bindings from the hands of the dead Taliban fighters. (Huggler 11/29/2001) In the afternoon, it is discovered that there are about 100 survivors in the basement of a one-story building at the center of the compound. US Special Forces order Northern Alliance soldiers to pour diesel fuel into the basement and ignite it. (Soloway 12/1/2001) General Dostum’s men pour fuel down several air ducts, two of which lead into a room where John Walker Lindh is sitting, drenching him. Unable to walk, he has to crawl away from the air ducts. Some minutes later, the fuel is lit and fire spreads quickly throughout the basement. “People were being burned alive,” an eyewitness will recall. Lindh loses consciousness in the smoke-filled air, while Dostum’s soldiers fire rockets amidst the surviving Taliban. The report by Lindh’s defense will say, “Human remains litter the entire basement floor.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 ) At dusk, US soldiers recover CIA agent Mike Spann’s (see September 10, 2001) booby-trapped body. (CNN 8/3/2002)
Three young men from Tipton in the English West Midlands, all British citizens, find themselves detained in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance. (Branigan and Dodd 8/4/2004) Shafiq Rasul, of Pakistani descent, and a temporary employee with Currys, flew to Pakistan in October 2001 (Branigan 3/10/2004) in order, he claims, “to visit relatives…, explore his culture, and continue his computer studies.” While in Pakistan, he was seized “after leaving a visit with his aunt.” Asif Iqbal, a factory worker, traveled to Pakistan with the intention “to marry a woman from his father’s small village.” (Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al. 3/3/2004 ) Shortly before the marriage was to take place, Iqbal told his father he wanted to visit a friend in Karachi. (Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al. 3/3/2004 ) While still in Pakistan, he too was captured. (Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al. 3/3/2004 ) The third man from Tipton, Rhuhel Ahmed, is a friend of Iqbal, also a factory worker and is the same age. Ahmed flew to Pakistan shortly after his friend. (Branigan 3/10/2004) In 2007, Ahmed will confess that he visited an Islamist training camp and also handled weapons and learned how to use an AK47. (Anthony 6/3/2007) The three narrowly escape death when they are loaded along with almost 200 others into containers for transport to Sheberghan prison. The journey takes almost eighteen hours, during which almost all die due to lack of oxygen and shot wounds caused by Northern Alliance troops who at one point riddle the containers with bullets. Asif is shot in the arm. The three are among the only 20 prisoners who survive. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 )
Even as the US is allowing some Taliban and al-Qaeda to secretly fly out of Kunduz, Afghanistan (see November 14-25, 2001), it allows a brutal massacre of those who had to stay behind. The Glasgow Sunday Herald later says, “It seems established, almost beyond doubt, that US soldiers oversaw and took part in horrific crimes against humanity,” which resulted in the death of thousands of Taliban supporters who surrendered after Kunduz fell to the Northern Alliance. The documentary, Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death, exposes this news widely in Europe, but the massacre goes virtually unreported in the US. (Mackay 6/16/2002)
After a number of survivors are discovered in the basement of the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, Northern Alliance soldiers drop artillery rockets into the basement and detonate them by fuses. (Soloway 12/1/2001; CNN 8/3/2002) Northern Alliance soldiers then redirect an irrigation stream into the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress where surviving Taliban soldiers are, flooding it with freezing cold water. John Walker Lindh almost drowns and suffers from hypothermia. Most of the remaining prisoners die because of the water, and throughout the basement “the stench from decaying human remains becomes particularly acute.” (Soloway 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 )
Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed (the “Tipton Three”), held at Sheberghan prison, are among thirty to fifty other foreign prisoners whose custody is taken over by US Special Forces from the troops of the Northern Alliance. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 ) Abdul Razaq, a Pakistani teacher of English, says he is singled out for no other reason than that he speaks English. (Meek 12/3/2003) Taken to the main gate, US Special Forces personnel surround them pointing their guns at them. One by one they are stripped of all their clothes, despite the freezing temperature, and photographed. After five minutes they are allowed to put their clothes back on. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 ) One by one, they are taken to a shed. With their hands and feet tied with plastic cuffs, each of them is questioned by US soldiers in uniform. As one American starts the interrogation, another soldier, Rasul says, keeps a machine gun aimed at him. The interrogator, according to Rasul, says, “if you move, that guy over there will shoot you.” When it is Iqbal’s turn, a soldier, he says, is “holding a black 9mm automatic pistol to my temple. The barrel of the pistol was actually touching my temple.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 ) Razaq’s interview takes only three or four minutes with only two questions asked: “What is your name, and why have you come to Afghanistan?” (Meek 12/3/2003) Immediately after the interrogations, the non-Afghan prisoners have a sandbag put over their heads. For three or four hours, they have to wait in the cold for all detainees to complete the interrogations. “I think we were all suffering from the cold, dehydration, hunger, the uncertainty as well as the pain caused by the plastic ties,” Ahmed recalls. “Added to this, periodically Special Forces soldiers would walk along a line of sitting detainees and kick us or beat us at will.” Iqbal remembers that “one of them said ‘you killed my family in the towers and now it’s time to get you back.’ They kept calling us motherf_ckers and I think over the three or four hours that I was sitting there, I must have been punched, kicked, slapped or struck with a rifle butt at least 30 or 40 times. It came to a point that I was simply too numb from the cold and from exhaustion to respond to the pain.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 ) In the end, the prisoners are dragged, tied up and hooded, the skin scraping off their feet, to the backs of a number of trucks that take them to an airstrip. Loaded onto freezing cold cargo planes, they are forced to sit on the floor, still hooded, with their tied-up feet straight in front of them and their hands tied behind their backs. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 ) Rasul testifies, “Given that I was extremely weak and that I was suffering from dysentery, dehydration, hunger, and exhaustion it was impossible to maintain this position for more than a few minutes at a time. If however I leant back or tried to move, I would be struck with a rifle butt. These blows were not designed to prevent us from falling back or to adjust our position, they were meant to hurt and punish us.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 ) They eventually land at a US air base at Kandahar. According to Razaq prisoners arriving at Kandahar are offloaded in a particularly violent manner. “They haul you from your neck and drop you off the plane.” Relating his experience at Kandahar, Mohammed Saghir, a grey-bearded sawmill owner, says: “They would just pick us up and throw us out. Some people were hurt, some quite badly.” And Pakistani detainee Shah Mohammed, who arrives at Kandahar from a prison near Mazar-i-Sharif, says: “They kicked us out of the plane and threw us on the ground.” (Meek 12/3/2003) At Kandahar, probably on the evening of December 28, the newly arrived prisoners are forced to walk in a circle which is “unbearably painful” because their cuffs cut into their skin. US soldiers force their foreheads into the stony ground, hit, kick, and punch them and occasionally strike them with a rifle butt. They cut off their clothes and carry out “humiliating” cavity searches. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 )
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