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The US, through USAID and the University of Nebraska, spends millions of dollars developing and printing textbooks for Afghan schoolchildren. The textbooks are “filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.” For instance, children are “taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles, and land mines.” Lacking any alternative, millions of these textbooks are used long after 1994; the Taliban will still be using them in 2001. In 2002, the US will start producing less violent versions of the same books, which President Bush says will have “respect for human dignity, instead of indoctrinating students with fanaticism and bigotry.” (He will fail to mention who created those earlier books.) (Stephens and Ottaway 3/23/2002; Off 5/6/2002) A University of Nebraska academic named Thomas Gouttierre leads the textbook program. Journalist Robert Dreyfuss will later reveal that although funding for Gouttierre’s work went through USAID, it was actually paid for by the CIA. Unocal will pay Gouttierre to work with the Taliban (see December 1997) and he will host visits of Taliban leaders to the US, including trips in 1997 and 1999 (see December 4, 1997 and July-August 1999). (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 328)
Osama bin Laden and Pakistan’s ISI, helped by the CIA, build the Khost tunnel complex in Afghanistan. This will be a major target of bombing and fighting when the US attacks the Taliban in 2001. (Harding 11/13/2000; Rashid 9/23/2001; Islam 9/27/2001) In June 2001, one article mentions that “bin Laden worked closely with Saudi, Pakistani, and US intelligence services to recruit mujaheddin from many Muslim countries.” This information has not often been reported since 9/11. (de Borchgrave 6/14/2001) It has been claimed that the CIA also funds Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (also known as Al-Kifah), bin Laden’s main charity front in the 1980s (see 1984 and After). A CIA spokesperson will later state, “For the record, you should know that the CIA never employed, paid, or maintained any relationship whatsoever with bin Laden.” (Ananova 10/31/2001)
In the early 1990s, future Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is an up-and-coming military general, who is in charge of military operations. He is a pupil of Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the late 1980s and a long-time and open supporter of Osama bin Laden. Around 1993, he approaches Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto with a special plan to undermine Indian forces in the province of Kashmir, disputed between India and Pakistan. As Bhutto will later recall, “He told me he wanted to ‘unleash the forces of fundamentalism’ to ramp up the war” against India in Kashmir. Bhutto gives Musharraf the go-ahead, as she had lost power once before by opposing the Pakistani military and ISI, and “Second time around I did not want to rock the boat.” Musharraf approaches several Islamic organizations and commits them to supply volunteers who could be trained to fight as guerrillas in Kashmir. One group he works with is Markaz Dawa Al Irshad (MDI), founded several years before by followers of bin Laden. The MDI already has a military wing known as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Musharraf is allowed to use LeT’s fighters for his purposes in Kashmir and elsewhere. Other groups effectively created by Musharraf include Harkat ul-Ansar, later known as Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (see Early 1993). In the following months, the level of violence in Kashmir grows as the militias begin sending their fighters there. Around the same time, Musharraf sees early successes of the Taliban (see Spring-Autumn 1994), and along with Interior Minister Nasrullah Babar, begins secretly supporting them and supplying them. The two policies go hand-in-hand, because the militant groups begin training their fighters in parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. The Pakistani policy of tacitly supporting these militias and the Taliban will continue until Musharraf takes power in a coup in 1999 (see October 12, 1999), and beyond. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 239-243)
Journalist Ahmed Rashid, a long-time expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan, will later write in a book about the Taliban that the US supported the Taliban in its early years. “Between 1994 and 1996, the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia, and pro-Western. Between 1995 and 1997, US support was even more driven because of its backing for the Unocal [pipeline] project.” He notes that many US diplomats “saw them as messianic do-gooders—like born-again Christians from the American Bible Belt.” (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 326) Selig Harrison, a long-time regional expert with extensive CIA ties, will later say that he complained at the time about how Pakistani ISI support of the Taliban was backed by the CIA. “I warned them that we were creating a monster.” (Times of India 3/7/2001) There is evidence the CIA may have helped supply the Taliban with weapons during the first months of their rise to power (see October 1994).
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).
It is frequently reported that the Pakistani ISI created the Taliban. For instance, in 1996 CNN will report, “The Taliban are widely alleged to be the creation of Pakistan’s military intelligence [the ISI], which, according to experts, explains the Taliban’s swift military successes.” (Pratap 10/5/1996) And counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that not only did the ISI create the Taliban, but they also facilitated connections between the Taliban and al-Qaeda to help the Taliban achieve victory. (Clarke 2004, pp. 53) The Wall Street Journal will state in November 2001, “Despite their clean chins and pressed uniforms, the ISI men are as deeply fundamentalist as any bearded fanatic; the ISI created the Taliban as their own instrument and still support it.” (Erikson 11/15/2001) Technically, the Taliban appear to have actually started out on the own, but they were soon co-opted by the ISI and effectively became their proxy force (see Spring-Autumn 1994). Benazir Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan at the time, will later recall how ISI support grew in late 1994 and into early 1995. “I became slowly, slowly sucked into it.… Once I gave the go-ahead that they should get money, I don’t know how much money they were ultimately given.… I know it was a lot. It was just carte blanche.” Bhutto was actually at odds with her own ISI agency and will later claim she eventually discovered the ISI was giving them much more assistance than she authorized, including Pakistani military officers to lead them in fighting. (Coll 2004, pp. 293-294)
Afghanistan has been mired in civil war ever since the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. The Taliban arise organically in early 1994, but are soon co-opted by the Pakistani ISI (see Spring-Autumn 1994). By mid-October 1994, the Taliban takes over the town of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Before the end of the month, John Monjo, the US ambassador to Pakistan, makes a tour of areas controlled by the Taliban with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Nasrullah Babar, who is said to have been been a force behind the Taliban’s creation. The State Department issues a press release calling the victory of the “students” a “positive development likely to bring stability back to the area.” (Labeviere 1999, pp. 261-262)
The CIA supposedly backs the Taliban around the same time the Pakistani ISI starts strongly backing them (see Spring-Autumn 1994 and 1994-1997). According to a senior Pakistani intelligence source interviewed by British journalist Simon Reeves, the CIA provides Pakistan satellite information giving the secret locations of scores of Soviet trucks that contain vast amounts of arms and ammunition. The trucks were hidden in caves at the end of the Afghan war. Pakistan then gives this information to the Taliban. “The astonishing speed with which the Taliban conquered Afghanistan is explained by the tens of thousands of weapons found in these trucks….” (Reeve 1999, pp. 191) Journalist Steve Coll will later similarly note that at this time, the Taliban gain access to “an enormous ISI-supplied weapons dump” in caves near the border town of Spin Boldak. It has enough weapons left over from the Soviet-Afghan war to supply tens of thousands of soldiers. (Coll 2004, pp. 291) Another account will point out that by early 1995, the Taliban was equipped with armored tanks, ten combat airplanes, and other heavy weapons. They are thus able to conquer about a third of the country by February 1995. “According to the files at one European intelligence agency, these military advances can be explained mainly by ‘strong military training, not only by the Pakistani services, but also by American military advisers working under humanitarian cover.’” Later in 1995, a Turkish newsweekly will claim to have learned from a classified report given to the Turkish government that the CIA, ISI, and Saudi Arabia were all collaborating to build up the Taliban so they could quickly unite Afghanistan. (Labeviere 1999, pp. 262-263)
The Taliban, while just starting to take over Afghanistan, forms an important alliance with a powerful mafia of truck transporters based in Quetta, Pakistan (near the Afghanistan border) and Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Rashid 2001, pp. 22) The transporters pay hefty fees to the Taliban, who, in return, suppress any local warlords who interfere with the mafia’s trade. Additionally, the Taliban ensures that roads are kept open so that the transporters can operate freely. Taliban expert and author Ahmed Rashid argues that the alliance between the Taliban and the Quetta mafia becomes so successful that it ultimately destabilizes not only Afghanistan, but Pakistan as well. (Rashid 2001, pp. 191-195)
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).
