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The main routes al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape US and Nothern Alliance forces. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]James Risen will report in his 2006 book, State of War, there was “a secret debate within the Bush administration over how vigorously to support the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel group that had been battling the Taliban for years.” The Northern Alliance was dominated by Tajik ethnic minority in the north while the Pakistani government backed the Pashtun ethnic majority in the south. [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170] As a result, as New Yorker magazine would later note, “The initial American aim in Afghanistan had been not to eliminate the Taliban’s presence there entirely but to undermine the regime and al-Qaeda while leaving intact so-called moderate Taliban [and Pashtun] elements that would play a role in a new postwar government. This would insure that Pakistan would not end up with a regime on its border dominated by the Northern Alliance.” [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] On October 17, the Washington Post reports that the US and Pakistan are “working together to form a representative government” and Secretary of State Colin Powell says that he hopes moderate Taliban could be persuaded to join such a government. [Washington Post, 10/17/2001] As a result of these goals, US bombers are “ordered to focus their attacks on Afghan government infrastructure targets in Kabul and elsewhere, far from the battlefields in the north, and the Taliban front lines [are] left relatively unscathed.” This policy not only delays the defeat of the Taliban but also gives al-Qaeda leaders extra time to prepare their escape. However, in early November the US bombing finally begins targeting the Taliban frontlines, especially near the key northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif. The results are immediate and dramatic, allowing the Northern Alliance to conquer the capital of Kabul within days (see November 13, 2001). [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170]
Jalaluddin Haqqani. [Source: PBS]Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is supposedly helping the US defeat the Taliban (see September 13-15, 2001) while secretly helping the Taliban resist the US (see September 17-18 and 28, 2001 and Mid-September-October 7, 2001). Jalaluddin Haqqani is a Taliban leader close to bin Laden who controls the Khost region of eastern Afghanistan where most of bin Laden’s training camps and supporters are. Journalist Kathy Gannon will later note, “Had he wanted to, Haqqani could have handed the United States the entire al-Qaeda network.” [Gannon, 2005, pp. 94] He also has extensive ties with the ISI, and was a direct CIA asset in the 1980s (see (1987)). Journalist Steve Coll will later say, “There was always a question about whether Haqqani was really Taliban, because he hadn’t come out of Kandahar; he wasn’t part of the core group. And it was quite reasonable to believe after 9/11 that maybe he could be flipped.… [US officials] summoned him to Pakistan, and they had a series of meetings with him, the content of which is unknown.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006] In early October 2001, Haqqani makes a secret trip to Pakistan and meets with Mahmood. Mahmood advises him to hold out and not defect, saying that he will have help. Haqqani stays with the Taliban and will continue to fight against the US long after the Taliban loses power. [Gannon, 2005, pp. 94]
Ummah Tameer-e-Nau’s headquarters in Kabul. [Source: CBC]In early October 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan and discusses the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He offers US technical assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s nukes, but Pakistan rejects the offer. Powell also says that the CIA learned of a secret meeting held in mid-August 2001 between two Pakistani nuclear scientists and al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-August 2001). As a result of US pressure, Pakistan arrests the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, on October 23. The Pakistani ISI secretly detains them for four weeks, but concludes that they are harmless and releases them. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] In mid-November, after the Taliban is routed from Kabul (see November 13, 2001), the CIA takes over the headquarters there of Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a charity founded by the two scientists. In addition to charity material, they find numerous documents and pieces of equipment to help build WMD, including plans for conducting an anthrax attack. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 322] As a result, on December 1, CIA Director George Tenet, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center’s WMD branch, and a CIA analyst named Kevin make an emergency trip to Pakistan to discuss the issue. Accompanied by Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Tenet meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and urges him to take stronger action against the two scientists and their UTN charity. Musharraf reluctantly agrees, and the two men are rearrested. According to a 2007 book by Tenet, after being tested by a team of US polygraph experts and questioned by US officials, “Mahmood confirmed all we had heard about the August 2001 meeting with Osama bin Laden, and even provided a hand-drawn rough bomb design that he had shared with al-Qaeda leaders.” During the meeting, an unnamed senior al-Qaeda leader showed Mahmood a cannister that may have contained some kind of nuclear material. This leader shared ideas about building a simple firing system for a nuclear “dirty bomb” using commercially available supplies. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] However, on December 13, the two scientists are quietly released again. The US does not officially freeze UTN’s assets until December 20, and Pakistan apparently follows suit a short time later (see December 20, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 271]
