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War in Afghanistan

Project: War in Afghanistan
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Walter Isaacson.Walter Isaacson. [Source: Aspen Institute]In 2007, Walter Isaacson, chairman and CEO of CNN in the early 2000s, will say: “There was a patriotic fervor and the Administration used it so that if you challenged anything you were made to feel that there was something wrong with that.… And there was even almost a patriotism police which, you know, they’d be up there on the internet sort of picking anything a Christiane Amanpour, or somebody else would say as if it were disloyal… Especially right after 9/11. Especially when the war in Afghanistan is going on. There was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in war time.” When CNN starts showing footage of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, people in the Bush administration and “big people in corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’” (Moyers 4/25/2007) So in October 2001, Isaacson sends his staff a memo, which says, “It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” He orders CNN to balance such coverage with reminders of the 9/11 attacks. (Kurtz 10/31/2001) Isaacson will add, “[W]e were caught between this patriotic fervor and a competitor [Fox News] who was using that to their advantage; they were pushing the fact that CNN was too liberal that we were sort of vaguely anti-American.” An anonymous CNN reporter will also later say, “Everybody on staff just sort of knew not to push too hard to do stories critical of the Bush Administration.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)

According to Asif Iqbal, he and his fellow inmates are being beaten regularly during their detention in Afghanistan. In once instance, he is beaten to the floor and then kicked in his back and stomach during interrogation at Kandahar in December 2001 or January 2002. (Branigan and Dodd 8/4/2004)

Noor Aghah, a detainee being held by US forces in Afghanistan, says he is forced at the end of 2001 or beginning of 2002 to drink 12 bottles of water during interrogation at a US military base in Gardez. “[W]e were asked,” he says, “to take off our clothes, and everyone saw us without clothes, six or seven people.” Aghah also endures the “stress position” -technique. In Gardez, between two high walls, he and other prisoners are forced to remain kneeling for ten hours in the hot sun in handcuffs. This goes on for 20 days, until at last a US medical doctor determines that the structure should be covered. (Campbell and Goldenberg 6/23/2004)

Mohamed al-Khatani.Mohamed al-Khatani. [Source: Defense Department]Saudi national Mohamed al-Khatani is captured at the Pakistani-Afghan border and transferred to US authorities. (Washington File 6/23/2004) He tells his captors that he was in Afghanistan to pursue his love of falconry, an explanation no one takes seriously. (Zagorin and Duffy 6/12/2005) His identity and nationality are at this time unknown. However, investigators will later come to believe he was an intended twentieth hijacker for the 9/11 plot (see July 2002).

Yaser Esam Hamdi in Afghanistan shortly after being captured there.Yaser Esam Hamdi in Afghanistan shortly after being captured there. [Source: Virginian Pilot]Yaser Esam Hamdi, who holds dual Saudi and US citizenship, is captured in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance and handed over to US forces. According to the US government, at the time of his arrest, Hamdi carries a Kalashnikov assault rifle and is traveling with a Taliban military unit. The following month he will be transferred to Guantanamo. In April 2002, it will be discovered he is a US citizen. He will be officially be declared an “enemy combatant” and transferred to a Navy brig in Norfolk, Virginia (see April 2002). (CNN 10/14/2004)

British national Tarek Dergoul and two Pakistani friends, who arrived in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) to purchase houses, stay in the Afghan town of Jalalabad. That night, the house where they are sleeping is bombed, and Dergoul’s friends are killed in the blast. Dergoul goes outside when another bomb explodes nearby, wounding him with shrapnel. He then lies among the ruins, unable to walk, for at least a week. His left arm, hit with shrapnel, is severely damaged and a large part will later be amputated. At night the cold is so severe that his toes turn black from frostbite. Eventually, troops loyal to the Northern Alliance find him, treat him well and take him to a hospital where he undegoes three operations. But after five weeks, someone decides to make a profit on him. Dergoul is taken to an airfield, where a US helicopter arrives to pick him up. His captors are paid the standard fee of $5,000, according to Dergoul. From there, he is flown to the US air base at Bagram. (Rose 5/16/2004)

Haji Juma Khan.Haji Juma Khan. [Source: US government]Afghan drug kingpin Haji Juma Khan (see July 2000) is arrested and taken into US custody. Although his role in the illegal drug trade is known to US officials, he is let go. A European counterterrorism expert says, “At the time, the Americans were only interested in catching bin Laden and Mullah Omar.” Another major kingpin is arrested and released around this time as well (see Late 2001). After being released, Khan reestablishes a smuggling network that greatly benefits the Taliban and al-Qaeda. For instance, in May 2004, a tip off will reveal that Khan is employing a fleet of cargo ships to move Afghan heroin out of Pakistan to the Middle East. Some return trips bring back plastic explosives, antitank mines, and other weapons to be used against US troops in Afghanistan. In 2004, Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles says of Khan, “He’s obviously very tightly tied to the Taliban.… There are central linkages among Khan, Mullah Omar, and bin Laden.” (McGirk 8/2/2004) In 2006, a report by the research arm of Congress will label Khan as one of three prominent drug kingpins with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but he apparently has not yet been put on the official US list of wanted drug figures. (Blanchard 1/25/2006)

Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. [Source: Confidential source via Robin Moore]According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA continues to press President Bush to send US troops to surround the caves in Tora Bora where bin Laden is believed to be hiding. It is about a 15 square-mile area. The CIA issued similar warnings a few weeks earlier (see Late November 2001). Suskind relates: “A fierce debate was raging inside the upper reaches of the US government. The White House had received a guarantee from [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf in November that the Pakistani army would cover the southern pass from the caves (see November 2001). Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld felt the Pakistani leader’s assurance was sound. Classified CIA reports passed to Bush in his morning briefings of early December, however, warned that ‘the back door is open’ and that a bare few Pakistani army units were visible gathering near the Pakistani border.… Musharraf, when pressed by the White House, said troop movements were slow, but not to worry-they were on their way.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 74) But again, no US troops are sent, and Pakistani troops fail to arrive in time. Bin Laden eventually will escape into Pakistan (see Mid-December 2001).

Groups of reporters watch US bombing in the Tora Bora region.Groups of reporters watch US bombing in the Tora Bora region. [Source: CNN]Only about three dozen US soldiers take part in the Tora Bora ground offensive (see December 5-17, 2001). Author Peter Bergen will later comment, “If Fox and CNN could arrange for their crews to cover Tora Bora it is puzzling that the US military could not put more boots on the ground to find the man who was the intellectual author of the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, there were probably more American journalists at the battle of Tora Bora than there were US troops.” (Bergen 10/28/2004)

Taliban fighters killed in the battle for Qala-i-Janghi fortress.Taliban fighters killed in the battle for Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, joins Amnesty International (see November 27, 2001 and December 5, 2001) in a call for an investigation of killings at Qala-i-Jhangi. (Agence France-Presse 12/1/2001)

Taliban survivors who have been holding out in the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress surrender. (Soloway 12/1/2001) John Walker Lindh is found “with approximately 15 dead or dying persons on the floor.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) Of the more than 300 prisoners who arrived with Lindh a week before, only 86 survive. “Everyone was in poor health, and most of them were traumatized, with absent looks on their faces,” Oliver Martin, chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation at Mazar-i-Sharif, later recalls. “It must have been hell and horror for them.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) For around six hours, Lindh and many other wounded and dying prisoners are locked in an overcrowded dark container. He is then moved to the back of an open-air truck, from where he notices ICRC officials and members of the media. It then appears that Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum intended to suffocate the prisoners inside the container, but that the presence of the ICRC and journalists has prevented that. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) Lindh and the other surviving but wounded Taliban are taken to the town of Sheberghan. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

Author Robert Pelton, working as a freelance CNN contributor, learns that one of the survivors of the siege of Qala-i-Janghi fortress (see Morning, December 1, 2001) is an American and is being treated at a hospital in Sheberghan. He goes to the hospital with video cameras and a few members of the US Special Forces. John Walker Lindh allegedly refuses, at least twice, permission to film him and be interviewed, but the CNN cameramen start filming anyway. Pelton asks him if he wants to deliver a message to his family through CNN, but Lindh declines, saying he prefers to send a message through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file; CNN 7/4/2002) Pelton offers him some food; then offers to have a Special Forces medic treat his wounds. Fearing torture and death if he remains in the custody of the Northern Alliance, Lindh finally accepts Pelton’s offer and agrees to be interviewed. Lindh is then moved to another room, with Special Forces personnel present, and receives medical treatment, with CNN cameras rolling. At this point, as US government papers confirm, “John Walker Lindh comes into the custody of the United States military forces.” (CNN 12/20/2001; Mayer 3/3/2003) According to the US medic, Lindh is “malnourished and in extremely poor overall condition.” He does not remove the bullet in Lindh’s leg, deciding to leave it in “for later removal as evidence.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) Another Special Forces officer says Lindh is acting “delirious.” While Lindh is administered morphine through an IV, Pelton starts to interview him. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) Following the CNN interview, a Special Forces officer interrogates him, even though Lindh is “delirious,” under the influence of morphine and seriously wounded. Lindh is not read his Miranda rights. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) The “Miranda” rights are what a police officer is required to inform an arrested person before questioning. It follows from the Fifth Amendment which provides civil protection against being “compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against himself.” If this warning is not given before the interrogation takes place, statements made by the accused are considered involuntary and become inadmissible in a trial.

John Walker Lindh appears on CNN television, giving the impression of an American siding with the enemy. He speaks with respect for the Taliban. “I lived in a region in the northwestern province,” he says. “The people there in general have a great love for the Taliban, so I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and the history of the movement. And my heart became attached to them. I wanted to help them one way or another.” Lindh says he belonged to a separate branch of the Taliban consisting only of non-Afghans, called Ansar. Only the Arab part of Ansar was funded by Osama bin Laden, he says. (CNN 7/4/2002) At the time, Lindh is being held by the US military in a hospital in Afghanistan. He is severely injured and possibly delirious (see December 2, 2001).