Oil company Unocal signs an $8 billion deal with Turkmenistan to construct two pipelines (one for oil, one for gas), as part of a larger plan for two pipelines intended to transport oil and gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan. Before proceeding further, however, Unocal needs to execute agreements with Pakistan and Afghanistan; Pakistan and Ahmed Shah Massoud’s government in Afghanistan, however, have already signed a pipeline deal with an Argentinean company. Henry Kissinger, hired as speaker for a special dinner in New York to announce the Turkmenistan pipeline deal, says the Unocal plan represents a “triumph of hope over experience.” Unocal will later open an office in Kabul, weeks after the Taliban capture of the capital in late 1996 and will interact with the Taliban, seeking support for its pipeline until at least December 1997. (Coll 2004, pp. 301-13, 329, 338, 364-66)
In June 2004, the Los Angeles Times will report that, according to some 9/11 Commission members and US counterterrorism officials, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia cut secret deals with the Taliban and bin Laden before 9/11. These deals date to this year, if not earlier, and will successfully shield both countries from al-Qaeda attacks until long after 9/11. “Saudi Arabia provid[es] funds and equipment to the Taliban and probably directly to bin Laden, and [doesn’t] interfere with al-Qaeda’s efforts to raise money, recruit and train operatives, and establish cells throughout the kingdom, commission and US officials [say]. Pakistan provide[s] even more direct assistance, its military and intelligence agencies often coordinating efforts with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, they [say].” The two countries will become targets of al-Qaeda attacks only after they launch comprehensive efforts to eliminate the organization’s domestic cells. In Saudi Arabia, such efforts won’t begin until late 2003. (Meyer 7/16/2004) However, such allegations go completely unmentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, which only includes material unanimously agreed upon by the ten commissioners. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
The Associated Press will later report that the Enron corporation bribes Taliban officials as part of a “no-holds-barred bid to strike a deal for an energy pipeline in Afghanistan.” Atul Davda, a senior director for Enron’s International Division, will later claim, “Enron had intimate contact with Taliban officials.” Presumably this effort began around 1996, when a power plant Enron was building in India ran into trouble and Enron began an attempt to supply it with natural gas via a planned pipeline through Afghanistan (see 1995-November 2001 and June 24, 1996). In 1997, Enron executives privately meet with Taliban officials in Texas (see December 4, 1997). They are “given the red-carpet treatment and promised a fortune if the deal [goes] through.” It is alleged Enron secretly employs CIA agents to carry out its dealings overseas. According to a CIA source, “Enron proposed to pay the Taliban large sums of money in a ‘tax’ on every cubic foot of gas and oil shipped through a pipeline they planned to build.” This source claims Enron paid more than $400 million for a feasibility study on the pipeline and “a large portion of that cost was pay-offs to the Taliban.” Enron continues to encourage the Taliban about the pipeline even after Unocal officially gives up on the pipeline in the wake of the African embassy bombings (see December 5, 1998). An investigation after Enron’s collapse in 2001 (see December 2, 2001) will determine that some of this pay-off money ended up funding al-Qaeda. (Barrett 3/7/2002)
According to controversial author Gerald Posner, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida meet with senior members of Pakistan’s military, including Mushaf Ali Mir, who becomes chief of Pakistan’s air force in 2000. Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan the month before, and the Pakistanis offer him protection if he allies with the Taliban. The alliance will prove successful, and bin Laden will call it “blessed by the Saudis,” who are already giving money to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. (Posner 2003, pp. 105-06; Zabriskie 8/31/2003) Perhaps not coincidentally, this meeting comes only one month after a deal was reportedly made that reaffirmed Saudi support for al-Qaeda. Bin Laden is initially based in Jalalabad, which is free of Taliban control, but after the deal, he moves his base to Kandahar, which is the center of Taliban power. (Raman 9/17/2003)
In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. (Williams 11/18/2001) About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002) Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. (Farah 2/17/2002) Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. (Williams 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 139) Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. (Williams 11/18/2001) About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).
A secret CIA report indicates the Pakistani ISI is giving “at least $30,000 - and possibly as much as $60,000 - per month” to the Harkat ul-Ansar, a Pakistani radical militant group that will be renamed Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM) one year later. By this time, US intelligence is aware this group kidnapped and killed Americans and other Westerners in 1995 (see July 4, 1995). The CIA reports that Pakistan says it is reducing some of its monetary support to the group, presumably in an effort to avoid being placed on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. But apparently this is just posturing, because in 2001 the State Department will report that the ISI is continuing to fund HUM (see April 30, 2001). The CIA also notes that HUM “might undertake terrorist actions against civilian airliners.” Saeed Sheikh, an alleged 9/11 paymaster, is a leader of the group (see April 1993), and in 1999 an airplane hijacking will free him and another HUM leader from prison (see December 24-31, 1999). (Central Intelligence Agency 8/1996 ) Several months later, another secret US report will note the growing ties between HUM, Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban. But the US will not take any serious action against HUM or Pakistan. (US Embassy (Islamabad) 2/6/1997 ) HUM deputy chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil will be one of the cosigners to bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa declaring it a Muslim duty to kill Americans and Jews (see February 22, 1998). (Scott 2007, pp. 172)
Ahmed Rashid, correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph, conducts extensive investigative research in Afghanistan after the Taliban conquest of Kabul. As he will later write in his 2000 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, he sees a “massive regional polarization between the USA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Taliban on one side and Iran, Russia, the Central Asian states and the anti-Taliban alliance on the other. While some focused on whether there was a revival of the old CIA-ISI connection from the Afghan jihad era, it became apparent to me that the strategy over pipelines had become the driving force behind Washington’s interest in the Taliban, which in turn was prompting a counter-reaction from Russia and Iran. But exploring this was like entering a labyrinth, where nobody spoke the truth or divulged their real motives or interests. It was the job of a detective rather than a journalist because there were few clues. Even gaining access to the real players in the game was difficult, because policy was not being driven by politicians and diplomats, but by the secretive oil companies and intelligence services of the regional states.” (Rashid 2001, pp. 163)
The Taliban conquer Kabul (Kugler 8/19/2002) , establishing control over much of Afghanistan. A surge in the Taliban’s military successes at this time is later attributed to an increase in direct military assistance from Pakistan’s ISI. (Frantz 12/8/2001) The oil company Unocal is hopeful that the Taliban will stabilize Afghanistan and allow its pipeline plans to go forward. According to some reports, “preliminary agreement [on the pipeline] was reached between the [Taliban and Unocal] long before the fall of Kabul .… Oil industry insiders say the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan, a close political ally of America’s, has been so supportive of the Taliban, and why America has quietly acquiesced in its conquest of Afghanistan.” (Lockwood 10/11/1996) The 9/11 Commission later concludes that some State Department diplomats are willing to “give the Taliban a chance” because it might be able to bring stability to Afghanistan, which would allow a Unocal oil pipeline to be built through the country. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Four days after the Taliban conquers Kabul (see September 27, 1996), a classified CIA report notes that as the Taliban advance, they are closing some militant training camps but not others. They have closed the camps controlled by militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, militant leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and Jamaat-i-Islami (a religious political party in Pakistan). They have kept open camps controlled by Osama bin Laden, militant leader Yunas Khalis, the Pakistan-based militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (another religious political party in Pakistan). (Central Intelligence Agency 9/30/1996 )
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)
In a Washington Post op-ed, Zalmay Khalilzad calls on the US to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. “It is time for the United States to reengage.…The Taliban does not practice the anti-US style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran—it is closer to the Saudi model.” He calls on the US to help the Taliban “put Afghanistan on a path toward peace,” noting that continuing violence “has been a source of regional instability and an obstacle to building pipelines to bring Central Asian oil and gas to Pakistan and the world markets.” (Khalilzad 10/7/1996) However, by 2000, Khalilzad will sour on the Taliban. In a speech in March 2000, he will state, “Afghanistan was and is a possible corridor for the export of oil and gas from the Central Asian states down to Pakistan and to the world. A California company called Unocal was interested in exploring that option, but because of the war in Afghanistan, because of the instability that’s there, those options, or that option at least, has not materialized.” (Khalilzad 3/9/2000)
A classified US intelligence report concludes the ISI “is supplying the Taliban forces with munitions, fuel, and food.” The report notes that while the food shipments are taking place openly, “the munitions convoys depart Pakistan late in the evening hours and are concealed to reveal their true contents.” (US Intelligence 10/22/1996 )
When bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan (see May 18, 1996), he was forced to leave most of his personal fortune behind. Additionally, most of his training camps were in Sudan and those camps had to be left behind as well. But after the Taliban conquers most of Afghanistan and forms an alliance with bin Laden (see After May 18, 1996-September 1996), the Pakistani ISI persuades the Taliban to return to bin Laden the Afghanistan training camps that he controlled in the early 1990s before his move to Sudan. The ISI subsidizes the cost of the camps, allowing bin Laden to profit from the fees paid by those attending them. The ISI also uses the camps to train militants who want to fight against Indian forces in Kashmir. (Wright 2006, pp. 250) In 2001, a Defense Intelligence Agency agent will write about the al-Badr II camp at Zhawar Kili. “Positioned on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was built by Pakistan contractors funded by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), and protected under the patronage of a local and influential Jadran tribal leader, Jalalludin [Haqani],” the agent writes. “However, the real host in that facility was the Pakistani ISI. If this was later to be bin Laden’s base, then serious questions are raised by the early relationship between bin Laden and Pakistan’s ISI.” (Defense Intelligence Agency 10/2/2001 )
Bin Laden establishes and maintains a major role in opium drug trade, soon after moving the base of his operations to Afghanistan. Opium money is vital to keeping the Taliban in power and funding bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. One report estimates that bin Laden takes up to 10 percent of Afghanistan’s drug trade by early 1999. This would give him a yearly income of up to $1 billion out of $6.5 to $10 billion in annual drug profits from within Afghanistan. (Huband 11/28/2001) The US monitors bin Laden’s satellite phone starting in 1996 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). According to one newspaper, “Bin Laden was heard advising Taliban leaders to promote heroin exports to the West.” (Campbell 9/27/2001)
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)
In February 1997, Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden’s former personal secretary now living in Kenya and working on an al-Qaeda bomb plot, goes to Afghanistan and visits bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (see February 7-21, 1997). He returns to Kenya with a seven-page report from Atef, al-Qaeda’s military commander, that details al-Qaeda’s new ties to the Taliban. Atef writes: “We wish to put our Muslim friends in the picture of the events, especially that the media portrayed an untrue image about the Taliban movement. Our duty towards the movement is to stand behind it, support it materially and morally.” On February 25, 1997, El-Hage faxes the report to some associates with the suggestion that it be shared with the “brothers in work.” US intelligence is monitoring El-Hage’s phone and learns the contents of the fax and whom it is sent to. The fax is sent to:
Ali Mohamed, the US-al-Qaeda double agent living in California. Mohamed has already been under surveillance since 1993 for his al-Qaeda ties (see Autumn 1993). He will not be arrested until one month after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see September 10, 1998).