Entity Tags: Wendy Chamberlin, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Al-Qaeda, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
In mid-November 2001, the Washington Post will report that senior Air Force officials are upset they have missed opportunities to hit top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the start of the bombing of Afghanistan. According to these officials, the Air Force believes it has the leaders in its crosshairs as many as ten times, but they are unable to receive a timely clearance to fire. Cumbersome approval procedures, a concern not to kill civilians, and a power play between the Defense Department and the CIA contribute to the delays. One anonymous Air Force official later says, “We knew we had some of the big boys. The process is so slow that by the time we got the clearances, and everybody had put in their 2 cents, we called it off.” The main problem is that commanders in the region have to ask for permission from General Tommy Franks, based in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. Air Force generals complain to Franks about the delay problem, but never receive a response. For example, at one point in October, a Taliban military convoy is moving north to reinforce front line positions. Targeters consider it an easy mark of clear military value. But permission from Central Command is denied on the suspicion that the target is so obvious that “it might be a trick.” In another example, a target is positively identified by real-time imagery from a Predator drone, but Central Command overrides the decision to strike, saying they want a second source of data. An anonymous official calls this request for independent verification of Predator imagery “kind of ridiculous.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] The London Times paraphrase officials who claim that, “Attempts to limit collateral damage [serve] merely to prolong the war, and force the Pentagon to insert commandos on the ground to hunt down the same targets.” [London Times, 11/19/2001] By the end of the war, only one top al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, is killed in a bombing raid (see November 15, 2001), and no top Taliban leaders are killed.
An agent of the Defense Intelligence Agency sends two classified cables to various US government agencies detailing how Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) created the Taliban and helped al-Qaeda. The agent writes that during the Soviet-Afghan War, the “Pakistan government also had a hidden agenda… Pakistan decided to deliberately influence the outcome. Rather than allow the most gifted Afghan commanders and parties to flourish, who would be hard to control later, Pakistan preferred to groom the incompetent ones [because] they would be wholly reliant on Pakistan for support… Pakistan also encouraged, facilitated, and often escorted Arabs from the Middle East into Afghanistan. Eventually a special facility was constructed… with [ISI] funding.” When Ahmed Shah Mossoud captured Kabul in the early 1990s, “Pakistan could not accept this result and the fragile Afghan coalition began another civil war, with the Pakistan stooge (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) being backed to seize total power. In the end Pakistan was proved right about only one thing, Hekmatyar was incompetent. He was never able to wrest Kabul from Massoud, despite massive logistical and material (including manpower) support from Pakistan.” When Hekmatyar failed, “[Pakistan] created another force they hoped to have better control over than Hekmatyar’s rabble. It was called Taliban… To lead the Taliban Pakistan chose Mullah Mohammad (Omar), who was willing to do as he was told… Omar’s emergence is credited to Pakistan ISI actions… The fully supported (by Pakistan) Taliban prevailed over the unsupported legitimate government of Afghanistan…” [Defense Intelligence Agency, 10/2/2001 ; Defense Intelligence Agency, 10/2/2001 ]
The Afghan village of Darya Khanah is bombed on October 27, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]The US begins bombing Afghanistan. [MSNBC, 11/2001] The bombing campaign will taper off around the end of 2001. Some, like counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, will later criticize the amount of time before the bombings could start. Shortly ater 9/11, Clarke was made co-chairman of an interagency committee to devise responses to al-Qaeda. He had advocated a “rapid, no-holds-barred” retaliation in Afghanistan, including sending troops to immediately seal off Afghanistan’s borders and cut off escape routes. But the Bush administration decided to focus on air power. The start of the bombing campaign was delayed until this date mostly because of concerns about US pilots being captured. A network of combat search and rescue teams were set up in neighboring countries first, to allow a rapid response in case a pilot was shot down. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Most documentary evidence suggests the US was not planning this bombing before 9/11. However, former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik has claimed that in July 2001 senior US officials told him that a military action to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan would, as the BBC put it, “take place before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest.” [BBC, 9/18/2001]
“Operation Enduring Freedom,” the US’s first military answer to the attacks of 9/11, starts with a bombing campaign on selected targets in the Afghan countryside. On October 19, Special Forces troops are deployed to occupy parts of the country in collaboration with the Northern Alliance, an armed faction hostile towards the Taliban government. In the following weeks, a fierce hunt ensues for members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [White House, 5/10/2005]