The US Special Forces officer who questioned John Walker Lindh the day before ties his hands with rope and puts a hood over his head. Lindh is then driven back to Mazar-i-Sharif, where he is taken into a school building. For the next two to three days, Lindh will be kept blindfolded and bound in custody of the US military. He asks for the time of day, explaining that he needs to know for religious reasons. But he is told to shut up. US soldiers frequently call him “sh_tbag,” or “sh_thead.” He is fed military rations twice a day, which he feels is insufficient given his state of malnourishment. Requests for more food and more medical attention are refused. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) Throughout the week at the school, Lindh expresses concern about his bullet wound, which appears to be festering. On the first two days, he is visited twice by a Red Cross worker, who on December 3 gives him the opportunity to dictate a letter to his parents. It is faxed eight days later. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) For the rest of his incarceration at Mazar-i-Sharif, the Red Cross workers are prevented from seeing Lindh. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

As soon as he hears the news of his son’s capture in Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh’s father immediately hires James Brosnahan, a well-respected lawyer, on behalf of his son. On December 3, Brosnahan faxes a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. He introduces himself as Lindh’s lawyer, expresses his wish to see him, and states: “Because [Lindh] is wounded and, based upon press reports, went for three days without food, I would ask that any further interrogation be stopped, especially if there is any intent to use it in any subsequent legal proceedings.” When Brosnahan receives no reply, he writes again, “I would ask that no further interrogation of my client occur until I have the opportunity to speak with him. As an American citizen, he has the right to counsel and, under all applicable legal authorities, I ask for the right to speak with my client as soon as possible.” On December 5, still having received no reply, he urges that “we have a conversation today.” Again, no reply comes. (Serrano 3/23/2002; Andrews 3/27/2002; Mayer 3/3/2003)

Amnesty International issues a second call for an inquiry “into the large-scale killing of captured Taliban fighters and others at a fort on the outskirts of Mazar-i Sharif.” Amnesty insists that the “events at the Qala-i-Jhanghi fort must not simply be brushed under the carpet, like so many other killings before them.” (Amnesty International 12/5/2001)

Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis.Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis. [Source: US Navy]About 4,000 US marines have arrived in Afghanistan by now. Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of these troops, is convinced his forces can seal the Tora Bora area to trap bin Laden there. Around this date, Mattis argues strongly to his military superiors at Centcom that his troops should fight at Tora Bora, but he is turned down. The New York Times will later report that the Bush administration will eventually secretly conclude “that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines—along with their failure to commit US ground forces to Afghanistan generally—was the gravest error of the war.” (Weaver 9/11/2005)

Around the third day at the school (see December 2-5, 2001), probably on December 5, accused terrorist John Walker Lindh, unaware of the fact that a lawyer has been hired for him, is interrogated by two military officers. The questioning goes on for two or three days in sessions lasting several hours at a time. Again no Miranda warnings are given (see December 2, 2001). (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) There is some discussion, however, among military personnel about whether Lindh should be advised of his right against self-incrimination. An Army intelligence officer is advised that instructions have come from “higher headquarters” for interrogators to coordinate Lindh’s interrogation with military lawyers. The intelligence officer asks to be faxed a Miranda form, but, according to the documents, “he never [gets] it.” The officer, however, adds that he is “in the business of collecting [intelligence] information, not in the business of Mirandizing.” After the first hour of interrogation, according to the documents, the interrogator provides the admiral in charge of Mazar-i-Sharif with a summary of what the interrogators have so far collected. The admiral tells him that the secretary of Defense’s counsel has authorized him to “take the gloves off” and ask whatever he wants. The unnamed counsel in question may well have been Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes. The initial responses Lindh gives to his interrogators are, according to the documents, cabled to Washington every hour. (Serrano 6/9/2004) After the interrogations are ended, Lindh is told his conditions will improve. From then on, he is given a third meal a day and no longer held at gunpoint 24 hours a day. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region.US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Banded Artists Productions] (click image to enlarge)Around December 5, 2001, about three-dozen US special forces position themselves at strategic spots in the Tora Bora region to observe the fighting. Using hand-held laser target designators, they “paint” targets to bomb. Immediately the US bombing becomes more accurate. With this improved system in place, the ground battle for Tora Bora begins in earnest. However, as the Christian Science Monitor later notes, “The battle was joined, but anything approaching a ‘siege’ of Tora Bora never materialized.” No other US troops take part, and US-allied afghans fight unenthusiastically and sometimes even fight for the other side (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001). (Smucker 3/4/2002) The Tora Bora battle will end with a victory for the US-allied forces by December 17, 2001 (see December 17, 2001). However, the Daily Telegraph will later report, “In retrospect, and with the benefit of dozens of accounts from the participants, the battle for Tora Bora looks more like a grand charade.” Eyewitnesses express shock that the US pinned in Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, thought to contain many high leaders, on three sides only, leaving the route to Pakistan open. An intelligence chief in Afghanistan’s new government says, “The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it. In addition, there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters had the Americans acted decisively. Al-Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet.” (Smucker 2/23/2002)

At the Justice Department, an attorney-adviser in the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office (PRAO) named Jesselyn Radack provides a federal prosecutor in the terrorism and violent crimes section of the Criminal Division with advice on John Walker Lindh’s case. She informs him that “The FBI wants to interview American Taliban member John Walker [Lindh] some time next week… about taking up arms against the US.” She also writes: “I consulted with a senior legal adviser here at PRAO and we don’t think you can have the FBI agent question Walker. It would be a pre-indictment, custodial overt interview, which is not authorized by law.” She also advises him to have the FBI agent inform Lindh that his parents hired attorneys for him and ask him whether he wants to be represented by them. (Newsweek 12/7/2001) In 2009, Radack will recall: “I was called with the specific question of whether or not the FBI on the ground could interrogate [Lindh] without counsel. And I had been told unambiguously that Lindh’s parents had retained counsel for him (see December 3-5, 2001). I gave that advice on a Friday, and the same attorney at Justice who inquired called back on Monday and said essentially, ‘Oops, they did it anyway. They interrogated him anyway. What should we do now?’ My office was there to help correct mistakes. And I said, ‘Well, this is an unethical interrogation, so you should seal it off and use it only for intelligence-gathering purposes or national security, but not for criminal prosecution.’ A few weeks later, Attorney General Ashcroft held one of his dramatic press conferences, in which he announced a complaint being filed against Lindh. He was asked if Lindh had been permitted counsel. And he said, in effect, ‘To our knowledge, the subject has not requested counsel.’ That was just completely false. About two weeks after that he held another press conference, because this was the first high-profile terrorism prosecution after 9/11. And in that press conference he was asked again about Lindh’s rights, and he said that Lindh’s rights had been carefully, scrupulously guarded, which, again, was contrary to the facts, and contrary to the picture that was circulating around the world of Lindh blindfolded, gagged, naked, bound to a board.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009) Shortly thereafter, Radack will be fired from, and investigated by, the Justice Department (see Late December 2001 - 2002).

US soldiers enter the school building in Mazar-i-Sharif where “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) is being held (see December 2-5, 2001, blindfold him, and take photographs of Lindh and themselves posing next to him. One soldier scrawls “sh_thead” across Lindh’s blindfold and poses with him. Another soldier makes fun of his Islamic religion. Someone says Lindh is “going to hang” and another one that he wants to shoot him on the spot. They then put Lindh in a van and tie his hands with plastic handcuffs so tight they severely cut off the blood circulation. The scars and numbness that result from this treatment are still present months later. He is then put on a plane and flown to the US marine base Camp Rhino, seventy miles south of Kandahar. During the flight, Lindh screams because the pain in his hands have become unbearable, but his guards refuse to loosen the cuffs. Immediately upon arrival at Camp Rhino, when the winter night has already fallen, US soldiers cut off all of Lindh’s clothing. Wearing only his blindfold and shaking violently from the cold, Lindh is bound to a stretcher with heavy duct tape wrapped tightly around his chest, upper arms and ankles. In this position military personnel again take photographs of him. One photograph is later released by his attorneys and corroborates the described treatment. He is then placed, stretcher and all, in a metal shipping container. Twenty minutes later, a US Marine begins to question him. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

British special forces soldiers from the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS) pursue Osama bin Laden as he flees the battle of Tora Bora (see November 16, 2001 and December 5-17, 2001). According to author Michael Smith, at one point they are “20 minutes” behind bin Laden, but they are “pulled off to allow US troops to go in for the kill.” However, it takes hours for the Americans to arrive, by which time bin Laden has escaped. (Smith 2/12/2007)

According to government papers, later quoted by defense lawyers for captured “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001), “A Navy physician present at Camp Rhino recounted that the lead military interrogator in charge of Mr. Lindh’s initial questioning told the physician ‘that sleep deprivation, cold, and hunger might be employed’ during Mr. Lindh’s interrogations.” This interrogator later says, “he was initially told to get whatever information he could get from the detainee. However,… once it was determined from their initial questioning of Lindh that he was an American, which was done within an hour or so, [the military interrogator] informed a superior and was told they were done questioning him.” Lindh nevertheless is subjected to “sleep deprivation, cold, and hunger.” The metal container Lindh is kept in has no light or heat source. Only two small holes in the sides of the container allow some light and air to enter, through which military guards frequently shout swearwords at Lindh and discuss spitting in his food. According to his defense attorneys, “Mr. Lindh’s hands and feet remained restrained such that his forearms were forced together and fully extended, pointing straight down towards his feet. The pain from the wrist restraints was intense. Initially, Mr. Lindh remained fully exposed within the metal container, lying on his back; after some time had passed, one blanket was placed over him and one beneath him. While in the container the first two days, Mr. Lindh was provided minimal food and little medical attention. He suffered from constant pain from the plastic cuffs on his wrists and the bullet wound in his thigh. Because the metal container was placed next to a generator, the loud noise it generated echoed within the container. According to government disclosures, Mr. Lindh repeatedly said he was cold and asked for more protection from the weather. When Mr. Lindh needed to urinate, his guards did not release him from the restraints binding him to his stretcher, but instead propped up the stretcher into a vertical position. Due to hunger, the cold temperature, the noise, and the incessant pain caused by his wounds and the position in which he was restrained, Mr. Lindh was unable to sleep. Mr. Lindh was held under these conditions continuously for two days.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

After two days naked, hungry, in pain and sleepless in the cold container (see December 7-8, 2001, John Walker Lindh is dressed in hospital garb and carried, still blindfolded and handcuffed, to a nearby room or tent. As his blindfold is removed, Lindh finds himself in the presence of an FBI agent. From an “advice of rights” form, the agent begins to read Lindh his Miranda rights. Where the form refers to the right to an attorney, the FBI agent adds, “Of course, there are no lawyers here.” Lindh nevertheless asks if he can see an attorney, but the FBI agent repeats his statement that there are no attorneys present. Lindh then signs a Miranda waiver of his constitutional Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and to consult an attorney, believing he would otherwise return to the conditions to which he was previously subjected, or that a worse fate may await him. The subsequent interrogation by the FBI agent lasts at least three hours. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had promised to seal off the Pakistani side of the border near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in return for considerable US economic aid (see November 2001). But Musharraf spent two weeks negotiating with tribal chieftains on the border before starting the deployment. Around December 10, two brigades begin to take up positions along the border. (Smucker 3/4/2002; Nordland, Yousafzai, and Dehghanpisheh 8/11/2002) However, Pakistan does not seal several important parts of the border. The regions of North and South Waziristan, Dir, Chitral, and Balochistan have no Pakistani army presence whatsoever. Bin Laden and many other al-Qaeda leaders likely escape into Waziristan, where they begin to rebuild al-Qaeda (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The CIA intercepts communications between Pakistani officers warning not to harass any foreign fighters entering Waziristan. Several US officers will later tell Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid that they suspect Pakistan deliberately failed to guard these regions in order to allow the fighters to escape. (Rashid 2008, pp. 148) On December 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says of this border region, “It’s a long border. It’s a very complicated area to try to seal, and there’s just simply no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle.” (Smucker 3/4/2002) But armed gunmen storm the Indian Parliament on December 13, and a group based in Pakistan and allied with al-Qaeda is blamed (see December 13, 2001). Tensions suddenly rise between India and Pakistan, and Musharraf halts troop deployments to the Afghan border. The border near Tora Bora still is not adequately guarded by Pakistan when the battle of Tora Bora ends on December 17. Less than 100 stragglers entering Pakistan around December 19 are captured by Pakistani forces, but a number of these subsequently escape. (Nordland, Yousafzai, and Dehghanpisheh 8/11/2002)

John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001), is again questioned by the FBI agent who had interrogated him the previous day (see December 9, 2001). Lindh again asks for a lawyer, and again he is told no lawyers are available. Lindh is returned to the container, but now his treatment begins to improve. His leg and handcuffs are loosened and he is blindfolded less often. The duct tape is removed. He receives more food, an additional blanket and he is allowed to continue to wear the hospital garb. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

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

John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) is moved to a Navy ship, the USS Peleliu. When he arrives, he is still unable to walk and is suffering from dehydration, frostbite on his toes and mild hypothermia. Navy physicians treat Lindh with IV fluids, and on the same day, Haynes’ deputy, Paul W. Cobb Jr., tells Lindh’s lawyers: “I can inform you that John Walker is currently in the control of United States armed forces and is being held aboard USS Peleliu in the theater of operations. Our forces have provided him with appropriate medical attention and will continue to treat him humanely, consistent with the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war.” (Business Wire 12/17/2001; ABC News 12/19/2001) It is the first response James Brosnahan, head of Lindh’s defense team, receives to his letters, the first of which he sent on December 3 (see December 3-5, 2001).