Ihab Ali Nawawi, an apparent al-Qaeda operative living in Orlando, Florida. It is not known if Nawawi is monitored after this, but communications between him, Mohamed, and El-Hage are discovered in January 1998 (see January 1998). He will not be arrested until May 1999 (see May 18, 1999).
Farid Adlouni. He is a civil engineer living in Lake Oswego, Oregon. In 1996 and 1997, El-Hage calls Adlouni in Oregon 72 times, sometimes just before or after meeting with bin Laden. Later in 1997, Adlouni’s home phone and fax numbers will be found in two personal phone directories and one notebook kept by El-Hage (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Records show that El-Hage has extensive dealings with Adlouni, mostly by selling gems El-Hage bought in Africa for a better price in the US. The FBI interviews Adlouni twice in late 1997, but he is not arrested. As of 2002, it will be reported that he continues to live in Oregon and remains a “person of interest” and subject of investigation by the FBI.
Other copies of the fax are sent to associates in Germany, but they have not been named. Apparently these contacts do not result in any arrests, as there are no known arrests of al-Qaeda figures in Germany in 1997. (Zaitz 9/13/2002)
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) officially recognize the Taliban government. Pakistan is the first to give recognition, doing so on the same day the Taliban temporarily conquers the town of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. (Cooper 5/28/1997; Evans 5/29/1997) On 9/11, these three will still be the only countries that recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. (US Congress 7/24/2003)
The Saudi government becomes the first country to extend formal recognition of the Taliban government of Afghanistan. Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates will follow suit. On 9/11, these three countries are the only countries that officially recognize the Taliban. (US Congress 7/24/2003)
A classified US cable on this date reveals US intelligence is aware that the Taliban are paying the Pakistani government for wheat and fuel with drugs. The cable suggests that Pakistan is planning to demand hard currency instead of drugs in order to restrain drug trafficking and increase revenue, but it is unclear if this change ever takes place. (US Embassy (Islamabad) 8/13/1997 )
According to later released US documents, US Ambassador to Pakistan Tom Simons criticizes a high-ranking Pakistani official about Pakistan’s aid to the Taliban. This official protests that total Pakistani aid to the Taliban is only about half a million dollars. However, Simons replies that even if he believed that figure, it does not include wheat, petroleum, oil, lubricants, and “trucks and buses full of adolescent [fighters] crossing the frontier shouting ‘allahu akbar’ and going into the line with a day or two of weapons training. That [is] Pakistan’s real aid.” (US Embassy (Islamabad) 8/27/1997 )
Unocal pays University of Nebraska $900,000 to set up a training facility near Osama bin Laden’s Kandahar compound, to train 400 Afghan teachers, electricians, carpenters and pipe fitters in anticipation of using them for their pipeline in Afghanistan. One hundred and fifty students are already attending classes in southern Afghanistan. Unocal is playing University of Nebraska professor Thomas Gouttierre to develop the training program. Gouttierre travels to Afghanistan and meets with Taliban leaders, and also arranges for some Taliban leaders to visit the US around this time (see December 4, 1997). (Lees 12/14/1997; Coll 2004, pp. 364) It will later be revealed that the CIA paid Gouttierre to head a program at the University of Nebraska that created textbooks for Afghanistan promoting violence and jihad (see 1984-1994). Gouttierre will continue to work with the Taliban after Unocal officially cuts off ties with them. For instance, he will host some Taliban leaders visiting the US in 1999 (see July-August 1999).
Representatives of the Taliban are invited guests to the Texas headquarters of Unocal to negotiate their support for the pipeline. Future President George W. Bush is Governor of Texas at the time. The Taliban appear to agree to a $2 billion pipeline deal, but will do the deal only if the US officially recognizes the Taliban regime. The Taliban meet with US officials. According to the Daily Telegraph, “the US government, which in the past has branded the Taliban’s policies against women and children ‘despicable,’ appears anxious to please the fundamentalists to clinch the lucrative pipeline contract.” A BBC regional correspondent says that “the proposal to build a pipeline across Afghanistan is part of an international scramble to profit from developing the rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea.” (BBC 12/4/1997; Lees 12/14/1997) It has been claimed that the Taliban meet with Enron officials while in Texas (see 1996-September 11, 2001). Enron, headquartered in Texas, has an large financial interest in the pipeline at the time (see June 24, 1996). The Taliban also visit Thomas Gouttierre, an academic at the University of Nebraska, who is a consultant for Unocal and also has been paid by the CIA for his work in Afghanistan (see 1984-1994 and December 1997). Gouttierre takes them on a visit to Mt. Rushmore. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 328-329)
In 1998, CIA analysts realize that ground crews for illegal arms dealer Victor Bout are performing maintenance chores for Ariana Airlines planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Bout’s air fleet is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the time, and in fact Bout has been working with the Taliban since about 1996 (see October 1996-Late 2001). The CIA has also been gathering intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives are frequently moving between Afghanistan and the UAE. Ariana, Afghanistan’s official airline, is the only airline making flights between the Middle East and Afghanistan. Therefore, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concludes that Ariana is being used as a “terrorist taxi service.” Scheuer concludes that Bout is assisting al-Qaeda. He will later comment that when al-Qaeda operatives would travel through the UAE, “it was almost always through Ariana flights. Since Bout’s operation was working with Ariana, they were part of the same set of concerns.” The CIA also notices an increasing number of Bout’s own planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Scheuer will later say, “Our human intelligence said it was mostly small arms and ammunition, going to Kandahar and occasionally to Kabul.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 138-140) However, while intelligence reports on Bout’s ties to the Taliban continue, interest in his activities in Afghanistan fades by the end of 1998. Scheuer will later claim that he tried to raise concern about the Bout flights with National Security Council officials, but saw little interest. “I never got a sense that he was important. He was part of the problem we had with the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, but there were so many parts we were dealing with.… [N]o one was going to fall on their sword to get Victor Bout.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 143) After 9/11, evidence will emerge that about nine of the 9/11 hijackers worked in the Kandahar airport heavily used by Bout’s airplanes (see Summer 2000).