Bin Laden appears on Al Jareeza, in a taped statement broadcast shortly after US-led strikes on Afghanistan begin. [Source: Al Jazeera]In a recorded statement broadcast on television worldwide, Osama bin Laden issues a strongly worded message to the United States, but makes no claim of responsibility for 9/11. The recording is broadcast on the Al Jazeera television network within an hour of the first US strikes on Afghanistan, and is then shown by CNN. There is no date on the tape and no immediate way of determining where it was made. [New York Times, 10/8/2001] Bin Laden is shown sitting in a stone cave. His top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appears at his side. [Associated Press, 10/8/2001] Referring to the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden says, “What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for tens of years.” He praises those responsible, saying, “I ask God Almighty to elevate their status and grant them paradise.” [BBC, 10/7/2001] It is the first time he has spoken publicly about 9/11. But he makes no claim in his statement of having been responsible for the attacks. [Associated Press, 10/8/2001] He has previously explicitly denied responsibility for 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and September 28, 2001). Bin Laden concludes his message warning, “[N]either the United States nor he who lives in the United States will enjoy security before we can see it as a reality in Palestine and before all the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed.” [BBC, 10/7/2001] The following day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will tell reporters that, after watching this message, President Bush concluded that bin Laden “virtually took responsibility” for 9/11. [CNN, 10/8/2001]
President Bush sends a letter to Congress informing legislators that he has ordered US armed forces into combat against the Taliban (see October 7, 2001). Bush does not rely on Congress’s Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), but instead asserts his unilateral authority as president to take the country into war. “I have taken these actions pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct US foreign relations as commander in chief and chief executive,” he writes (see 1787). His letter goes on to express his appreciation to Congress for its “support” in his decision to begin a war against a foreign entity. [Savage, 2007, pp. 127-128]
Khalid Khawaja. [Source: CNN]Ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, as part of his attempt to gather evidence that could tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, contacts the Taliban. He works with Mansoor Ijaz, a US businessman of Pakistani origin, who is a lobbyist for Pakistan in the US, an occasional Fox News commentator, and has extensive political ties in the US. Woolsey is also vice chairman of the board of Ijaz’s company. Woolsey and Ijaz work with Khalid Khawaja, a friend of Osama bin Laden and ex-ISI operative. The three plus an unnamed US journalist arrange to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on October 8. The Taliban agree to tell Woolsey about a meeting between Iraqi and al-Qaeda officials that took place in 1997, and possibly other similar information. Apparently in return they hope to avert the US invasion of Afghanistan. However, the US bombing begins on October 7, and the meeting is called off. [Dawn (Karachi), 2/15/2002; Financial Times, 3/6/2003] At least part of this team will later play another behind-the-scenes role. After being given a tip that Mansoor Ijaz is connected to leading militant Muslims in Pakistan, reporter Daniel Pearl will connect with Khalid Khawaja, who in turn connects him with militant Muslims who kidnap and eventually kill him. A leading Pakistani newspaper will claim that at one point Newsweek is about to accuse Khawaja of involvement in the plot to kidnap Pearl, but Ijaz vouches for Khawaja and convinces Newsweek to pull back its accusations. [Dawn (Karachi), 2/15/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
As early as October 2001, according to the Guardian, the Pentagon, too, contemplates the use of aggressive methods of interrogation. Soon after the start of the war in Afghanistan, lawyers at the Defense Department are requested to explore the legal room for action in this regard. “There was a kind of sub rosa [secret] thought process during at least the first few months of the prosecution of the war on terror,” says a former Pentagon official. Lawyers begin discussing what methods could be declared allowable for extracting information. “It did not include electric probes in the genitals,” the official says. “But there were certainly a range of psychological measures.” [Guardian, 6/23/2004]
Suliman abu Ghaith in an October 2001 video. [Source: Al Jazeera]Al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman abu Ghaith calls the 9/11 attacks a “good deed” and threatens new attacks. The statement is made public in a video broadcast on Al Jazeera on this day, but it was recorded a few days earlier. Abu Ghaith does not explicitly state that al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, but he does not deny it either. He says: “The actions by these young men who destroyed the United States and launched the storm of planes against it have done a good deed. They transferred the battle into the US heartland. Let the United States know that with God’s permission, the battle will continue to be waged on its territory until it leaves our lands, stops its support for the Jews, and lifts the unjust embargo on the Iraqi people who have lost more than one million children.” [BBC, 10/10/2001] Several days later, he will make another video statement. He warns Muslims in the US and Britain not travel by plane or live in skyscrapers, and tells all non-Muslims to leave the Arabian Peninsula. [BBC, 10/14/2001]