Finally, John Walker Lindh has the bullet in his leg (see November 25, 2001) surgically removed. Lindh’s government prosecutors later claim the military “provided him the very same medical treatment provided to wounded United States military personnel.” However, as one commentator will observe: “It is difficult to believe that the United States military would delay for more than two weeks surgery to remove a bullet from a leg from one of its own soldiers or sailors.” (Sydney Morning Herald 12/15/2001; Andrews 4/1/2002)

US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001.US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001. [Source: Romeo / Gacad Agence France-Presse]According to author Ron Suskind, on this date bin Laden makes a broadcast on his shortwave radio from somewhere within Tora Bora, Afghanistan. He praises his “most loyal fighters” still fighting in Tora Bora and says “forgive me” for drawing them into a defeat. He says the battle will continue “on new fronts.” Then he leads a prayer and leaves Tora Bora. Suskind says, “With a small band, he escaped on horseback toward the north. The group, according to internal CIA reports, took a northerly route to the province of Nangarhar—past the Khyber Pass, and the city of Jalalabad—and into the province of Konar. That day and the next, much of the remaining al-Qaeda force of about 800 soldiers moved to the south toward Pakistan.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 74-75 Sources: Ron Suskind) A radio had been captured by US allied forces some days earlier, allowing the US to listen in to bin Laden’s communications (see Late October-Early December 2001). In another account, a professional guide and former Taliban official later claims to have led bin Laden and a group of about 30 at this time on a four day trip into Pakistan and then back into a different part of Afghanistan. (Nordland, Yousafzai, and Dehghanpisheh 8/11/2002) Still other accounts have bin Laden heading south into Pakistan at this time instead (see Mid-December 2001). An article in the British Daily Telegraph entitled “Bin Laden’s voice heard on radio in Tora Bora” will appear the very next day, detailing some of these communications. (Wastell 12/16/2001)

Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri escape from the Tora Bora battle north to a remote province in Afghanistan. In the years just after the Tora Bora battle, the conventional wisdom will be that bin Laden escapes across the nearby border into Pakistan. A 2006 book by Ron Suskind will be the first to publicly make the argument that bin Laden actually stays in Afghanistan and heads to even more remote regions north of Tora Bora, starting around December 15, 2001 (see December 15, 2001). After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that this ‘go north’ theory has become the new conventional wisdom. According to the Washington Post: “US interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching US and British Special Forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days’ journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan’s far northeast.” An unnamed US official will tell the Post: “It’s still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who, [but] bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar [and into valleys] that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Al-Zawahiri takes the same route, perhaps traveling with bin Laden. (Finn, Shapira, and Fisher 5/6/2011) Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri will stay in Konar for months before finally moving to Pakistan (see Late December 2001-Late 2002).

Yunus Qanooni, the interior minister of Afghanistan’s new government, accuses elements of Pakistan’s ISI of helping bin Laden and Mullah Omar escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He further asserts that the ISI are still “probably protecting” both bin Laden and Mullah Omar and “concealing their movements and sheltering leaders of Taliban and al-Qaeda.” (BBC 12/30/2001; Jehl 2/13/2002) In addition, New Yorker magazine will report in early 2002, “Some CIA analysts believe that bin Laden eluded American capture inside Afghanistan with help from elements of the [ISI].” (Hersh 1/21/2002) Another report suggests that Hamid Gul, former director of the ISI, is behind moves to help the Taliban establish a base in remote parts of Pakistan just across the Afghanistan border. Gul was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, but has remained close to Afghan groups in subsequent years and has been nicknamed the “godfather of the Taliban.” One report will later suggest that he was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 plot (see July 22, 2004). The US is said to be interested in interrogating Gul, but “because of his high profile and the ripples it would cause in the Pakistan army, this is unlikely to happen…” Yet, at the same time that the ISI is reportedly helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape, the Pakistan army is deployed to the Afghanistan border in large numbers to prevent them from escaping. (Shahzad 12/13/2001) In November 2001, it was reported that the US was continuing to rely on the ISI for intelligence about Afghanistan, a move none other than Gul publicly derided as “foolish.”(see November 3, 2001).

In the middle of December, the US government discloses that some 7,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda members have been captured. While they are at that time mostly held by Afghan and Pakistani forces, they will all have to be screened so their leaders can stand trial. (Epstein 12/22/2001)

Rhuhel Ahmed.Rhuhel Ahmed. [Source: The Phoenix]Sometime in December, (Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al. 3/3/2004 pdf file) Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasul are handed over to US forces. The “Tipton three,” as they will be known, are taken by Northern Alliance troops to a US military base, together with 200 other prisoners. The journey by means of containers is allegedly so exhausting, that the three are among only 20 who survive. They suffer from “cold, dehydration, hunger, and uncertainty.” As they are handed over, US soldiers allegedly kick and beat them. According to Iqbal, “They kept calling us ‘motherf_ckers,’ and I think over three or four hours… I must have been punched, kicked, slapped or struck with a rifle butt at least 30 or 40 times.” One of the soldiers says, according to Iqbal, “You killed my family in the towers [of the World Trade Center], and now it’s time to get you back.” (Branigan and Dodd 8/4/2004) The three Britons are temporarily detained at the US military base at Kandahar. Allegedly they are systematically deprived of sleep and kept on a special diet designed to weaken them. In the meanwhile they are interrogated. In one instance, according to Iqbal, US soldiers hold a gun to his head during questioning. “An American shouted at me, telling me I was al-Qaeda. I said I was not involved in al-Qaeda and did not support them. At this he started to punch me violently and then when he knocked me to the floor started to kick me around my back and in my stomach.” (Branigan and Dodd 8/4/2004)

A videotape obtained by the CIA shows bin Laden at the end of the Tora Bora battle. He is walking on a trail either in Afghanistan and heading toward Pakistan, or already in Pakistan. Bin Laden is seen instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie undetected at night. A US bomb explodes in the distance. Referring to where the bomb was dropped, he says, “We were there last night.” The existence of this videotape will not be reported until late 2006. (Priest and Tyson 9/10/2006) In September 2005, the New York Times will report that, “On or about Dec. 16, 2001, according to American intelligence estimates, bin Laden left Tora Bora for the last time, accompanied by bodyguards and aides.… Bin Laden and his men are believed to have journeyed on horseback directly south toward Pakistan.” (Weaver 9/11/2005) Other accounts have him heading north into other parts of Afghanistan around this time instead (see December 15, 2001).

US intelligence and Pentagon officials admit having lost track of Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in the Northwest of Afghanistan. “The chatter stopped,” says John Stufflebeem. According to commanders of the Northern Alliance, as many as 500 al-Qaeda members might still be at large. (St. Petersburg Times 12/18/2001) The same day, Rumsfeld says he has heard that there were 30 or 31 persons being held in custody around Tora Bora as of December 16. It is unclear whether any high-ranking al-Qaeda members are among them. Meanwhile, a detention center is being built at Kandahar. (Associated Press 12/17/2001)

Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001.Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001. [Source: Getty Images]US-allied forces declare that the battle of Tora Bora has been won. A ten-day ground offensive that began on December 5 has cleared out the remaining Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Tora Bora. The Afghan war is now widely considered to be over. However, many will later consider the battle a failure because most of the enemy escapes (see December 5-17, 2001), and because the Taliban will later regroup. (Smucker 3/4/2002) The Christian Science Monitor later reports that up to 2,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda were in the area when the battle began. The vast majority successfully fled, and only 21 al-Qaeda fighters were finally captured. (Smucker 3/4/2002) US intelligence analysts later estimate that around 1,000 to 1,100 al-Qaeda fighters and an unknown number of leaders escaped Tora Bora, while Pakistani officials estimate 4,000 fighters plus 50 to 80 leaders escaped (see October 2004). (Knight Ridder 10/30/2004) Author Ron Suskind will suggest in 2006 that there were just over 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban in the area, and of those, 250 were killed or captured. (Suskind 2006, pp. 75 Sources: Ron Suskind) Bin Laden left the area by December 15, if not earlier (see December 15, 2001 and Mid-December 2001). It is believed that al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also escaped the area around the same time. (Brown 10/20/2002)

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured by Pakistani forces six weeks earlier (see November 11, 2001), is handed over to US authorities at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Two FBI agents from New York are tasked with interrogating him. One of the agents, Russell Fincher, spends more than 80 hours with al-Libi discussing religion and prayer in an effort to establish a close bond. It works, and al-Libi opens up to Fincher, giving him information about Zacarias Moussaoui and the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 120) But despite this progress, he will soon be transferred to Egypt and tortured there into making some false confessions (see January 2002 and After).

President Bush says he has not ruled out bringing treason charges against John Walker Lindh, a US citizen (see Late morning, November 25, 2001). While he at first called him a “poor boy” who was “misled,” Bush now says Lindh is a member of al-Qaeda. “Walker’s unique,” Bush says, “in that he’s the first American al-Qaeda fighter that we have captured.” (Epstein 12/22/2001)

Hamid Karzai.
Hamid Karzai. [Source: United States Agency for International Development]Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and his transitional government assume power in Afghanistan. The press reported a few weeks before that Karzai had been a paid consultant for Unocal at one time (Karzai and Unocal both deny this), as well as the Deputy Foreign Minister for the Taliban. (Monde 12/13/2001; CNN 12/22/2001)

The Guardian reports that many in Afghanistan intelligence say former top Taliban officials are living openly in villas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least four top leaders who had been caught have been simply released. Yet another leader, wanted by the US for harboring al-Qaeda operatives at his compound, is able to escape a very loose house arrest in mid-December. Two soldiers were checking on him once a day. One intelligence source claims to know the exact location of many, and says they could be rounded up within hours. A former Taliban minister now working with the Northern Alliance also claims: “Some are living in luxury in fine houses, they are not hiding in holes. They could be in jail by tonight if the political will existed.” The US claims it is working hard to find and catch these leaders. (Chivers 12/20/2001; Carroll 12/24/2001) However, it will later be revealed that the US is aware of these Taliban living in Pakistan but will not seriously press Pakistan about them until 2006 (see 2002-2006).