Beginning in 1998, if not before, Uzbekistan and the CIA secretly create a joint counterterrorist strike force, funded and trained by the CIA. This force conducts joint covert operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. (Times of India 10/14/2001; Ricks and Glasser 10/14/2001; Zeman et al. 11/2004) In February 1999, radical Muslims fail in an attempt to assassinate Islam Karimov, the leader of Uzbekistan, leading to a crackdown on Uzbek militants. CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black and bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee see this as an opportunity to increase co-operation with Uzbekistan, and fly to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to seal an agreement with Karimov. One hope is that a strike force will be established to snatch Osama bin Laden or one of his lieutenants. Karimov also allows CIA transit and helicopter operations at Uzbek air bases, as well as the installation of CIA and NSA monitoring equipment to intercept Taliban and al-Qaeda communications. The CIA is pleased with the new allies, thinking them better than Pakistan’s ISI, but at the White House some National Security Council members are skeptical. One will comment, “Uzbek motivations were highly suspect to say the least.” There are also worries about Uzbek corruption, human rights abuses, and scandal. (Coll 2004, pp. 456-460)
Arms dealer Victor Bout secretly sells twelve heavy-duty cargo planes to the Taliban. They are given false registries as civilian aircraft belonging to Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline. The planes enable the Taliban to buy and transport more weapons and move al-Qaeda and Taliban figures more easily. The Taliban usually purchase the additional weapons from Bout as well. When US forces take control of Afghanistan in late 2001, they will discover huge caches of munitions that had been flown into the Kandahar airport before 9/11 and generally hidden in storerooms near the airport. Al-Qaeda and Taliban share the caches, and likely use remnants of them in fighting the US in late 2001, 2002 and beyond. Apparently, US intelligence does not notice the airplane purchases until after 9/11. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 126-129, 279)
According to a later declassified US government cable, a Pakistani foreign ministry official admits to a US official that Pakistan has been giving the Taliban weapons. He says Pakistan “had not provided arms and ammunition to the Taliban since three or four months.” (US Embassy (Islamabad) 3/9/1998 ) But Pakistan does not stop giving weapons. In fact, in July 1998, another US government cable indicates Pakistani support for the Taliban “appears to be getting stronger.” Another Pakistani official admits Pakistan is giving the Taliban about $1 million a month to pay the salaries of Taliban officials and commanders, but claims this is merely “humanitarian” assistance. (US Embassy (Islamabad) 7/1/1998 )
Bill Richardson, the US Ambassador to the UN, meets Taliban officials in Kabul. (All such meetings are illegal, because the US still officially recognizes the government the Taliban ousted as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.) US officials at the time call the oil and gas pipeline project a “fabulous opportunity” and are especially motivated by the “prospect of circumventing Iran, which offers another route for the pipeline.” (Shadid and Donnelly 9/20/2001) Richardson tries to persuade the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US, promising to end the international isolation of the Taliban if they cooperate. (Reeve 1999, pp. 195; US Department of State 1/30/2004)
Enron’s agreement from 1996 (see June 24, 1996) to develop natural gas with Uzbekistan is not renewed. Enron closes its office there. The reason for the “failure of Enron’s flagship project” is an inability to get the natural gas out of the region. Uzbekistan’s production is “well below capacity” and only 10 percent of its production is being exported, all to other countries in the region. The hope was to use a pipeline through Afghanistan, but “Uzbekistan is extremely concerned at the growing strength of the Taliban and its potential impact on stability in Uzbekistan, making any future cooperation on a pipeline project which benefits the Taliban unlikely.” A $12 billion pipeline through China is being considered as one solution, but that wouldn’t be completed until the end of the next decade at the earliest. (Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections 10/12/1998)
Taliban officials allegedly meet with Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence, to continue talks concerning the Taliban’s ouster of bin Laden from Afghanistan. Reports on the location of this meeting, and the deal under discussion differ. According to some reports, including documents exposed in a later lawsuit, this meeting takes place in Kandahar. Those present include Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, Taliban leaders, senior officers from the ISI, and bin Laden. According to these reports, Saudi Arabia agrees to give the Taliban and Pakistan “several hundred millions” of dollars, and in return, bin Laden promises no attacks against Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also agree to ensure that requests for the extradition of al-Qaeda members will be blocked and promise to block demands by other countries to close down bin Laden’s Afghan training camps. Saudi Arabia had previously given money to the Taliban and bribe money to bin Laden, but this ups the ante. (Fielding 8/25/2002) A few weeks after the meeting, Prince Turki sends 400 new pickup trucks to the Taliban. At least $200 million follow. (Rashid 9/23/2001; Lathem and Gorta 8/25/2002) Controversial author Gerald Posner gives a similar account said to come from high US government officials, and adds that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida also attends the meeting. (Posner 2003, pp. 189-90) Note that reports of this meeting seemingly contradict reports of a meeting the month before between Turki and the Taliban, in which the Taliban agreed to get rid of bin Laden (see June 1998).
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)
President Clinton is aware of the links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. In his 2005 autobiography, he will explain why he did not warn the Pakistani government more than several minutes in advance that it was firing missiles over Pakistan in an attempt to hit Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998). He will write: “Although we were trying to work with Pakistan to defuse tensions on the Indian subcontinent, and our two nations had been allies during the Cold War, Pakistan supported the Taliban and, by extension, al-Qaeda. The Pakistani intelligence service used some of the same camps that bin Laden and al-Qaeda did to train the Taliban and insurgents who fought in Kashmir. If Pakistan had found out about our planned attacks in advance, it was likely that Pakistani intelligence would warn the Taliban or even al-Qaeda.” (Clinton 2005, pp. 799) Despite this precaution, it appears the ISI successfully warns bin Laden in advance anyway (see August 20, 1998). Clinton takes no firm against against Pakistan for its links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, such as including Pakistan on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Hours before the US missile strike meant to assassinate bin Laden, he is warned that his satellite phone is being used to track his location and he turns it off. A former CIA official later alleges the warning came from supporters working for Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. (Reeve 1999, pp. 201-202) It has been claimed that a tracking beacon was placed in bin Laden’s phone when a replacement battery was brought to him in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). The US military only gave Pakistan about ten minutes’ advance notice that cruise missiles were entering their air space on their way to Afghanistan. This was done to make sure the missiles wouldn’t be misidentified and shot down. (Weaver 1/24/2000) But Pakistan was apparently aware several hours earlier, as soon as the missiles were launched. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later claims he was promised by the Navy that it would fire their missiles from below the ocean surface. However, in fact, many destroyers fired their missiles from the surface. (Clarke 2004, pp. 188-89) He adds, “not only did they use surface ships—they brought additional ones in, because every captain wants to be able to say he fired the cruise missile.” (Mayer 7/28/2003) As a result, the ISI had many hours to alert bin Laden. Furthermore, Clarke later says, “I have reason to believe that a retired head of the ISI was able to pass information along to al-Qaeda that an attack was coming.” This is a likely reference to Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the early 1990’s. (Mayer 7/28/2003) In 1999 the US will intercept communications suggesting that Gul played a role in forewarning the Taliban about the missile strike which may even had predated the firing of the cruise missiles (see July 1999). Clarke says he believes that “if the [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISI saw al-Qaeda as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 188-89) Furthermore, bin Laden cancels a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders after finding out that 180 US diplomats were being immediately withdrawn from Pakistan on a chartered plane. Thanks to these warnings, he is hundreds of miles away from his training camps when the missiles hit some hours later (see August 20, 1998). (Reeve 1999, pp. 202)
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.
After being asked by Taliban leader Mullah Omar (see August 22, 1998), the US sends the Taliban a cable about bin Laden’s activities. The cable states, “We have detailed and solid evidence that Osama bin Laden has been engaged and is still engaged in planning, organizing, and funding acts of international terror.” However, the sections on the various plots in which bin Laden is supposed to have been involved are brief and do not include supporting evidence. For example, the Yemen bombing in 1992 (see December 29, 1992) is described in a single sentence: “Bin Laden and his network conspired to kill US servicemen in Yemen who were on their way to participate in the humanitarian mission ‘Operation Restore Hope’ in Somalia in 1992.” (US Department of State 8/23/1998 ) Afghanistan’s supreme court will later acquit bin Laden of his involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)) because of the US’s refusal to provide the court with the requested evidence.