President Bush briefly considers sealing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent the escape of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, but then decides against it. According to journalist Bob Woodward, a National Security Council (NSC) meeting held on this day is attended by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and others. Intelligence indicates that about 100 people per day are going from Pakistan to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. Woodward will claim, “There was some talk of sealing the border.” But he adds the idea is immediately dismissed: “It seemed an impossible idea, not practical given the hundreds of miles of mountainous and rough terrain, some of the most formidable in the world. There were few roads. Getting from one point to another could only be done on foot, with mules, or on horseback.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 205] CIA official Michael Scheuer will later comment, “There is no denying that closing that border was a hard job, but if the NSC did not believe that the best military in the world could close the border and trap bin Laden, why did it decide that the task could be safely allotted to the poorly armed and trained and generally anti-US Pakistani forces?” [Scheuer, 2008]
An al-Qaeda representative offers to arrange a television interview of Osama bin Laden. There are two versions of how this offer is made. According to CNN, an al-Qaeda contact of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, with which it has a footage-sharing agreement, invites CNN and Al Jazeera to submit questions to bin Laden. CNN, worried about accusations of improper conduct, contacts the other major US television news stations and tells them it will share any footage that emerges. It also says it will only air the interview as long as it is newsworthy and not “propaganda.” CNN then draws up six questions about al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11 and the recent anthrax attacks in the US. It gives the questions to Al Jazeera, which adds another 25 and sends them to its Kabul bureau, which, in turn, passes them on to its al-Qaeda contact. The ethics of this are hotly debated in the US media, with Fox News publicly refusing to participate. Nevertheless, an Al Jazeera manager will later say: “I assure you they [Fox] contacted me to send more questions of their own. I got calls and emails from them.” Fox will later admit to the contacts, but say it would only have agreed to take part in the event of a regular interview. However, Al Jazeera media relations manager Jihad Ballout will contradict CNN’s account of the offer, saying the two organizations are approached independently, and al-Qaeda eventually chooses Al Jazeera. [Miles, 2005, pp. 175-176, 179-180] The interview will take place on October 20 (see October 20, 2001).
A British Muslim radicalized at Finsbury Park mosque in London, which is run by British intelligence informer and radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), fights against British troops in northern Afghanistan. The man’s name is not known, but he will be said to be a former DJ of Lebanese descent from a rich family. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 88]
The commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), which encompasses the area of Afghanistan, issues an order instructing that the Geneva Conventions are to be applied to all captured individuals. [Wallach, 9/29/2004]
US Special Forces being paradropped into Afghanistan. The date and exact location is unknown. [Source: PBS]US Special Forces ground forces arrive in Afghanistan. [MSNBC, 11/2001] However, during the Afghanistan war, special forces soldiers are mainly employed in small numbers as observers, liaisons, and spotters for air power to assist the Northern Alliance—not as direct combatants. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The first significant special forces operation on October 20 will be a near disaster, leaving military commanders increasingly reluctant to use US troops directly in battle (see October 20, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will suggest in 2004 that the Bush administration did not commit more ground forces to Afghanistan because it wanted to have enough troops available to stage a large offensive against Iraq. “I can’t prove this, but I believe they didn’t want to put in a lot of regular infantry because they wanted to hold it in reserve,” Richard Clarke explains. “And the issue is the infantry. A rational military planner who was told to stabilize Afghanistan after the Taliban was gone, and who was not told that we might soon be doing Iraq, would probably have put in three times the number of infantry, plus all the logistics support ‘tail.’ He would have put in more civil-affairs units, too. Based on everything I heard at the time, I believe I can make a good guess that the plan for Afghanistan was affected by a predisposition to go into Iraq. The result of that is that they didn’t have enough people to go in and stabilize the country, nor enough people to make sure these guys didn’t get out.” The first regular US combat troops will be deployed in late November and play a more limited role. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]
The German government issues an international arrest warrant for Zakariya Essabar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the 9/11 hijackers. Essabar left Germany to fly to Pakistan in late August 2001 (see Late August 2001). This is the third 9/11-related international warrant issued by Germany, following warrants for cell members Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Said Bahaji issued in late September 2001 (see September 21, 2001). [CNN, 10/19/2001] Essabar was seen in an al-Qaeda training camp in late September 2001 (see September 10, 2001). He has not been heard of since.