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes a public announcement that he is planning to move Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. The number of people in US custody and destined for Guantanamo is allegedly small. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, they number eight individuals aboard the USS Peleliu and 37 at a US base near Kandahar airport. (Dawn (Karachi) 12/28/2001) Troops, earlier stationed at nearby Camp Rhino, where John Walker Lindh was detained, are being transferred to Guantanamo. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/15/2005) The reason for choosing Guantanamo for detaining suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members is unclear. Rumsfeld says: “I would characterize Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the least worst place we could have selected. Its disadvantages seem to be modest relative to the alternatives.” (Dawn (Karachi) 12/28/2001) Rumsfeld does not inform reporters of the legal opinion about to be released by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that he feels makes Guantanamo uniquely qualified to serve as a prisoner for terror suspects (see December 28, 2001). According to the OLC opinion, Guantanamo is outside the US itself, so US courts have no jurisdiction to oversee conditions or activities there. It is also not on soil controlled by any other court system. And, unlike other facilities considered for housing terror suspects (see January 11, 2002), Guantanamo is not on the soil of a friendly government with which the US has lease and status of force agreements, but rather on the soil of a hostile Communist government whose predecessor had signed a perpetual lease with the US. The base, therefore, is, according to the OLC, under the sole jurisdiction of the US military and its commander in chief, and not subject to any judicial or legislative review. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Guantanamo was chosen because it was the best place to set up a law-free zone.” (Savage 2007, pp. 145)

Shafiq Rasul.Shafiq Rasul. [Source: Public domain]Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed (the “Tipton Three”), held at Sheberghan prison, are among thirty to fifty other foreign prisoners whose custody is taken over by US Special Forces from the troops of the Northern Alliance. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) Abdul Razaq, a Pakistani teacher of English, says he is singled out for no other reason than that he speaks English. (Meek 12/3/2003) Taken to the main gate, US Special Forces personnel surround them pointing their guns at them. One by one they are stripped of all their clothes, despite the freezing temperature, and photographed. After five minutes they are allowed to put their clothes back on. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) One by one, they are taken to a shed. With their hands and feet tied with plastic cuffs, each of them is questioned by US soldiers in uniform. As one American starts the interrogation, another soldier, Rasul says, keeps a machine gun aimed at him. The interrogator, according to Rasul, says, “if you move, that guy over there will shoot you.” When it is Iqbal’s turn, a soldier, he says, is “holding a black 9mm automatic pistol to my temple. The barrel of the pistol was actually touching my temple.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) Razaq’s interview takes only three or four minutes with only two questions asked: “What is your name, and why have you come to Afghanistan?” (Meek 12/3/2003) Immediately after the interrogations, the non-Afghan prisoners have a sandbag put over their heads. For three or four hours, they have to wait in the cold for all detainees to complete the interrogations. “I think we were all suffering from the cold, dehydration, hunger, the uncertainty as well as the pain caused by the plastic ties,” Ahmed recalls. “Added to this, periodically Special Forces soldiers would walk along a line of sitting detainees and kick us or beat us at will.” Iqbal remembers that “one of them said ‘you killed my family in the towers and now it’s time to get you back.’ They kept calling us motherf_ckers and I think over the three or four hours that I was sitting there, I must have been punched, kicked, slapped or struck with a rifle butt at least 30 or 40 times. It came to a point that I was simply too numb from the cold and from exhaustion to respond to the pain.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) In the end, the prisoners are dragged, tied up and hooded, the skin scraping off their feet, to the backs of a number of trucks that take them to an airstrip. Loaded onto freezing cold cargo planes, they are forced to sit on the floor, still hooded, with their tied-up feet straight in front of them and their hands tied behind their backs. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) Rasul testifies, “Given that I was extremely weak and that I was suffering from dysentery, dehydration, hunger, and exhaustion it was impossible to maintain this position for more than a few minutes at a time. If however I leant back or tried to move, I would be struck with a rifle butt. These blows were not designed to prevent us from falling back or to adjust our position, they were meant to hurt and punish us.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) They eventually land at a US air base at Kandahar. According to Razaq prisoners arriving at Kandahar are offloaded in a particularly violent manner. “They haul you from your neck and drop you off the plane.” Relating his experience at Kandahar, Mohammed Saghir, a grey-bearded sawmill owner, says: “They would just pick us up and throw us out. Some people were hurt, some quite badly.” And Pakistani detainee Shah Mohammed, who arrives at Kandahar from a prison near Mazar-i-Sharif, says: “They kicked us out of the plane and threw us on the ground.” (Meek 12/3/2003) At Kandahar, probably on the evening of December 28, the newly arrived prisoners are forced to walk in a circle which is “unbearably painful” because their cuffs cut into their skin. US soldiers force their foreheads into the stony ground, hit, kick, and punch them and occasionally strike them with a rifle butt. They cut off their clothes and carry out “humiliating” cavity searches. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file)

In the 1990s, Afghan drug kingpin Haji Bashir Noorzai developed close ties to Taliban top leader Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda, and the Pakistani ISI. He becomes the top drug kingpin in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. He is also reputedly the richest person in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s banker. For instance, according to US sources, as the Taliban began their military defeat after 9/11, they entrusted Noorzai with as much as $20 million in Taliban money for safekeeping. But he then surrenders to the US military in Afghanistan. Noorzai later says of this time, “I spent my days and nights comfortably. There was special room for me. I was like a guest, not a prisoner.” (CBS News 2/7/2002; Risen 2006, pp. 152-162) He spends several days in custody at the Kandahar airport. He speaks to US military and intelligence officials, but is released before Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents arrive in the country to question him. (Inskeep 4/26/2002) The other top drug kingpin for the Taliban is also arrested then let go by the US at this time (see December 2001 and After). Noorzai then lives in Pakistan, where he has been given a Pakistani passport by the ISI. He operates drug-processing laboratories there and has little trouble traveling to other countries. (Risen 2006, pp. 152-162) In 2004 it will be reported, “According to House International Relations Committee testimony this year, Noorzai smuggles 4,400 pounds of heroin out of the Kandahar region to al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan every eight weeks.” (Zoroya and Leinwand 10/26/2004)

James Dobbins, the Bush Administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, later will say that three decisions in late 2001 “really shaped” the future of Afghanistan. “One was that US forces were not going to do peacekeeping of any sort, under any circumstances. They would remain available to hunt down Osama bin Laden and find renegade Taliban, but they were not going to have any role in providing security for the country at large. The second was that we would oppose anybody else playing this role outside Kabul. And this was at a time when there was a good deal of interest from other countries in doing so.” The main reason for this is because it is felt this would tie up more US resources as well, for instance US airlifts to drop supplies. The third decision is that US forces would not engage in any counter-narcotics activities. The Atlantic Monthly will later note, “One effect these policies had was to prolong the disorder in Afghanistan and increase the odds against a stable government. The absence of American or international peacekeepers guaranteed that the writ of the new [Hamid] Karzai government would extend, at best, to Kabul itself.” (Fallows 10/2004)

The US strikes a secret deal with Pakistan, allowing a US operation in Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. This will be reported by the Guardian shortly after bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The Guardian will claim this account is “according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.” The deal is struck between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and US President George W. Bush shortly after bin Laden escapes the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in December 2001 (see December 15, 2001). At the time, it is widely believed bin Laden escaped into Pakistan. The deal allows the US to conduct their own raids inside Pakistan if the target is bin Laden, al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri, or whoever the number three al-Qaeda leader is. Afterwards, Pakistan would vigorously protest, but this would just be to mollify public opinion. An unnamed senior Pakistani official will later say that the deal is reaffirmed in early 2008, when Musharraf’s grip on power is slipping. (Musharraf will resign in August 2008 (see August 18, 2008).) This same Pakistani official will say of the May 2011 US Special Forces raid that kills bin Laden in Pakistan, “As far as our American friends are concerned, they have just implemented the agreement.” (Walsh 5/9/2011)

Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” (Finn, Shapira, and Fisher 5/6/2011) Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).

CIA official Gary Schoen will later say, “I can remember trying to take issues about Afghanistan to the National Security Council (NSC) during 2002 and early 2003 and being told: ‘It’s off the agenda for today. Iraq is taking the whole agenda.’ Things that we desperately needed to do for Afghanistan were just simply pushed aside by concerns over in Iraq. There just wasn’t the time.” (Schroen 1/20/2006) A former senior NSC official will similarly recall that the Bush administration turned its attention to Iraq and “discussions about Afghanistan were constrained. Here’s what you have now, you don’t get anything more. No additional missions, no additional forces, no additional dollars.” This official adds that “the meetings to discuss Afghanistan at the time were best described by a comment Doug Feith made in one meeting, when he said we won the war, other people need to be responsible for Afghanistan now. What he meant was that nation building or postconflict stability operations ought to be taken care of by other governments.… To raise Afghanistan was to talk about what we were leaving undone.” (Risen 2006, pp. 154)

At some time in 2002, the the private military corporation Blackwater wins a classified contract to provide security for the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The circumstances and details of the contract are unknown, although this is only one of several contracts Blackwater and the CIA conclude after 9/11 (see, for example 2002 and 2004). (Mazzetti 8/20/2009)

Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, later says that the issue of fugitive Taliban leaders living in Pakistan was repeatedly raised with senior Pakistani intelligence officials in 2002. “The results were just not there. And it was quite clear to me that it wasn’t just bad luck.” (Rohde and Sanger 8/12/2007) For instance, in December 2001 the Guardian reported that many Taliban leaders are living openly in large villas in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001). But Grenier decides that Pakistan will not act on the Taliban and urges them to focus on arresting al-Qaeda operatives instead. “From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force. We were very much focused on al-Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.” Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Afghanistan, US military officials, and some Bush administration officials periodically argue that the Taliban are crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing US soldiers and aid workers (see August 18, 2005 and June 18, 2005). But it is not until some time in 2006 that President Bush strenuously presses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about acting on the Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Even then, Bush reportedly tells his aides that he worries the ties between the Pakistani ISI and the Taliban continue and no serious action will be taken despite Musharraf’s assurances. (Rohde and Sanger 8/12/2007)

Helaluddin Helal, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister in 2002 and 2003, later claims that he becomes convinced at this time that Pakistani ISI officers are protecting bin Laden. He says that he passes intelligence reports on the location of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but nothing is done in response. “We would tell them we had information that al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were living in specific areas. The Pakistanis would say no, you’re wrong, but we will go and check. And then they would come back and say those leaders are not living there. [The Pakistanis] were going to these places and moving the al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders.” (Lasseter and Landay 9/9/2007) Some al-Qaeda leaders are captured during this time, but there are also reports that Taliban leaders are living openly in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001 and 2002-2006).