Following the cruise missile attack on al-Qaeda targets on August 20 (see August 20, 1998), immediate plans are made for follow up attacks to make sure bin Laden is killed. However, on this day, Defense Secretary William Cohen is advised that available targets are not promising. Some question the use of expensive missiles to hit very primitive training camps, and there is the concern that if bin Laden is not killed, his stature will only grow further. As discussions continue, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke prepares a plan he calls “Delenda,” which means “to destroy” in Latin. His idea is to have regular, small strikes in Afghanistan whenever the intelligence warrants it. The plan is rejected. Counterterrorism officials in the Defense Secretary’s office independently create a similar plan, but it too is rejected. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The Delenda Plan also calls for diplomacy against the Taliban, covert action focused in Afghanistan, and financial measures to freeze bin Laden-related funds. These aspects are not formally adopted, but they guide future efforts. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
By this time, US intelligence has documented many links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. It is discovered that the ISI maintains about eight stations inside Afghanistan which are staffed by active or retired ISI officers. The CIA has learned that ISI officers at about the colonel level regularly meet with bin Laden or his associates to coordinate access to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The CIA suspects that the ISI is giving money and/or equipment to bin Laden, but they find no evidence of direct ISI involvement in al-Qaeda’s overseas attacks. The ISI generally uses the training camps to train operatives to fight a guerrilla war in the disputed Indian province of Kashmir. But while these ISI officers are following Pakistani policy in a broad sense, the CIA believes the ISI has little direct control over them. One senior Clinton administration official will later state that it was “assumed that those ISI individuals were perhaps profiteering, engaged in the drug running, the arms running.” One US official aware of CIA reporting at this time later comments that Clinton’s senior policy team saw “an incredibly unholy alliance that was not only supporting all the terrorism that would be directed against us” but also threatening “to provoke a nuclear war in Kashmir.” (Coll 2004, pp. 439-440)
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).
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)
After the Taliban is warned that bin Laden has been accused of involvement in the recent 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it initiates judicial proceedings against him. But when the US fails to provide Afghanistan’s supreme court with sufficient evidence, bin Laden is acquitted. (Associated Press 11/20/1998) The Taliban has already received some claims regarding bin Laden’s involvement in terrorism from the US (see August 23, 1998), but these are insufficient and more evidence is requested. Originally, there is no cut-off date for supplying evidence, but when the US does nothing, the Taliban leaders become frustrated and announce a time limit on the inquiry: “If anyone has any evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in cases of terrorism, subversion, sabotage, or any other acts, they should get it to the court before November 20. If by then there is nothing, we will close the case and in our eyes he will be acquitted.” In a November 10 cable the US embassy in Pakistan, which also handles Afghan affairs, comments: “The Taliban appear to many observers not to be totally unreasonable in their demand that the US provide them evidence on bin Laden.” (US Embassy (Islamabad) 11/10/1998 ) The US then sends the Taliban a video of an interview bin Laden gave CNN in 1997, a transcript of his ABC 1998 interview, and a copy of his US indictment for the embassy bombings. (US Department of State 11/11/1998 ) The inquiry is headed by the country’s chief justice, Noor Mohamed Saqib. After the evidence is found not to be enough and bin Laden is set free, Saqib comments: “It is their shame that they have been silent. America is wrong about bin Laden… Anything that happens now anywhere in the world they blame Osama, but the reality is in the proof and they have not given us any. It’s over and America has not presented any evidence. Without any evidence, bin Laden is a man without sin… he is a free man.” (Associated Press 11/20/1998) However, the State Department says that it did not “endorse, support, or request” the sharia court trial, but simply wanted bin Laden extradited. A White House spokesperson says, “Without commenting on the rigor of the Taliban judicial system, it is clear that Mr. bin Laden is a proven threat to US national interests.” (US Department of State 11/11/1998 ; Associated Press 11/20/1998) The Taliban’s leadership is not satisfied with the outcome of the trial and will subsequently ask the US for help in getting rid of bin Laden (see November 28, 1998).
Senior Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil meets diplomats from the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, to examine new ways of resolving the problem of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan after judicial proceedings against him collapse there (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)). Ahmed expresses his opinion that Taliban leaders are caught between “a rock and a hard place” since, if they expel bin Laden without cause they will have internal problems and, if they do not, they will have external ones due to the US. Ahmed suggests that the Saudis have a key to the solution. Afghan and Saudi religious scholars could convene a joint meeting and issue a ruling that bin Laden had acted illegally, for example by holding a news conference when he was under a communication ban. He could then be expelled without this causing internal unrest in Afghanistan and the problem would be resolved “in minutes, not hours.” The US would be happy if bin Laden were expelled to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, but the Saudis apparently do not favor a joint meeting and the proposal is not acted upon. (US Department of State 11/28/1998 )
Unocal announces it is withdrawing from the CentGas pipeline consortium, and closing three of its four offices in Central Asia. President Clinton refuses to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, making business there legally problematic. A concern that Clinton will lose support among women voters for upholding the Taliban plays a role in the cancellation. (Levine 12/5/1998)
During the investigation of the August 7, 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), FBI counterterrorism expert John O’Neill finds a memo by al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef on a computer. The memo shows that bin Laden’s group has a keen interest in and detailed knowledge of negotiations between the Taliban and the US over an oil and gas pipeline through Afghanistan. Atef’s analysis suggests that the Taliban are not sincere in wanting a pipeline, but are dragging out negotiations to keep Western powers at bay. (Brisard 6/5/2002)
CIA already has a network of local agents in Afghanistan by this time (see 1997). However, in this year there is a serious effort to increase the network throughout Afghanistan and other countries for the purpose of capturing bin Laden and his deputies. (Lake 10/17/2002) Many are put on the CIA’s payroll, including some Taliban military leaders. Many veterans of the Soviet war in the 1980s who worked with the CIA then are recruited again. All of these recuitments are kept secret from Pakistani intelligence because of their support of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. (Coll 2004, pp. 491-492) CIA Director George Tenet will later state that by 9/11, “a map would show that these collection programs and human networks were in place in such numbers to nearly cover Afghanistan. This array means that, when the military campaign to topple the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda [begins in October 2001], we [are] able to support it with an enormous body of information and a large stable of assets.” (US Congress 10/17/2002) However, apparently none of these sources are close enough to bin Laden to know about his movements in advance. (Coll 2004, pp. 491-492)
Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, writes a play in which Osama bin Laden is referred to and a disgruntled character warns that Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban—which will be condemned for harboring bin Laden after 9/11—is “coming to New York.” (Raymond 12/4/2001; Wartofsky 12/12/2001; Phillips 12/20/2001) The play, called Homebody/Kabul, is about a middle-aged English woman who travels to Afghanistan in 1998 and mysteriously disappears there. Her husband and daughter then go to Afghanistan to search for her. (Heller 9/19/2002)
Character Is Told the Taliban Are 'Coming to New York' - In one scene, Mahala, an embittered Afghan woman, complains to Priscilla, the young English woman who is searching for her mother, about the world’s indifference to the brutal rule of the Taliban. “We must suffer under the Taliban so that the US can settle a 20-year-old score with Iran!” Mahala says. Apparently mistakenly thinking Priscilla is American, she continues, “You love the Taliban so much, bring them to New York!” In conclusion, she says, “Well, don’t worry, they’re coming to New York!” (Wartofsky 12/12/2001; Phillips 12/20/2001; Kushner 2002, pp. 85)