US Special Forces in the foreground with their Afghan allies in the rear. The allies are wearing US-issued parkas. [Source: Robin Moore]US special forces conduct their first two significant raids in the Afghanistan war on this day. In the first, more than a hundred Army Rangers parachute into a supposedly Taliban-controlled airbase near Kandahar. But in fact, the airbase had already been cleared by other forces, and the raid apparently is staged for propaganda purposes. Footage of the raid is shown that evening on US television. In the other raid, a combination of Rangers and Delta Force attack a house outside Kandahar occasionally used by Taliban leader Mullah Omar. This raid is publicly pronounced a success, but privately the military deems it a near-disaster. Twelve US soldiers are wounded in an ambush as they leave the compound, and neither Mullah Omar nor any significant intelligence is found at the house. Prior to these raids, top military leaders were already reluctant to use special forces for fear of casualties, but after the raids, the military is said to be even more reluctant. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001] Author James Risen will later note that Gen. Tommy Franks was “under intense pressure from [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld to limit the number of US troops being deployed to the country.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 185] Only around three-dozen US special forces will take part in the pivotal battle for Tora Bora (see December 5-17, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later blame the failure to capture bin Laden during the war to “the abject fear of American casualties. It’s something that cuts across both [the Clinton and Bush] administrations.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Osama bin Laden admits “inciting” the 9/11 attacks in a controversial interview by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV station. The interview is conducted by Tayseer Allouni, Al Jazeera’s Kabul correspondent. Allouni had discussed a possible interview of bin Laden with al-Qaeda about a week previously (see Mid-October 2001), but nothing further had been said and Allouni assumed the interview would not be conducted.
Taken Blindfolded to Bin Laden - However, he is contacted by al-Qaeda representatives, who tell him they will take him to a story. He is blindfolded and driven around in circles outside Kabul for some time, until the car stops, the blindfold is taken off, and he finds himself in an unknown place, face-to-face with bin Laden. The al-Qaeda leader is wearing camouflage fatigues and has a sub-machine gun close by; there are other armed men present. Allouni is told he cannot use his own questions, but will ask a set of questions prepared by al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden 'Ambiguously' Discusses Responsibility for 9/11 - The interview lasts for over an hour and covers several topics. On the key question of responsibility for 9/11, author Hugh Miles will point out that bin Laden speaks “ambiguously, seeming first to deny, then confirm, his involvement in the attacks.” When asked about US allegations of his responsibility, bin Laden answers: “America has made many accusations against us and many other Muslims around the world. Its charge that we are carrying out acts of terrorism is unwarranted.” However, a few seconds later he adds, “If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we were terrorists.” He then says: “We kill the kings of the infidels, kings of the crusaders, and civilian infidels in exchange for those of our children they kill. This is permissible in Islamic law and logically.” Allouni interrupts him and asks, “They kill our innocents, so we kill their innocents?” The reply is, “So we kill their innocents.” Bin Laden also gives a vague non-answer to a question about his responsibility for the recent anthrax attacks in the US: “These diseases are a punishment from God and a response to oppressed mothers’ prayers in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and everywhere.”