Adel al-Nusairi, a Saudi Arabian police officer, is captured in Afghanistan and eventually sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo. Al-Nusairi will recall that he is interrogated for hours on end, but only after being injected with some form of drug. “I’d fall asleep” after the shots, he will tell his attorney, Anant Raut, in 2005. After he is awakened, he is interrogated in marathon questioning sessions, where, he later claims, he gives false information in order to be left alone. “I was completely gone,” he will recall. “I said, ‘Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I’m a member of al-Qaeda, I will.’” After years of captivity, al-Nusairi is eventually returned to Saudi Arabia without being charged with a crime; he never learns what kind of drugs he was subjected to while in US custody. He believes he was given drugs in order to coerce him into making statements that would implicate him in terrorist activity. Raut will later recall: “They thought he was hiding something. He was injected in the arm with something that made him tired—that made his brain cloudy. When he would try to read the Koran, his brain would not focus. He had unusual lethargy and would drool on himself.” Al-Nusairi will recall one interrogation session in an ice-cold room where he is so cold and desperate for sleep that he signs a confession testifying to his involvement in al-Qaeda. According to al-Nusairi, the interrogator watched him sign his name, and “then he smiled and turned off the air conditioner. And I went to sleep.” Al-Nusairi is held for three years more until he is abruptly returned to Saudi custody and released. Raut will later muse, “He signed the statement, and they declared him an enemy combatant, yet they released him anyway with no explanation.” (Warrick 4/22/2008)

In 2006, British and NATO forces take over from US forces in the southern regions of Afghanistan where Taliban resistance is the strongest. The British discover that between 2002 and 2005, the US had not monitored Taliban activity in the southern provinces or across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, where most of the Taliban leadership resides. NATO officers describe the intelligence about the Taliban in these regions as “appalling.” Most Predators were withdrawn from Afghanistan around April 2002 (see April 2002) and satellites and others communications interception equipment was moved to Iraq around the same time (see May 2002). One US general based in Afghanistan privately admits to a reporter that NATO will pay the price for the lack of surveillance in those regions. This general says the Iraq war has taken up resources and the US concentrated what resources they had left in the region on areas where they thought al-Qaeda leaders were, giving little attention to regions only occupied by the Taliban. As a result, at the end of 2005, NATO intelligence estimates that the Taliban have only 2,000 fighters. But Taliban offensives in 2006 show this number to be a dramatic underestimate. (Rashid 2008, pp. 359)

A Pakistani man, referred to as “A.Z.,” is detained at Kandahar. According to his account, he is beaten while having his hands cuffed behind his back. “They made me lie down on a table with my face down, while two persons held me, one at my neck and the second at my feet. Both pressed me down hard on the table, and two others beat me on my back, my thighs and my arms with punches and their elbows. The beating lasted five or six minutes. Then the interrogations started.” The man is later sent to Guantanamo and released in 2003. (Human Rights Watch 2004)

Most of Task Force 5’s members are called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq. In early 2002, there were roughly 150 Task Force 5 commandos in Afghanistan. After the massive transfer, Task Force 5’s numbers dip to as low as 30 men. Task Force 5 is a top-secret elite group that includes CIA paramilitary units and military “special mission units,” or SMUs. One of the SMUs is the former Delta Force. The name of the other unit, which specializes in human and technical intelligence operations, is not known. The Washington Post will later note, “These elite forces, along with the battlefield intelligence technology of Predator and Global Hawk drone aircraft, were the scarcest tools of the hunt for jihadists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.” According to Flynt Leverett, a career CIA analyst assigned to the State Deparmtent, “There is a direct consequence for us having taken these guys out prematurely. There were people on the staff level raising questions about what that meant for getting al-Qaeda, for creating an Afghan security and intelligence service [to help combat jihadists]. Those questions didn’t get above staff level, because clearly there had been a strategic decision taken.” (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004) In 2003, Task Force 5 will be disbanded and then merged into the new Task Force 121, which is to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan. (Shanker and Schmitt 11/7/2003)

Members of the US Fifth Special Forces Group pose with future Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom they are protecting.
Members of the US Fifth Special Forces Group pose with future Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom they are protecting. [Source: US Military]The Atlantic Monthly will later report, “By the beginning of 2002, US and Northern Alliance forces had beaten the Taliban but lost bin Laden. At that point the United States faced a consequential choice: to bear down even harder in Afghanistan, or to shift the emphasis in the global war on terror somewhere else.… Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq.” (Fallows 10/2004) In February, 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq” (see February 19, 2002). (Graham 3/26/2004) This shift from Afghanistan to Iraq involves a change of focus and attention (see Early 2002). Additionally, while the total number of US troops (less than 10,000) in Afghanistan does not go down, there is a considerable shift of specialized personnel and equipment many months before the war in Iraq will begin:
bullet On February 15, 2002, President Bush directs the CIA to conduct operations in Iraq (see Early 2002). In mid-March, the CIA tells the White House that it is cutting back operations in Afghanistan (see Spring 2002).
bullet Most of Task Force 5, a top-secret elite CIA and military special forces group, is called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq (see Early 2002).
bullet In March 2002, Fifth Group Special Forces, an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari, that is apparently different from Task Force 5, is sent from Afghanistan to Iraq (see March 2002).
bullet The US Air Force’s only two specially-equipped spy planes that had successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cell phone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. NSA satellites are “boreholed,” (or redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq as well (see May 2002).
bullet Almost all Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq (see April 2002).
More personnel will shift to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003). In 2007, retired US Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander, will say that Iraq caused the US to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. (Rohde and Sanger 8/12/2007)

Al-Qaeda forces have been driven out of Afghanistan but regroup in the tribal border region of Pakistan called South Waziristan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). However, the Pakistani government is strict about preventing US forces from crossing the border in pursuit of bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda figures. According to author James Risen, “Green Berets who served in southeastern Afghanistan say that there have been a series of tense confrontations—and even firefights—between American and Pakistani forces along the border. Both sides have largely covered up the incidents.” (Risen 2006, pp. 181) There is no sign later of a significant change in policy, although minor skirmishes persist. For part of 2002 and into 2003, some US special forces are allowed into the region, but only by traveling with the Pakistani army, and this arrangement does not last for long (see 2002-Early 2003).

As soon as terror suspect Tarek Dergoul arrives at Bagram, he is subjected to treatment that he later describes as sexually humiliating. “When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MP’s. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.” Dergoul sees other prisoners enduring beatings, which he is spared. “Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they’d beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it ‘beat down.’” Dergoul is interrogated 20 to 25 times at Bagram. Once, a team from the British intelligence agency MI5 is present, at which occasion he is told his family’s assets will be seized. His interrogators accuse him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains. Although he says none of that is true, Dergoul finally breaks. “I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators, who questioned me at gunpoint, said if I confessed I’d be going home. Finally I agreed I’d been at Tora Bora—though I still wouldn’t admit I’d ever met bin Laden.” (Branigan 3/13/2004; Rose 5/16/2004)

Asif Iqbal.Asif Iqbal. [Source: Public domain]The Tipton Three are still in a detention center in Kandahar. Shafiq Rasul is interrogated by a British soldier, who says he is a member of the SAS. Two US soldiers are present, one of whom puts an arm around Rasul’s neck and says: “Wait until you get back to the tent you will see what we are going to do to you.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) Also this month, Rasul has the “very painful” experience of something being inserted into his anus. In other parts of the detention center, he hears soldiers intimidate prisoners with dogs. (Branigan and Dodd 8/4/2004) When Rhuhel Ahmed is questioned by the SAS man, one of the US soldiers holds a gun to his head, telling him he will be shot if he moves. When Ahmed is taken out of the tent, US soldiers force his head down and throw him on the floor, forcing his head into the broken glass and stones on the ground and pulling his arms behind him. The next day, Asif Iqbal receives the same treatment after refusing to confess to the SAS officer. All three are also threatened with being put into one of Britain’s high security prisons. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file)

Noor Aghah, who is detained at Gardez and Bagram in the beginning of 2002, recalls in 2004, “Every minute in Gardez they were beating us. Mostly they kick me.” (Campbell and Goldenberg 6/23/2004)

The US had been frustrated in their efforts to cross the Pakistan border to search for al-Qaeda figures (see Early 2002 and After). However, the CIA is now permitted to establish a number of covert bases inside Pakistan to help in the hunt for bin Laden. But the ISI and Pakistani military place strict limits on the mobility of CIA officers in Pakistan. They have to travel in the tribal border regions where bin Laden is believed to reside with Pakistani security escorts, “making it virtually impossible for the Americans to conduct effective intelligence-gathering operations among the local tribes on Pakistan’s northwest frontier.” In 2006, author James Risen will claim this arrangement begins in late 2003. (Risen 2006, pp. 181) But in a 2008 New York Times article that quotes high-ranking US figures, it seems the arrangement begins at some point in 2002 and ends in early 2003. According to this article, a small number of US special forces are allowed to accompany the Pakistani army on raids. But the arrangement does not work. Having to move with army greatly limits what the special forces and do and where it can go. Pakistani officials publicly deny that Americans are there, but locals see the Americans and protest, causing an increasingly awkward situation for Pakistan. Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage will later say he supported the Bush administration’s decision to cancel the arrangement. “We were pushing [the Pakistani government] almost to the breaking point.” (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)

At the request of CIA Director George Tenet, the White House orders the FBI to hand Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured al-Qaeda operative being held in Afghanistan (see December 19, 2001), over to the CIA. One day before the transfer, a CIA officer enters al-Libi’s cell, interrupting an interrogation being conducted by FBI agent Russel Fincher, and tells al-Libi: “You’re going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I’m going to find your mother and I’m going to f_ck her.” Soon after, al-Libi is flown to Egypt. (Hirsh, Barry, and Klaidman 6/21/2004; Priest 6/27/2004; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 121) The CIA officer will later be identified as “Albert,” a former FBI translator. (Mayer 2008, pp. 106) Presumably, this is the same former FBI translator named “Albert” who will later threaten al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill during interrogations (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003 and Late December 2002 or Early January 2003). (Goldman 9/7/2010) Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later say: “He’s carried off to Egypt, who torture him. And we know that he’s going to be tortured. Anyone who’s worked on Egypt, has worked on other countries in the Middle East, knows that. Egyptians torture him, and he provides a lot of information.” (Kirk 6/20/2006)
Provides Mix of Valid, False Information - It is unclear whether al-Libi is interrogated solely by Egyptian officials, or by a combination of Egyptian and CIA interrogators. Al-Libi is subjected to a series of increasingly harsh techniques, including at least one, waterboarding, that is considered torture (see Mid-March 2002). Reputedly, he is finally broken after being waterboarded and then forced to stand naked in a cold cell overnight where he is repeatedly doused with cold water by his captors. Al-Libi is said to provide his Egyptian interrogators with valuable intelligence about an alleged plot to blow up the US Embassy in Yemen with a truck bomb, and the location of Abu Zubaida, who will be captured in March 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After). However, in order to avoid harsh treatment he will also provide false information to the Egyptians, alleging that Iraq trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases. Officials will later determine that al-Libi has no knowledge of such training or weapons, and fabricates the statements out of fear and a desire to avoid further torture. Sources will later confirm that al-Libi did not try to deliberately mislead his captors; rather, he told them what he thought they wanted to hear. (Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005; Jehl 12/9/2005)
Using Allegations in White House Statements - Both President Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003) will include these allegations in major speeches.
Shifting Responsibility for Interrogations to CIA from FBI - The FBI has thus far taken the lead in interrogations of terrorist suspects, because its agents are the ones with most experience. The CIA’s apparent success with al-Libi contributes to the shift of interrogations from the bureau to the CIA. (Priest 6/27/2004) Such methods as making death threats, advocated by the CIA, are opposed by the FBI, which is used to limiting its questioning techniques so the results from interrogations can be used in court. (Priest 6/27/2004) “We don’t believe in coercion,” a senior FBI official says. (Hersh 9/13/2004)

Tim Reid, a journalist from the London Times, visits the Kandahar city jail and meets with Jamal Udeen (see October 2001), formerly a prisoner of the Taliban, four times in one week. Udeen is still trying to find a way back to Britain. His four fellow inmates are a Russian from Tartarstan, two Saudi Arabians and a Syrian Kurd; all free to go, but waiting for an opportunity. Udeen tells Reid resolutely that he was not in Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban or al-Qaeda. “If I came here to fight, I wouldn’t have been thrown in prison,” he argues. “I travel all the time. That is all I was doing.” Reid later says: “I felt sure he was no terrorist. I even tried to get him released.” (Reid 3/11/2004)

Zalmay Khalilzad, already Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues, and a prominent neoconversative (see May 23, 2001), is appointed by President Bush as a special envoy to Afghanistan. (Fox 1/1/2002) In his former role as Unocal adviser, Khalilzad participated in negotiations with the Taliban to build a pipeline through Afghanistan. He also wrote op-eds in the Washington Post in 1997 (see October 7, 1996) supporting the Taliban regime, back when Unocal was hoping to work with the Taliban. (Sengupta and Gumbel 1/10/2002) He will be appointed US ambassador to Afghanistan in 2003 (see November 2003).