Character Jokes about Bin Laden Being Killed - In another scene, bin Laden, who will be accused of ordering the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, is mentioned. Two characters, Quango and Milton, are joking that the United States “has smiled down on the Taliban” up until the previous week, “when America bombed them!” Quango says the Americans killed “quite a number of people” in the attack. In response, Milton jokingly exclaims, “Osama bin Laden!” but Quango comments, “No, they missed him.” (Kushner 2002, pp. 100-101)
Play Is Written in Response to the US Attack on Afghanistan in 1998 - Kushner reportedly writes Homebody/Kabul partly in response to America’s cruise missile attack on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998), in retaliation for the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (Phillips 12/20/2001; Heller 9/19/2002) It is unclear, however, exactly when the play is written. Kushner writes it, or at least starts writing it, in 1999, according to some reports. (Phillips 12/20/2001; Munch 3/10/2004; Moore 3/16/2011) But according to other reports, he started work on it as early as 1997 or 1998. (Wartofsky 12/12/2001; Franklin 1/28/2002; Roca 4/14/2002; Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2/18/2007)
Writer Will Say that 9/11 Was Foreseeable - Homebody/Kabul will have its world premiere in New York about three months after 9/11, in December 2001. Coverage of the play will be filled with mentions of Kushner’s supposed “prescience” and “prophesy.” (Raymond 12/4/2001; Phillips 12/20/2001; Miller 5/5/2002) But Kushner will later dismiss these suggestions. “I’m not psychic,” he will write, adding, “If lines in Homebody/Kabul seem ‘eerily prescient‘… we ought to consider that the information required to foresee, long before 9/11, at least the broad outline of serious trouble ahead was so abundant and easy of access that even a playwright could avail himself of it.” (Kushner 2002, pp. 144) “So much of [what happened on September 11, 2001] was foreseeable—and had been foreseen by clear-thinking people,” he will explain to the Denver Post. Therefore, he will say, “It wasn’t very hard to smell that particular rat.” (Moore 3/16/2011)
The failure to strike at bin Laden in February 1999, despite having unusually good intelligence about his location (see February 11, 1999), causes strong resentment in the US intelligence community. It is believed that the US held its fire because of the presence of royalty from the United Arab Emirates(UAE), but some felt those royals were legitimate targets as well since they were associating with bin Laden there. Further, intelligence at the time suggests the planes carrying these royals to Afghanistan were also bringing weapons to the Taliban in defiance of United Nations bans. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, is particularly upset. He reportedly sends a series of e-mails to others in the CIA that are, in the opinion of one person who read them, “angry, unusual, and widely circulated.” His anger at this decision not to strike at bin Laden will apparently contribute to him losing his position leading the bin Laden unit a few months later (see June 1999). Some resentment is directed at counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who voted against the missile strike. Clarke was known to be close to the UAE’s royal family. He’d negotiated many arms deals and other arrangements with them, including an $8 billion deal in May 1998 to buy F-16 fighters from the US (see Early February 1999). (Coll 2004, pp. 447-450) In March 1999, Clarke calls Emirati royals and asks them to stop visiting bin Laden. However, he apparently did not have permission from the CIA to make this call. Within one week, the camp where the Emiratis and bin Laden met is abandoned. CIA officers are irate, feeling that this ruined a chance to strike at bin Laden if he made a return visit to the location. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 138)
An unnamed European intelligence agency secretly reports that al-Qaeda has provided financial support for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Documents found on a KLA militant further reveal that he has been smuggling combatants into Kosovo, mostly Saudis with Albanian passports. The report further notes that the KLA is largely financed by drug trafficking, bringing drugs from Afghanistan into Europe with the blessing of the Taliban. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 71-72)
The US gains information that former ISI head Hamid Gul contacts Taliban leaders at this time and advises them that the US is not planning to attack Afghanistan to get bin Laden. He assures them that he will provide them three or four hours warning of any future US missile launch, as he did “last time.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later suggests Gul gave al-Qaeda warning about the missile strike in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998). (Mayer 7/28/2003)
About a dozen Afghan leaders visit the US. They are militia commanders, mostly Taliban, and some with ties to al-Qaeda. A few are opponents of the Taliban. Their exact names and titles remain classified. For five weeks, they visit numerous locales in the US, including Mt. Rushmore. All their expenses are paid by the US government and the University of Nebraska. Thomas Gouttierre, an academic heading an Afghanistan program at the University of Nebraska, hosts their visit. Gouttierre is working as a consultant to Unocal at the time, and some Taliban visits to the US are paid for by Unocal, such as a visit two years earlier (see December 4, 1997). However, it is unknown if Unocal plays a role in this particular trip. Gouttierre had previously been paid by the CIA to create Afghan textbooks promoting violence and jihad (see 1984-1994). It is unknown if any of these visitors meet with US officials during their trip. (Berens 10/21/2001)
With the chances of a pipeline deal with the Taliban looking increasingly unlikely, President Clinton finally issues an executive order prohibiting commercial transactions with the Taliban. The order also freezes the Taliban’s US assets. Clinton blames the Taliban for harboring bin Laden. (CNN 7/6/1999; US President 7/12/1999)
A group of illegal arms merchants, including an ISI agent with foreknowledge of 9/11, had met in a New York restaurant the month before (see July 14, 1999). This same group meets at this time in a West Palm Beach, Florida, warehouse, and it is shown Stinger missiles as part of a sting operation. (Burstein 3/20/2003) US intelligence soon discovers connections between two in the group, Rajaa Gulum Abbas and Mohammed Malik, Islamic militant groups in Kashmir (where the ISI assists them in fighting against India), and the Taliban. Mohamed Malik suggests in this meeting that the Stingers will be used in Kashmir or Afghanistan. His colleague Diaa Mohsen also says Abbas has direct connections to “dignitaries” and bin Laden. Abbas also wants heavy water for a “dirty bomb” or other material to make a nuclear weapon. He says he will bring a Pakistani nuclear scientist to the US to inspect the material. (MSNBC 8/2/2002; NBC 3/18/2003) According to Dick Stoltz, a federal undercover agent posing as a black market arms dealer, one of the Pakistanis at the warehouse claims he is working for A.Q. Khan. A Pakistani nuclear scientist, Khan is considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and also the head of an illegal network exporting nuclear technology to rogue nations. (Hansen 1/14/2005) Government informant Randy Glass passes these warnings on before 9/11, but he claims, “The complaints were ordered sanitized by the highest levels of government.” (WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach) 8/5/2002) In June 2002, the US secretly indicts Abbas, but apparently they aren’t trying very hard to find him: In August 2002, MSNBC is easily able to contact Abbas in Pakistan and speak to him by telephone. (MSNBC 8/2/2002)
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)
Gen. Pervez Musharraf becomes leader of Pakistan in a coup, ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. One major reason for the coup is the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) felt Sharif had to go “out of fear that he might buckle to American pressure and reverse Pakistan’s policy [of supporting] the Taliban.” (Frantz 12/8/2001) Shortly thereafter, Musharraf replaces the leader of the ISI, Brig Imtiaz, because of his close ties to the previous leader. Imtiaz is arrested and convicted of “having assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.” It is later revealed that he was keeping tens of millions of dollars earned from heroin smuggling in a Deutsche Bank account. (Raman 8/10/2001) Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, a close ally of Musharraf, is instrumental in the success of the coup. Ahmed actually secured the capital and detained Sharif, but then honored the chain of command and stepped aside so Musharraf, as head of the military, could take over. Ahmed is rewarded by being made the new director of the ISI. (Harding 10/9/2001; Coll 2004, pp. 504-505)
United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect. The sanctions freeze Taliban assets and impose an air embargo on Ariana Airlines in an effort to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. (BBC 2/6/2000) It had been widely reported that Ariana had become a transportation arm for al-Qaeda (see Mid-1996-October 2001). However, Ariana will keep its illegal trade network flying, until stricter sanctions will ground it in 2001 (see January 19, 2001).