Interview Not Broadcast - Al Jazeera decides not to broadcast the interview. Its media relations manager, Jihad Ballout, will later say the decision is taken because the questions Allouni was forced to ask came from bin Laden, and because “bin Laden was using Al Jazeera to give out a very edited and sanitized statement to his people. It was a message, a pure message.” Neither does Al Jazeera inform CNN of the interview. However, western intelligence services will obtain it (see Before November 11, 2001) and it will eventually be broadcast on CNN in early 2002 (see January 31, 2002). [CNN, 2/5/2002; Miles, 2005, pp. 177-179, 182]
The Gulfstream V with tail number N379P used to rendition Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed and many others. [Source: Washington Post]Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a microbiology student from Yemen who is suspected of membership in al-Qaeda and involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole, is apprehended in Pakistan by the Pakistani ISI at the request of the US. [Associated Press, 10/28/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 10/28/2001; Washington Post, 3/11/2002] In the early hours of October 23, 2001, he is taken to a secluded part of Karachi International Airport. Shackled and blindfolded, the Pakistanis deliver him to US agents, according to the Washington Post, “without extradition or deportation papers.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2002] From there, at about 2:40 a.m., Mohammed is put on a US-registered jet and flown to Jordan. His fate is unknown from then on. [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003] The plane is a Gulfstream V with tail number N379P, owned by a company named Premier Executive Transport Services Inc. (PETS), in Dedham, Massachusetts. The company is apparently a CIA front. [Washington Post, 12/27/2004] Reporter Fredrik Laurin later discovers that the chartered Gulfstream is leased almost exclusively to the US administration. [Guardian, 9/13/2004] Since its discovery, this Gulfstream will be spotted at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, Guantanamo Bay, Amman (the military airport), Baghdad, Baku, Cairo, Dubai, Islamabad, Karachi, Kuwait City, Rabat, Riyadh, and Tashkent, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Stockholm, Larnaca on Cyprus, and other airports in England and Ireland. [Washington Post, 7/25/2004; Washington Post, 12/27/2004] The jet will further be found to have a permit to land at US military bases around the world. [Guardian, 9/13/2004] As of early 2008, he still has not been seen or heard of anywhere. Amnesty International has asked the Jordanian government for information on his whereabouts but has not received an answer. [Washington Post, 12/1/2007]
The Chinese internet news site Zhongxin Wang publishes a detailed account of the purported assassination of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, according to James S. Robbins, a professor of international relations at the National Defense University’s School for National Defense Studies. According to the account, both men were killed by associates at an underground base near Kandahar on October 16. The associates shot them twice in the back, and one of bin Laden’s sons and two of Omar’s were also killed. The report will be picked up by a Japanese daily and the National Review Online, which will cite some circumstantial evidence it says supports the claim. [National Review Online, 10/25/2001] However, both bin Laden and Mullah Omar will later be reported to have lived past this date (see, for example, November 7, 2001 and October 6, 2002).
Abdul Haq. [Source: Abdul Haq Foundation]Abdul Haq, a leader of the Afghan resistance to the Taliban, is killed. According to some reports, he “seemed the ideal candidate to lead an opposition alliance into Afghanistan to oust the ruling Taliban.” [Observer, 10/28/2001] Four days earlier, he had secretly entered Afghanistan with a small force to try to raise rebellion, but was spotted by Taliban forces and surrounded. He calls former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane (who had supported him in the past) who then calls the CIA and asks for immediate assistance to rescue Haq. A battle lasting up to twelve hours ensues. (The CIA had previously rejected Haq’s requests for weapons to fight the Taliban, and so his force is grossly underarmed.) [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/29/2001] The CIA refuses to send in a helicopter to rescue him, alleging that the terrain is too rough, even though Haq’s group is next to a hilltop once used as a helicopter landing point. [Observer, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] An unmanned surveillance aircraft eventually attacks some of the Taliban forces fighting Haq, but not until five hours after Haq has been captured. The Taliban executes him. [Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2001] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, and others suggest that Haq’s position was betrayed to the Taliban by the ISI. Haq was already an enemy of the ISI, which may have killed his family. [Village Voice, 10/26/2001; USA Today, 10/31/2001; Knight Ridder, 11/3/2001; Toronto Star, 11/5/2001]
Michael Ledeen, speaking at an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), states: “No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq… this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war… our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” [Institute, 10/29/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001] Interestingly, several sources credit fellow AEI neoconservative Richard Perle, and not Ledeen, with the quote, including John Pilger’s book The New Rulers of the World [Pilger, 2002, pp. 10] and former State Department and USAID official William Fisher. [Informed Comment, 2/1/2005] Perle is the moderator of the AEI event where Ledeen speaks. [Institute, 10/29/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001]