The US wants al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul arrested, but the Pakistani government will not do so, apparently because he is part of a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Details and timing are vague, but US intelligence becomes increasingly interested in Ghul. He is believed to be part of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s secret network of moneymen and couriers. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, the CIA has been pressing the Pakistani government to arrest Ghul “for years.” After 9/11, Ghul hides in Lahore, Pakistan, in safe houses run by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). This group helps many al-Qaeda operatives escape Afghanistan and hide in Pakistan after 9/11, and it even helps Zubaida escape and hide (see Late 2001-Early 2002). However, the ISI refuses to arrest Ghul. The Associated Press will report that “former CIA officers who targeted Ghul said he had ties to the Lashkar-e-Toiba terror group, which had the backing of the ISI.” Eventually, the CIA learns that Ghul plans to meet with al-Qaeda operatives fighting against US forces in Iraq. Ghul is captured in Iraq on January 23, 2004 (see January 23, 2004). However, the Pakistani government is said to be furious that Ghul has been captured, and the US is pressed to return him. The US transfers him to a secret CIA prison instead. (Associated Press 6/15/2011)

Mullah Mohammed Omar.Mullah Mohammed Omar. [Source: CBC]The US allegedly locates former Taliban leader Mullah Omar and 1,500 of his soldiers in the remote village of Baghran, Afghanistan. After a six-day siege, and surrounded by US helicopters and troops, Omar and four bodyguards supposedly escape the dragnet in a daring chase on motorcycles over dirt roads. His soldiers are set free in return for giving up their weapons, in a deal brokered by local leaders. Yet it remains unclear if Omar was ever in the village in the first place. (Carroll 1/6/2002)

Military spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem says, “We’re going to stop chasing… the shadows of where we thought [bin Laden and Mullah Omar were] and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. The job is not complete and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al-Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, we are casting a wide net—a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.” This announcement comes just two days after reports that Mullah Omar escaped an encirclement near Kandahar and fled into the nearby hills (see January 6, 2002). (Reuters 1/8/2002)

In Kandahar, American soldiers call out a number of prisoners including Shafiq Rasul (see November 28, 2001). He has a sack placed over his head and his wrists and ankles are shackled. Someone, “for no reason,” hits him on the back of his head with a handgun. During the night, he stays with about 20 other detainees in a tent with a wet floor, and “no bed or mattress or anything.” The next morning, Asif Iqbal and Rasul, both recall, have their clothes cut off and their beards and heads shaven. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) Taken outside, naked, shackled, and hooded, Rasul hears dogs nearby and soldiers shouting, “Get ‘em boy.” In another tent, something is painfully forced into his anus. He and the others are then given orange uniforms, and new handcuffs are attached to a chain around their waists and cuffs around their ankles. The cuffs, according to Rasul, are “extremely tight and cut into my wrists and ankles.” Next, they are donned with mittens, ear-muffs, blacked-out goggles, and a sort of surgical mask. Rasul is then made to sit down outside in the freezing cold on the ground “for hours and hours, perhaps nine or ten altogether,” not allowed to move. At last Rasul, Iqbal, and about 40 other prisoners are led aboard a cargo plane, and chained on benches with no back. Any movement is responded to with a kick. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) Later on, the passengers’ hands will be tied to hand rests and their bodies held attached by a belt to the back of a chair. (Meek 12/3/2003) Their destination is unknown to them. During the flight, according to Iqbal, they receive an unusual luxury: “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and orange slices.” At some point during the journey, more than halfway, the plane lands and the prisoners are transferred to another plane. As to where this is, the two Britons have no clue, but it is “obviously somewhere very hot.” Ahmed, who will come to Guantanamo one month later, makes a similar landing during the journey and is told by soldiers they have landed in Turkey. During the switch, a soldier stamps on the chain between Iqbal’s ankles, which is “extremely painful.” Two-and-a-half years later Rasul will still have scarring on his left arm from the tightness of the shackles during the flight. He also loses the feeling in his right hand for a long time because of it. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) Around January 13, Iqbal and Rasul arrive at Guantanamo (see January 13, 2002).

From mid-January on, according to Rhuhel Ahmed (see November 28, 2001), the situation at Kandahar begins to deteriorate. “They kept moving us around from tent to tent. This went on all day and night so it was impossible to settle down for the night. They also shone powerful lights into the tents which made things worse.” At some point in February, Ahmed is awakened during the night every hour on the hour. He also suffers from isolation. “There were no cages in the tents but you were separated from the person next to you by barbed wire. You were not allowed to communicate with anyone in the tent. I started to feel crazy from the isolation…. My conversations with the soldiers were the only real relief I had because it was human contact.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file)

Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and OLC lawyer John Yoo send a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Defense Department chief counsel William Haynes. Known as the “Treaties and Laws Memorandum,” the document addresses the treatment of detainees captured in Afghanistan, and their eventual incarceration at Guantanamo and possible trial by military commissions. The memo asserts that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al-Qaeda detainees, and the president has the authority to deny Taliban members POW status. The document goes on to assert that the president is not bound by international laws such as the Geneva Conventions because they are neither treaties nor federal laws. (US Department of Justice 1/22/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

US forces attack two government buildings in Khas Uruzgan, a village in the Afghan province of Uruzgan, and kill several anti-Taliban fighters and government employees by mistake. They also take 27 of them into custody and detain them for several days at the Kandahar air base. A number of these detainees claim they are kicked and punched repeatedly by US soldiers after their arrival, causing bone fractions that are left untreated. An elderly man allegedly has his hand broken. Some are beaten until they are unconscious. A photojournalist tells Human Rights Watch that US Special Forces refer to the Kandahar base as “Camp Slappy.” (Human Rights Watch 2004)

Two days after receiving assurances from the British Consulate that he would soon be returning home (see January 24, 2002), Jamal Udeen, who was imprisoned by the Taliban in October 2001, is taken by undercover CIA agents to the US air base at Kandahar airport. (Reid 3/11/2004) Udeen later describes the air base as “a concentration camp,” with watchtowers and barbed wire. (Prince and Jones 3/12/2004) The next day, reporter Tim Reid, who was planning to accompany Udeen back to Britain, discovers he is too late. Udeen and four other foreign prisoners (see Early January, 2002) of the Taliban have been arrested and detained by US authorities. (Reid 3/11/2004) Udeen and the other four prisoners will all end up at the Guantanamo facility in Cuba. Udeen will not be released until March 2004. (Reid 3/11/2004)

Tarek Dergoul is transferred from Bagram to the US detention camp at Kandahar. He is still suffering from frostbite (see January 2002). For weeks he is not given medical treatment and the infection spreads, turning a big toe gangrenous. There at Kandahar he undergoes a further amputation. During the ensuing three months, Dergoul is only allowed two showers. (Rose 5/16/2004) He will eventually be released in May 2004, never charged and never convicted.

According to one former National Security Council official, Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith argues in a White House meeting that since counter-narcotics is not part of the war on terrorism, the Pentagon doesn’t want to get involved in it. The former official complains, “We couldn’t get [the US military] to do counter-narcotics in Afghanistan.” Author James Risen comments, “American troops were there to fight terrorists, not suppress the poppy crop, and Pentagon officials didn’t see a connection between the two. The Pentagon feared that counter-narcotics operations would force the military to turn on the very same warlords who were aiding the United States against the Taliban, and that would lead to another round of violent attacks on American troops.” (Risen 2006, pp. 154) Immediately after 9/11, the US had decided not to bomb drug-related targets in Afghanistan and continued not to do so (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).

Somewhere along the mountainous eastern border of Afghanistan, a Predator drone reportedly follows and kills three men. One of them is a tall man in robes who officials operating the drone think is Osama bin Laden. However, the victims will turn out to be innocent Afghan villagers, gathering scrap metal. (Mayer 10/26/2009)

Flynt Leverett.Flynt Leverett. [Source: Publicity photo]In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Iran is supportive of US efforts to defeat the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran have opposed each other. In 2006, Flynt Leverett, the senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council in 2002 and 2003, will recall this cooperation between Iran and the US in a heavily censored New York Times editorial. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious Afghan warlord with close ties to bin Laden (see 1984), had been living in Iran since the Taliban came to power in the 1990s. Leverett claims that in December 2001 Iran agrees to prevent Hekmatyar from returning to Afghanistan to help lead resistance to US-allied forces there, as long as the Bush administration does not criticize Iran for harboring terrorists. “But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech.” (Leverett and Mann 12/22/2006) Hekmatyar apparently returns to Afghanistan around February 2002. He will go on to become one of the main leaders of the armed resistance to the US-supported Afghan government. Iranian cooperation with the US over Afghanistan will continue in a more limited manner, with Iran deporting hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had fled Afghanistan, while apparently keeping others. But the US will end this cooperation in 2003. (BBC 2/14/2002; Slavin 5/21/2003; Leverett and Mann 12/22/2006)

Secretary of State Colin Powell argues in a White House meeting that US troops should join the small international peacekeeping force patrolling Kabul, Afghanistan, and help Hamid Karzai extend his influence beyond just the capital of Kabul. The State Department has held initial talks with European officials indicating that a force of 20,000 to 40,000 peacekeepers could be created, half from Europe and half from the US. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld asserts that the Europeans would be unwilling to send more troops. He argues that sending more troops could provoke Afghan resistance and divert US forces from hunting terrorists. National Security Adviser Rice fails to take sides, causing Powell’s proposal to effectively die. In the end, the US only deploys 8,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2002, but all of them are there to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda, not to assist with peacekeeping or reconstruction. The 4,000 international peacekeepers do not venture beyond Kabul and the rest of the country remains under the de facto control of local warlords. (Rohde and Sanger 8/12/2007)

In a letter to President George Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft argues that the Third Geneva Convention should not be applicable to the Taliban, based on two grounds. First, Afghanistan is a failed state and cannot therefore be considered a party to the treaty. Second, Taliban fighters acted as unlawful combatants. Explaining the advantages of this proposal, Ashcroft notes, “[A] Presidential determination against treaty applicability would provide the highest assurance that no court would subsequently entertain charges that American military officers, intelligence officials and law enforcement officials violated Geneva Convention rules relating to field conduct, detention conduct or interrogation of detainees.” (US Attorney General 2/1/2002) As Judge Evan J. Wallach will later observe, “Attorney General Ashcroft’s letter seems to make it clear that by the end of January, at least, consideration was being given to conduct which might violate [the Third Geneva Convention’s] strictures regarding the detention and interrogation of prisoners of war.” (Wallach 9/29/2004)

Hassan Ali bin Attash.Hassan Ali bin Attash. [Source: US Defense Department]Pakistani forces raid a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, and arrest 17 suspected al-Qaeda operatives. All 17 will eventually be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
Abu Bara al-Taizi - One of them is Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said), who attended the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and was to be a hijacker for an Asian portion of the 9/11 attacks that never materialized. Al-Taizi will be handed to the US on February 27, and then transferred to Guantanamo a few months later.
Abdu Ali Sharqawi - The safe house is run by Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, a Yemeni commonly known as Riyadh the Facilitator. He is arrested as well, but he will not be handed to the US and then sent to Guantanamo until September 2004. (US Department of Defense 7/7/2008; US Department of Defense 10/25/2008) Another Guantanamo prisoner, Hassan Ali bin Attash, will later say that he and al-Sharqawi were held in a Jordanian prison for over a year. That would explain most of the time between al-Sharqawi’s arrest and his transfer to Guantanamo. (US Department of Defense 6/25/2008) The New York Times will later identify al-Sharqawi as one of the four most important al-Qaeda leaders captured in the first year after 9/11. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002)
Al-Sharqawi's Al-Qaeda Activity - According to al-Sharqawi’s Guantanamo file, he joined al-Qaeda after fighting in Bosnia in 1995 and was closely linked to many al-Qaeda leaders. For a time, he even took part in weekly planning meetings with Osama bin Laden and others. In the summer of 2001, he began running the safe house in Karachi. His file says that he photo-identifies 11 of the 9/11 hijackers and provides varying amounts of information on each of them. He estimates that he helped over 100 al-Qaeda operatives leave Pakistan in the post-9/11 crackdown before his safe house was shut down. 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh passed through his safe house in January 2002, a few weeks before the safe house is raided. As of late 2008, al-Sharqawi, al-Taizi, and nine others captured in the raid remain imprisoned in Guantanamo, while six others have been transferred out. (US Department of Defense 7/7/2008; US Department of Defense 10/25/2008) Most of the above is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011).
Neighbor's Tip Led to Raid - The safe house was discovered because the Pakistani Army asked the public for leads on the movements of suspicious foreigners. Apparently one or more neighbors pointed out the safe house (see Late 2001).