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 CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. (Clarke 2004, pp. 205, 211) The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism (Dobbs 4/2/2000; Bridis 6/28/2002) All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. (Wingert 3/31/2004)
The US warns the Taliban that the US will punish them for any attacks ordered by bin Laden, who is living in Afghanistan under Taliban protection. On this day, Ahmed Ressam is arrested trying to enter the US to conduct a bombing there (see December 14, 1999). In response, that evening, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief Michael Sheehan calls Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. Sheehan later recalls saying bin Laden “is like a criminal who lives in your basement. It is no longer possible for you to act as if he’s not your responsibility. He is your responsibility.” The implied threat is that the US will punish the Taliban, possibly with military force, in response to further bin Laden attack. Muttawakil says he understands and urges the US to use restraint. (King and Cloud 3/8/2000)
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)
CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate committee in open session that bin Laden “wants to strike further blows against America.” He points out the close links between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and says this is part of an “intricate web of alliances among Sunni extremists worldwide, including North Africans, radical Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Central Asians.” He points out ties between drug traffickers and the Taliban and says, “There is ample evidence that Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden use profits from the drug trade to support their terror campaign.” But there is no mention of Pakistan’s support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite CIA knowledge of this (see Autumn 1998). Instead, he claims Iran is “the most active state sponsor” of terrorism. Additionally, he does not mention that bin Laden is capable of planning attacks inside the US, even though he told that to Congress in a closed session six months earlier (see June 24, 1999). (Senate 2/2/2000)
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)
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)
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf publicly supports the Taliban. He refers to the Taliban when he says in a press conference: “I just want to say that there is a difference of understanding on who is a terrorist. The perceptions are different in the United States and in Pakistan, in the West and what we understand is terrorism.” The Taliban are closely linked to the Pashtun ethnic group, and he further refers to them as he says: “Afghanistan’s majority ethic Pashtuns have to be on our side. This is our national interest.… The Taliban cannot be alienated by Pakistan. We have a national security interest there.” Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment that this statement “outraged many Afghans, including all the anti-Taliban factions.” Rashid will add: “Such remarks were to make Musharraf a hated figure for most Afghans, something he could not live down even after 9/11.… Musharraf became known as ‘double-talk Musharraf,’ speaking with one breath about how he would turn Pakistan into a moderate Islamic state, and then just as vehemently with another supporting jihad and militancy.” That same month, Maj. Gen. Ghulam Ahmad Khan, an officer close to Musharraf, says publicly: “We are trying to stop the US from undermining the Taliban regime. They cannot do it without Pakistan’s help, because they have no assets there, but we will not allow it to happen.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 50-51, 414)
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)
A classified State Department cable observes that “while Pakistani support for the Taliban has been long-standing, the magnitude of recent support is unprecedented.” The US has “seen reports that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with materiel, fuel, funding, technical assistance, and military advisers. We also understand that large numbers of Pakistani nationals have recently moved into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban, apparently with the tacit acquiescence of the Pakistani government.” Direct Pakistani involvement in Taliban military operations has increased. In response, the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, is ordered to confront Pakistani officials on the issue and make clear that the US will not accept a Taliban military victory in Afghanistan. (US Department of State 9/26/2000 )
In the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), Clinton administration officials hold a high level meeting to discuss what the US response should be. The meeting attendees include: Counterterrorism “Tsar” Richard Clarke, Defense Secretary William Cohen, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg, and State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan.
Clarke suggests that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks. There is no hard evidence of this yet but he argues that the attack matches their profile and capabilities. He presents a detailed plan, which he’d been working on before the bombing, to level all the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan as well as key Taliban buildings in such towns as Kandahar and Kabul.
Reno argues there’s no clear evidence yet who was behind the bombing. If there is such evidence, any US actions should not be for retaliation but only for self-protection against future attacks.
Tenet says that he suspects al-Qaeda is behind the bombing but also wants to wait until an investigation determines that before acting.
Cohen is against any counterattack. Clarke will later recall Cohen saying at the meeting that the Cole bombing “was not sufficient provocation.” Sheehan will later say that the “entire Pentagon” was generally against a counterattack.
Albright is against a counterattack for diplomatic reasons. The Clinton administration is involved in trying to create a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and bombing Afghanistan could ruin such talks.
Many also argue that if Afghanistan is attacked and bin Laden is not killed, he could emerge a greater hero in the Muslim world, just as he did after a 1998 US missile strike (see Late 1998). Clarke argues that the continual creation of new trained militants in Afghanistan needs to stop, and if bin Laden is killed, that would merely be a “bonus.” At the end of the meeting, the highest-ranking officials cast votes, and seven vote against Clarke’s counterstrike plan, while only Clarke votes in favor of it. After the meeting, Sheehan will meet with Clarke and express frustration with the outcome, saying, “What’s it going to take to get them to hit al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al-Qaeda have to hit the Pentagon?” (Miniter 2003, pp. 222-227)
In 1999, Kabir Mohabbat, an Afghan-American businessman, had initiated conversations about bin Laden between the US government and the Taliban. According to Mohabbat, the Taliban were ready to hand bin Laden over to a third country, or the International Court of Justice, in exchange for having the US-led sanctions against Afghanistan lifted. (Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament, later confirms that he helps Mohabbat make contact with the US government in 1999.) The initial talks lead to a secret meeting this month between Taliban ministers and US officials in a Frankfurt hotel. Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil reportedly says in the meeting, “You can have him whenever the Americans are ready. Name us a country and we will extradite him.” However, after this face-to-face meeting, further discussions are never held because, Brok believes, a “political decision” has been made by US officials not to continue the negotiations. He does not clarify when he believes such a decision was made. (Reuters 6/5/2004 Sources: Elmar Brok)
Leading British radical and informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) sends a computer to the Taliban’s foreign minister. The computer is part of a package of cash and hardware hand-delivered by Abu Hamza’s aide James Ujaama. According to testimony by FBI agent Fred Humphries, Abu Hamza sends the computer to “curry favor” with the Taliban. The cash is allegedly for a girls’ school in Khost, although Ujaama will later say that the school does not exist and it is unclear what happens to the money. Ujaama is accompanied on the trip by Feroz Abbasi, a recruit Abu Hamza is sending to Pakistan for military training (see December 2000-December 2001), although Ujaama does not accompany Abbasi all the way to his destination, angering Abu Hamza. (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 196-197)
After the attack on the USS Cole, the military not only draws up plans to directly target bin Laden (see November 7, 2000), but also comes up with a larger plan looking at alternatives to assassination. Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prepared a plan to incorporate military, economic, diplomatic, and political activities to pressure the Taliban to expel bin Laden. A “Phased Campaign Concept” calls for wider-ranging military strikes against the Taliban and other targets, but doesn’t include contingency plans for an invasion of Afghanistan. The concept is briefed to Deputy National Security Adviser Donald Kerrick and other officials in December 2000, but it is never acted on. The military makes no similar plans after Bush’s inauguration, and the CIA’s invasion plans are mostly relied upon when the US invades Afghanistan in October 2001. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Johnston and Schmitt 4/4/2004)
The Washington Post reports, “The United States has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden. Until it backed off under local pressure, it went so far as to explore whether a Central Asian country would permit the use of its territory for such a purpose.” Russia and the US are discussing “what kind of government should replace the Taliban. Thus, while claiming to oppose a military solution to the Afghan problem, the United States is now talking about the overthrow of a regime that controls nearly the entire country, in the hope it can be replaced with a hypothetical government that does not exist even on paper.” (Starr 12/19/2000) It appears that all pre-9/11 plans to invade Afghanistan involve attacking from the north with Russia.
The heads of the US military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have become frustrated by the lack of CIA disinformation operations to create dissent among the Taliban, and at the very end of the Clinton administration, they begin to develop a Taliban disinformation project of their own, which is to go into effect in 2001. When they are briefed, the Defense Department’s new leaders kill the project. According to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton, “[Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld and Deputy [Defense] Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were against the Joint Staff having the lead on this.” They consider this a distraction from their core military missions. As far as Rumsfeld is concerned, “This terrorism thing was out there, but it didn’t happen today, so maybe it belongs lower on the list… so it gets defused over a long period of time.” (Benjamin 3/30/2004)
After the Bush administration takes office in January 2001, it is slow to develop new approaches to Pakistan and Afghanistan. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice orders a new policy review for al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but sets no deadline for it to be completed. State Department officials will later say that Secretary of State Colin Powell shows little interest in the policy review. It takes four months for the Bush administration to even nominate a new assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf exchange formal letters with each other shortly after Bush takes office, but the letters have little impact. In January, US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam prepares two cables to brief the new Bush administration about Pakistan, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. There is no response from Washington and no request for further information, even though Milam is the point person for meetings with the Taliban. The US embassy is not consulted at all about the new policy review, indicating just how low a priority the review is. A senior US diplomat will later say: “Al-Qaeda was not on the radar screen in Washington. Nobody thought there was any urgency to the policy review. Papers were circulated, dates were made to meet, and were broken—it was the usual bureaucratic approach.” The first significant meeting related to the review takes place in April, but little is accomplished (see April 30, 2001). The first cabinet-level meeting relating to the policy review takes place on September 4, just one week before the 9/11 attacks. US policy towards Pakistan is discussed, but no firm decisions are reached (see September 4, 2001). After 9/11, Rice will say: “America’s al-Qaeda policy wasn’t working because our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working. And our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working because our Pakistan policy wasn’t working. We recognized that America’s counterterrorism policy had to be connected to our regional strategies and our overall foreign policy.… Al-Qaeda was both a client of and patron to the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan. Those relationships provided al-Qaeda with a powerful umbrella of protection, and we had to sever that.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 56-60)
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.”