Pakistani President Musharraf and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai announce their agreement to “cooperate in all spheres of activity” including the proposed Central Asian pipeline, which they call “in the interest of both countries.” (Irish Times 2/9/2002; Hussain 9/2/2002)

Detainee Jamal Udeen is flown from Kandahar to the Guantanamo prison. (Prince and Jones 3/12/2004) Before being put on the plane, his interrogator tells him it is “just standard procedure.” Udeen later says: “I was assured it would take about two months to process me and then I could go free. I believed him.” (Prince and Jones 3/12/2004) Udeen will stay in detention at Guantanamo until March 9, 2004. (Prince and Jones 3/12/2004)

The Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv notes: “If one looks at the map of the big American bases created [in the Afghan war], one is struck by the fact that they are completely identical to the route of the projected oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean.” Ma’ariv also states, “Osama bin Laden did not comprehend that his actions serve American interests… If I were a believer in conspiracy theory, I would think that bin Laden is an American agent. Not being one I can only wonder at the coincidence.” (Muwakkil 3/18/2002)

Just before British detainee Rhuhel Ahmed is to be flown to Guantanamo in February from his prison at Kandahar, he is visited by an official from the British Foreign Office. An MI5 officer, who is also present, tells Ahmed his friends are in Guantanamo already and have confessed to everything. If he confesses too, the officer says, he will go home. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) “All the time I was kneeling with a guy standing on the backs of my legs and another holding a gun to my head.” (Rose 3/14/2004) Ahmed’s account is similar to that of another Briton, Tarek Dergoul, who claims to have been interrogated at gunpoint in early 2002 (see January 2002). The MI5 man alleges, according to Ahmed: “We’ve got your name, we’ve got your passport, we know you’ve been funded by an extremist group and we know you’ve been to this mosque in Birmingham. We’ve got photos of you.” But these statements are not true. (Rose 3/14/2004) Ahmed decides to agree to everything they charge him with, including being paid by Al Muhajeroon and intending to fight holy jihad. “I was in a terrible state. I just said ‘OK’ to everything they said to me. I agreed with everything whether it was true or not. I just wanted to get out of there.” On the day Ahmed leaves for Guantanamo, which is five days later, the Foreign Office representative comes to see him again simply to tell him he is going to Guantanamo. Ahmed has his beard and head shaven before being put on the plane. He arrives in the middle of February. On arrival at Guantanamo, Ahmed, is kicked so hard, he cannot walk “for nearly one month.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file)

General Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who is on a visit to US Central Command: “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq.” (Graham 3/26/2004) (In his memoirs, Graham quotes Franks as saying that “military and intelligence personnel are being re-deployed to prepare for an action in Iraq.”) (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 125; Strobel 6/18/2005) Franks will deny making the comment. (Strobel 6/18/2005) The New Yorker magazine will also report on a redeployment of resources to Iraq at this time (see Early March 2002). (Hersh 10/27/2003) In 2009, Graham will tell a Vanity Fair reporter: “In February of ‘02, I had a visit at Central Command, in Tampa, and the purpose was to get a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan. At the end of the briefing, the commanding officer, Tommy Franks, asked me to go into his office for a private meeting, and he told me that we were no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan and, among other things, that some of the key personnel, particularly some Special Operations units and some equipment, specifically the Predator unmanned drone, were being withdrawn in order to get ready for a war in Iraq. That was my first indication that war in Iraq was as serious a possibility as it was, and that it was in competition with Afghanistan for materiel. We didn’t have the resources to do both successfully and simultaneously.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar.Mullah Mohammed Khaksar. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Time magazine reports the CIA is still not interested in talking to Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, easily the highest ranking Taliban defector. Khaksar was the Taliban’s deputy interior minister, which put him in charge of vital security matters. He was secretly giving the Northern Alliance intelligence on the Taliban since 1997, and he had sporadic and mostly unsuccessful efforts trying to give information to the US while he still worked for the Taliban (see April 1999 and Between September 12 and Late November 2001). In late November 2001, he defected to the Northern Alliance and was given an amnesty due to his secret collaboration with them. He continues to live in his house in Kabul after the defeat of the Taliban, but is unable to get in contact with US intelligence. In February 2002, Time magazine informs US officials that Khaksar wants to talk, but two weeks later the magazine will report that he still has not been properly interviewed. (Time 2/25/2002) The US may be reluctant to speak to him because much of what he has to say seems to be about al-Qaeda’s links with the Pakistani ISI, and the US is now closely working with Pakistan. Time magazine reports, “The little that Khaksar has divulged to an American general and his intelligence aide—is tantalizing.… He says that the ISI agents are still mixed up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” and that the three groups have formed a new political group to get the US out of Afghanistan. He also says that “the ISI recently assassinated an Afghan in the Paktika province who knew the full extent of ISI’s collaboration with al-Qaeda.” (McGirk 2/19/2002) He will similarly comment to journalist Kathy Gannon that bin Laden’s foreign fighters in Afghanistan “were all protected by the Taliban leadership, but their money and instructions came direction from Pakistan’s ISI.” (Gannon 2005, pp. 161) Khaksar will continue to live in Afghanistan until early 2006, when he is apparently assassinated by the Taliban. (Witte 1/15/2006)

The house in Faisalabad where Abu Zubaida will be arrested.The house in Faisalabad where Abu Zubaida will be arrested. [Source: PBS]At some time around February 2002, intelligence leads to the location of Abu Zubaida. He will be captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002). However, accounts on what intelligence leads to Zubaida’s location differ greatly:
Call to Yemen? - According to the Associated Press, “Pakistani intelligence officials have said quietly that a mobile phone call Abu Zubaida made to al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen led to his arrest.” (Linzer 4/20/2002) This could be a reference to the “Yemen hub,” an important al-Qaeda communication node in Yemen that has long been monitored by US intelligence. The hub is used until the middle of February 2002, when it is raided and shut down (see February 13, 2002).
Bribes Play Key Role? - According to books by Jane Mayer and Ron Suskind, Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan’s tribal region notice a caravan of vehicles carrying tall women wearing burqas who turn out to be male Islamist militants in disguise. According to Suskind’s version, the militants are arrested, but refuse to talk. According to Mayer’s version, the caravan is allowed to proceed. However, both authors agree that a bribe to the driver of one of the cars reveals that their destination is Faisalabad, Pakistan. Suskind adds that the driver gives up the name of a contact in Faisalabad, and that contact is found and reveals that Zubaida has arrived in town. US intelligence begins intensively monitoring Faisalabad. Afterwards, Mayer claims that the CIA buys the ISI’s help. A CIA source involved in the situation will later tell Mayer, “We paid $10 million for Abu Zubaida.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 84; Mayer 2008) In 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will write in a memoir, “Those who habitually accuse us of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the Government of Pakistan.” (Musharraf 2006, pp. 190)
CIA Tracks Zubaida's Calls? - According to a 2008 New York Times article, in February 2002, the CIA learns that Zubaida is in Lahore or Faisalabad, Pakistani cities about 80 miles apart and with a combined population of over 10 million. The Times does not say how the CIA learns this. The CIA knows Zubaida’s cell phone number, although it is not explained how this was discovered either. (However, it had been reported elsewhere that Zubaida’s number had been monitored since at least 1998 (see October 1998 and After) and was still being monitored after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and After) and October 8, 2001).) Specialists use an electronic scanner that can track any operating cell phone and give its approximate location. However, Zubaida only turns his phone on briefly to collect messages, so his location cannot be pinpointed. A talented CIA official named Deuce Martinez gets involved. He posts a large, blank piece of paper on a wall, and writes Zubaida’s phone number in the middle of it. Then he and others add linked phone numbers, using the monitoring capabilities of the NSA and Pakistani intelligence. A map of Zubaida’s contacts grows. Eventually, Martinez and others are able to narrow Zubaida’s location down to 14 addresses in Lahore and Faisalabad, and these places are put under surveillance. Rather than wait any longer for more intelligence, all 14 locations are raided at once in a joint Pakistani-CIA operation on March 28, 2002, and Zubaida is found in one of the Faisalabad addresses. (Shane 6/22/2008)
Key Call to Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri? - Suskind’s book will also give the story of the CIA narrowing down the locations by monitoring local phone calls. He says that teams of CIA and FBI arrive in Faisalabad on March 17 for more intensive monitoring. Then, the key break comes near the end of the month, when two calls from a certain house in Faisalabad are made to phone numbers in Afghanistan that might be linked to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. By this account, US intelligence already has a good idea which of the 14 locations Zubaida is in, because of those calls. (Suskind 2006, pp. 87-89)
Explanations May Not Conflict - Note that these explanations do not necessarily conflict. For instance, bribes could have provided the lead that Zubaida was in Faisalabad, and then further CIA monitoring could have narrowed down his location there. Bribes also could have helped insure that Pakistani intelligence did not tip off Zubaida prior to the raid. The calls to Yemen and/or Afghanistan may have played a role along with other intelligence.

The Bush administration shifts its attention from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later recalls: “They took one thing that people on the outside find hard to believe or appreciate. Management time. We’re a huge government, and we have hundreds of thousands of people involved in national security. Therefore you would think we could walk and chew gum at the same time. I’ve never found that to be true.… It just is not credible that the principals and the deputies paid as much attention to Afghanistan or the war against al-Qaeda as they should have.” (Fallows 10/2004) Laurence Pope, an ambassador to Chad, will similarly recall that the change in focus that spring had a particularly damaging effect on operations in Afghanistan. “There was a moment of six months or so when we could have put much more pressure on the tribal areas [to get al-Qaeda], and on Pakistan, and done a better job of reconstruction in Afghanistan. In reality, the Beltway can only do one thing at a time, and because of the attention to Iraq, what should have happened in Afghanistan didn’t.” (Fallows 10/2004) US Intelligence agencies are also affected by the shift in priorities. The CIA’s limited supply of Arabic-speakers and Middle East specialists are redeployed to help meet the increasing demand for intelligence on Iraq. Michael Scheuer, a career CIA officer who was working on capturing bin Laden in Afghanistan at the time, says, “With a finite number of people who have any kind of pertinent experience there [was] unquestionably a sucking away of resources from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq, just because it was a much bigger effort.” (Fallows 10/2004) Scheuer adds: “There really wasn’t any balance between the two threats, but clearly by 2002 in the springtime, it was almost taken for granted that we were going to go to war with Iraq… It was a nightmare. I know Tenet was briefed repeatedly by the head of the bin Laden department, that any invasion of Iraq would break the back of our counterterrorism program, and it was just ignored.” (Scheuer 6/20/2006) In addition to a shift in focus, there is a considerable shift of specialized equipment and personnel (see Early 2002).