Abdul Haq, a famous Afghan leader of the mujaheddin, convinces Robert McFarlane, National Security Adviser under President Ronald Reagan, that Haq and about 50 fellow commanders could lead a force to start a revolt against the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan. However, Haq wants to do this under the authority of Zahir Shah, the popular former king of Afghanistan, whom the US does not support. The CIA fails to give any support to Haq. Says one CIA official to McFarlane a few months later, “We don’t yet have our marching orders concerning US policy; it may be that we will end up dealing with the Taliban.” Haq goes ahead with his plans without US support, and is killed in October (see October 25, 2001). (Marshall 10/28/2001; McFarlane 11/2/2001)
Selig Harrison, a long-time regional expert working at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, says, “the CIA still has close links with the ISI.” Harrison is said to have “extensive contact with the CIA and political leaders in South Asia.” He also claims that the US worked with Pakistan to create the Taliban. (Times of India 3/7/2001) Similarly, in 2000, Ahmed Rashid, longtime regional correspondent for the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph, called the US “Pakistan’s closest ally, with deep links to [Pakistan’s] military and the ISI.” Rashid agrees with Harrison that the US had a role in the creation of the Taliban. (Rashid 9/13/2001)
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)
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)
Journalist Hamid Mir talks to Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is living in exile in Iran at the time. Hekmatyar predicts that the Taliban will fall by the end of the year. Mir will later recall, “he was telling me that the Americans will attack Afghanistan, Taliban government will fall, and then we’ll continue our jihad against the Americans.” Hekmatyar is opposed to the Taliban but openly supports bin Laden. He tells Mir, “Osama bin Laden is a great man and I support his ideology and I support his objectives.… He is a good friend of mine and he is a real muhjahid.” (Bergen 2006, pp. 287) A senior Taliban official will make a similar prediction to Mir before 9/11 and hint the justification for the US attack would be a major attack against US interests (see August 2-3, 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 US State Department issues its annual report on terrorism. The report cites the role of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and notes the Taliban “continued to provide safe haven for international terrorists, particularly Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and his network.” However, as CNN describes it, “Unlike last year’s report, bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization is mentioned, but the 2001 report does not contain a photograph of bin Laden or a lengthy description of him and the group. A senior State Department official told CNN that the US government made a mistake last year by focusing too tightly on bin Laden and ‘personalizing terrorism… describing parts of the elephant and not the whole beast.’” (CNN 4/30/2001) The report is unusually critical of Pakistan, noting, “Pakistan increased its support to the Taliban and continued its support to militant groups active in Indian-held Kashmir, such as the Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), some of which engaged in terrorism.… Credible reporting indicates that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with materiel, fuel, funding, technical assistance, and military advisers. Pakistan has not prevented large numbers of Pakistani nationals from moving into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. [Pakistan] also failed to take effective steps to curb the activities of certain madrassas, or religious schools, that serve as recruiting grounds for terrorism.” However, despite this criticism and a further critique that Afghanistan has been the “primary hub” for militants “involved in most major terrorist plots or attacks against the United States in the past 15 years and now engaged in international militant and terrorist acts around the world,” neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan is placed on the official list of countries sponsoring terrorism. The report merely hints that both of them could be added to the list in the next year unless their behavior improves. (US Department of State 4/30/2001; CNN 4/30/2001) In 1999, an unnamed Western diplomat explained to Human Rights Watch that if Pakistan were designated a terrorist state, it would mean the termination of international financial assistance. This would result in the near-collapse of the Pakistani economy, since two-thirds of Pakistan’s budget is funded by international loans and credits. (Human Rights Watch 7/1/2001)
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)
General William Kernan, commander in chief of the Joint Forces Command, later mentions: “The details of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan which fought the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the September 11 attacks, were largely taken from a scenario examined by Central Command in May 2001.” (Agence France-Presse 7/23/2002) This seems to contradict other accounts suggesting the military made no Afghanistan invasion plans or preparations after Bush took office (see December 2000).
Secretary of State Powell announces that the US is granting $43 million in aid to the Taliban government, purportedly to assist hungry farmers who are starving since the destruction of their opium crop occurred in January on orders of the Taliban. (Scheer 5/22/2001) Powell promises that the US will “continue to look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans.” (Scheer 4/13/2004) And in fact, in the same month Powell asks Congress to give Afghanistan $7 million more, to be used for regional energy cooperation and to fight child prostitution. (Coll 2004, pp. 559) This follows $113 million given by the US in 2000 for humanitarian aid. (US Department of State 12/11/2001) A Newsday editorial notes that the Taliban “are a decidedly odd choice for an outright gift… Why are we sending these people money—so much that Washington is, in effect, the biggest donor of aid to the Taliban regime?” (Newsday 5/29/2001) However, there were allegations that the drug ban was merely a means for the Taliban to drive up prices (see July 2000). In fact, according to a March 2001 State Department report, “Prospects for progress on drug-control efforts in Afghanistan remain dim as long as the country remains at war. Nothing indicates that either the Taliban or the Northern Alliance intend to take serious action to destroy heroin or morphine base laboratories, or stop drug trafficking.” (Leinwand, Locy, and Walt 10/16/2001)
Zalmay Khalilzad is appointed Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues on the National Security Council. Khalilzad was an official in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. During the Clinton years, he worked for Unocal. (US Department of State 2001; Sengupta and Gumbel 1/10/2002) He previously worked under Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and helped him write a controversial 1992 plan for US world domination.(see March 8, 1992) (Weisman 3/23/2003) He was a member of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century. The Asia Times notes, “It was Khalilzad—when he was a huge Taliban fan—who conducted the risk analysis for Unocal (Union Oil Company of California) for the infamous proposed $2 billion, 1,500 kilometer-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan [TAP] gas pipeline.” (Escobar 12/25/2003) After 9/11, he will be appointed as special envoy to Afghanistan (see January 1, 2002) and then US ambassador to Afghanistan (see November 2003).
According to a July 2001 report from Human Rights Watch, the ISI has been “bankrolling Taliban military operations… arranging training for its fighters, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and on several occasions apparently directly providing combat support.” (Silverstein 10/9/2001) The report further states that Pakistan’s assistance “include[s] soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban’s virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies… In April and May 2001 Human Rights Watch sources reported that as many as thirty trucks a day were crossing the Pakistan border; sources inside Afghanistan reported that some of these convoys were carrying artillery shells, tank rounds, and rocket-propelled grenades. Such deliveries are in direct violation of UN sanctions.… Pakistan’s army and intelligence services, principally the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), contribute to making the Taliban a highly effective military force. While these Pakistani agencies do not direct the policies of the [Taliban’s army], senior Pakistani military and intelligence officers help plan and execute major military operations. A retired senior Pakistani military officer claimed in an interview with Human Rights Watch that up to 30 percent of Taliban fighting strength is made up of Pakistanis serving in units organized by [Pakistani] political parties.” (Human Rights Watch 7/1/2001)
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 Pakistani ISI allows an al-Qaeda leader to escape arrest. Egyptian investigators are looking for Ahmed Said Khadr, because he is wanted for funding the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 1995 (see November 19, 1995). (McGirk 5/6/2002; Bell 10/14/2003) Khadr, a Canadian citizen, had been arrested in Pakistan shortly after the bombing but was then let go after a hunger strike and an appeal by the Canadian government. He runs the Pakistan office of a Canadian charity called Human Concern International. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 4/20/2006) A 1996 CIA report that referred to Khadr called this a charity front that funds radical militants (see January 1996). Khadr’s name appeared on a list of top al-Qaeda suspects issued by the United Nations in 1999. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 3/3/2004) Egyptians surround the safe house in Pakistan where Khadr is hiding. They notify the ISI to help arrest him, and ISI Director Mahmood Ahmed promises swift action. Instead, a car sent by the ISI filled with Taliban and having diplomatic plates arrives, grabs Khadr, and drives him to safety in Afghanistan. Time magazine will later comment: “It was no surprise to foreign spooks that the ISI let [him] escape from Peshawar. He knew too much, they say, about the ISI’s alleged ties with al-Qaeda.” (McGirk 5/6/2002) Khadr will be killed in an October 2003 shootout with the Pakistani Army (see October 2, 2003). After his death, a sympathetic jihadist group will refer to him as a “founding member” of al-Qaeda. (Bell 10/14/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 4/20/2006)
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