Informants spot al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a medical clinic in Gardez, Afghanistan. Green Berets are located just five minutes away, but they are ordered to stand down so Navy SEAL Team Six can raid the clinic and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. But the SEAL team is apparently located much farther away and too much time elapses while they are preparing for the raid, allowing al-Zawahiri to escape. In 2004, the Washington Post will mention this as one of a series of incidents in which Green Berets units were passed over and opportunities to get important wanted men were lost. (Vistica 1/5/2004)

In mid-March 2002, Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin informs senior members of the president’s national security team that the CIA is cutting back operations in Afghanistan. Presumably the CIA there are to be used in Iraq instead. (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004) Newsweek will later report that around this time, “The most knowledgeable CIA case officers, the ones with tribal contacts, were rotated out.” The CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, a fluent Arabic speaker and intellectual, is replaced by a highly unpopular chief who admits to only having read one book on Afghanistan. (Thomas 8/28/2007) More CIA personnel will move from Afghanistan to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003).

Fifth Group Special Forces—an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari—is pulled from its mission in Afghanistan and sent to Iraq where the group is assigned the task of locating Saddam Hussein. Members of Fifth Group, who spent six months developing a network of local sources and alliances and who believe they were close to finding Osama bin Laden, are upset with the orders. “We were going nuts on the ground about that decision,” one of them will later recall. (James 3/26/2004) They are replaced by the Seventh Group Special Forces, who are Spanish speakers experienced mostly in Latin America. They have no local rapport or knowledge. (James 3/26/2004; Thomas 8/28/2007) They are also replaced by the Third Group Special Forces, which is trained to operate in sub-Saharan Africa. They speak French and various African languages. (Myers and Roston 7/29/2003) CIA official Gary Schroen will later comment, “Well, you could see changes being made in the US military staffing in Afghanistan, that the Green Beret units, the Fifth Special Forces group, for the most of it, were being pulled out to refit and get ready for Iraq. And it was clear that the kind of guys that I think a lot of us believed were essential US military personnel with special operations capabilities were being pulled away.” (Kirk 6/20/2006)

CIA officer John Kiriakou, who will later make a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007), serves as the agency’s Counterterrorism Center chief in Pakistan. The date he is posted to this position is unknown, but he is involved in the capture of militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), and is transferred to Iraqi issues at headquarters in the summer of 2002 (see Summer 2002). (Rozen 12/21/2007)

US troops investigate two dead bodies on March 17, 2002, as Operation Anaconda comes to a close.US troops investigate two dead bodies on March 17, 2002, as Operation Anaconda comes to a close. [Source: Joe Raedle/ Reuters]The US launches Operation Anaconda, a major offensive in Shah-i-Kot valley, near the town of Gardez, Afghanistan. About 2,000 US and allied soldiers attack a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold in the valley. The goal is to surround and cut off the Taliban and al-Qaeda from being able to retreat into Pakistan. Officially, the operation is hailed as an easy victory. For instance, Gen. Tommy Franks calls the operation “an unqualified and absolute success.” (Krushelnycky 3/20/2002) A Pentagon spokesperson calls the operation “a great success,” and says that of the hundreds or even thousands of enemy fighters trapped in the valley,“less than 100 escaped.” (Bearak 3/14/2002) Up to 800 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are reported killed. (Bearak 3/14/2002)
Unexpected Resistance - However, other accounts paint a different picture. The operation runs into unexpected resistance from the start, and eight US soldiers and a small number of allied Afghan fighters are killed in the first few days. The London Times later notes, “what was to have been a two-day operation stretched to 12.” Australian special forces troops who took part later say the operation was botched. “They blamed much of the problem on inadequate US air power, poor intelligence, and faulty technology.” (Krushelnycky 3/20/2002; Maynard 6/18/2002)
Militants Able to Escape - It appears that, as in Tora Bora, Afghan warlord armies supervised by a small number of US special forces, were given the key task of cutting off escape routes. At least one of the warlords involved had tricked the US military earlier in the war. “Although [Afghan] commanders insisted from the start of the campaign that the slopes were surrounded, [one Afghan commander] admitted that there had been at least one escape route” left open. The Guardian notes that “US troops spent weeks planning the attack on Shah-i-Kot, training and arming Afghan soldiers to prevent a repeat of the battle at Tora Bora,” but nonetheless, “nearly all the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters appeared to have fled the area.” (Baker and Vogel 3/4/2002; McCarthy 3/15/2002) Most flee across the border into Pakistan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The New York Times even reported that “some participants… said the Taliban had more or less come and gone as they pleased, visiting villagers in nearby towns.” (Bearak 3/14/2002) One captured Taliban soldier who fought in the battle later claims that bin Laden made a brief personal appearance to rally his troops. (Nordland, Yousafzai, and Dehghanpisheh 8/11/2002) Only about 20 prisoners are captured and fewer than 20 bodies are found. (Bearak 3/14/2002; Burns 3/18/2002) After retreating, the Taliban and al-Qaeda will change strategies and no longer attempt to congregate in Afghanistan in large numbers.

Wesam Abdulrahman Ahmed al-Deemawi, a Jordanian national, is detained at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan for a period of 40 days. During this time, he is threatened with dogs, stripped naked, and photographed “in shameful and obscene positions.” In an affidavit, he alleges he is hung for two days from a hook inside a cage, while blindfolded. Occasionally he is given “breaks” of an hour. (Goldenberg and Meek 2/18/2005)

US troops raid a compound in Sangesar, a village close to Kandahar, and arrest more than thirty anti-Taliban fighters, presumably by mistake. Taken to Kandahar, they are “thrown down,” face first, onto the ground, by US soldiers. One detainee later recalls: “They picked me up and threw me down on the rocks. It was painful. I couldn’t rest on my chest. When I moved they kicked me.” Another says he is held by the feet and head and kicked in the back repeatedly. (Hanley 3/23/2002)

A suspected Taliban member named Abdullah is taken into US custody, together with 34 other members of the Taliban army. According to Abdullah, the men have their heads hooded and their hands tied behind their backs with plastic zip ties. They are then taken to the US base in Kandahar where for several hours they are ordered to lie down on the stony ground. During this time, Abdullah is kicked in the ribs. The men are shaved of all their facial and body hair. Abdullah later complains that he was shaved by a woman. (Amnesty International 8/19/2003) This means that the technique of “forced grooming,” authorized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for use at Guantanamo between December 2, 2002 and January 15, 2003 (see December 2, 2002), is allegedly already being used in Afghanistan in the spring of 2002. This technique is considered extremely humiliating for Muslim males.

A small team of contractors from the private security firm Blackwater is deployed inside Afghanistan, as a result of a $5 million contract between Blackwater and the CIA (see 2002 and 2002). The contractors provide security for the CIA at the agency’s station in Kabul and at “The Alamo,” a mud fortress in Shkin, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In May, Blackwater founder and owner Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, will fly to Afghanistan to help expand operations. The Kabul and Shkin deployments are the first in a long, profitable relationship between the CIA and Blackwater. The relationship stems from a long friendship between Prince and Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s executive director. Prince formed another part of the Blackwater group, Blackwater Security Consulting, in early 2002 along with former CIA operative Jamie Smith; Krongard provided the firm with one of its first government contracts. In 2006, Krongard will explain: “Blackwater got a contract because they were the first people that could get people on the ground. The only concern we had was getting the best security for our people. If we thought Martians could provide it, I guess we would have gone after them.” The relationship between Krongard and Blackwater will deepen after the first Afghanistan deployment, with Krongard making repeated visits to the Blackwater headquarters in North Carolina and even bringing his children along to use Blackwater’s firing range. Prince was denied a position with the CIA, but will maintain a close relationship with the agency, and will receive “green badge” access to most CIA stations around the world. Krongard will join Blackwater’s board of directors in 2007. (Scahill 8/20/2009)

Around April 2002, most Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later call the Predator “just about the perfect weapon in our hunt for Osama bin Laden.” He will later comment that their removal is “a clear case of how the Bush administration’s single-minded focus on Iraq undermined the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.” (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 121; Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004; Rashid 2008, pp. 134) Additionally, over the next years, all new Predators built are sent to Iraq and none to Afghanistan. A former Central Command official will say in 2007, “If we were not in Iraq, we would have double or triple the number of Predators across Afghanistan, looking for Taliban and peering into the tribal areas.” (Rohde and Sanger 8/12/2007)

An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields.An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields. [Source: Shaul Schwarz/ Corbis]“American officials have quietly abandoned their hopes to reduce Afghanistan’s opium production substantially this year and are now bracing for a harvest large enough to inundate the world’s heroin and opium markets with cheap drugs.” They want to see the new Afghan government make at least a token effort to destroy some opium, but it appears that the new government is not doing even that. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai had announced a total ban on opium cultivation, processing, and trafficking, but it appears to be a total sham. The new harvest is so large that it could be “enough opium to stockpile for two or two and a half more years.” (Golden 4/1/2002) Starting this month, Karzai’s government offers farmers $500 for every acre of poppies they destroy, but farmers can earn as much as $6,400 per acre for the crop. The program is eventually cancelled when it runs out of money to pay farmers. (Shah 3/27/2003)

President Bush explicitly likens US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan to the successful Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II. At the Virginia Military Institute, where Gen. George Marshall trained a century ago, Bush calls the Marshall Plan “a beacon to light the path that we, too, must follow.” He says that Afghans have felt abandoned before, including by the US at the end of the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s, and says, “We’re not going to repeat that mistake. We’re tough, we’re determined, we’re relentless. We will stay until the mission is done.” He vows to avoid the syndrome of “initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure.” The New York Times will later note that that speech is little-noticed in the US but fuels expectations in Afghanistan and bolsters the stature of Hamid Karzai shortly before he is formally chosen to lead the Afghan government. But Bush’s promise will fail to materialize. In the months following the speech, the Bush administration fails to make any detailed reconstruction plan. For the next few years, Afghanistan will end up getting less assistance per capita than post-conflict Bosnia and Kosovo, or even poverty-stricken Haiti. (Rohde and Sanger 8/12/2007)

The Washington Post reports, “The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit US ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda,” allowing bin Laden to escape. The newspaper claims that while the administration has failed to acknowledge the mistake publicly, “inside the government there is little controversy on the subject.” (Gellman and Ricks 4/17/2002) The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denies this, and states he did not know at the time of the assault, “nor do I know today of any evidence that he was in Tora Bora at the time or that he left Tora Bora at the time or even where he is today.” (Moniz 4/18/2002) Apparently, Rumsfeld soon forces the removal of Cofer Black from his position of head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division, because Rumsfeld thinks Black leaked information for this damning Washington Post article (see May 17, 2002).

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