Neoconservative writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol predict “a wide-ranging war in locales from Central Asia to the Middle East and, unfortunately, back again to the United States,” of which the Afghanistan conflict is merely “an opening battle.” The “unequivocal destruction of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden” are the first steps in a larger conflict that must “spread and engulf a number of countries in conflicts of varying intensity,” requiring US forces to invade “multiple” countries. “It is going to resemble the clash of civilizations that everyone has hoped to avoid. And it is going to put enormous and perhaps unbearable strain on parts of an international coalition that today basks in contented consensus.” Kagan and Kristol say that both the 9/11 attacks and the recent anthrax mailings are likely the work of Iraq, and thus President Bush “ha[s] no choice” but to destroy the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The continued security of Israel is of paramount importance, they write; the US must join with Israel in battling Islamist terrorism in the region by any means necessary. There is virtually no difference between the Taliban and the Palestinian Authority, they write; both must be shut down. Putative US allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might object, and may even declare war against Israel. If so, they must be given the same treatment as the Taliban, the Palestinians, and Iraq: overthrow and domination. “With or without a new Arab-Israeli war, it is possible that the demise of some ‘moderate’ Arab regimes may be just around the corner.” [Weekly Standard, 10/29/2001]
On October 29, 2001, an Australian citizen named Mamdouh Habib is arrested in Pakistan by Pakistani authorities, while traveling with two peripheral members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany (see October 29, 2001). Over the next three weeks he is interrogated by three Americans. He is then taken to an airfield, where American individuals beat him up, cut off his clothes, and make him pose “while another [takes] pictures” with a foot on his neck. He is first taken to Bagram and from there flown to Egypt, where he spends the next six months in a six by eight foot cell and is forced to sleep on a concrete floor with one blanket. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ; Washington Post, 1/6/2005] According to Habib, the Australian high commission in Pakistan authorizes his transfer to Egypt. [Amnesty International, 9/2004 ] During interrogations in Egypt, he is repeatedly kicked, punched, and beaten with a stick, rammed with an electric cattle prod, injected with unknown drugs, attacked with dogs, drenched with cold water, and deprived of sleep. Sometimes he is “suspended from hooks on the wall” with his feet on the side of a large metal rotating drum. When Habib fails to provide his interrogators with the answers they want, they throw a switch and “a jolt of electricity” goes through the drum, forcing Habib to “dance,” and making the drum rotate. Thus, “his feet constantly [slip], leaving him suspended by only the hooks on the wall.” Another technique used on Habib is to place him in ankle-deep water “wired to an electric current.” According to a petition Habib later files with a US District Court, his interrogators tell him that unless he confesses, they will “throw the switch and electrocute him.” Habib submits and gives false confessions. [Amnesty International, 9/2004 ; Washington Post, 1/6/2005]
Gary Bernsten. [Source: CNN]Veteran CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a CIA undercover team, codenamed Jawbreaker, to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan (see September 26, 2001). In a 2005 book, also called Jawbreaker, Berntsen will describe how his team monitored multiple intelligence reports tracking bin Laden on a path through Jalalabad to Tora Bora (see November 13, 2001). He will claim that at the start of December 2001, one of his Arabic-speaking CIA agents finds a radio on a dead al-Qaeda fighter during a battle in the Tora Bora region. This agent hears bin Laden repeatedly attempt to rally his troops. On the same radio, that agent and another CIA agent who speaks Arabic hear bin Laden apologizing to his troops for getting them trapped and killed by US aerial bombing. Based on this information, Berntsen makes a formal request for 800 US troops to be deployed along the Pakistani border to prevent bin Laden’s escape. The request is not granted. Berntsen’s lawyer later claims, “Gary coordinated most of the boots on the ground. We knew where bin Laden was within a very circumscribed area. It was full of caves and tunnels but we could have bombed them or searched them one by one. The Pentagon failed to deploy sufficient troops to seal them off.” Although the area is heavily bombed, bin Laden is able to escape (see Mid-December 2001). [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64; London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005; Financial Times, 1/3/2006] A Knight Ridder investigative report will later conclude, “While more than 1,200 US Marines [sit] at an abandoned air base in the desert 80 miles away, Franks and other commanders [rely] on three Afghan warlords and a small number of American, British, and Australian special forces to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from escaping across the mountains into Pakistan.” Military and intelligence officials warn Franks that the two main Afghan commanders cannot be trusted. This turns out to be correct, as the warlords accept bribes from al-Qaeda leaders to let them escape. [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] In 2005, Berntsen will call himself a supporter of Bush and will say he approves of how CIA Director Porter Goss is running the CIA, but he will nonetheless sue the CIA for what he claims is excessive censorship of his book. [London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005]
In late October, US intelligence reports begin noting that al-Qaeda fighters and leaders are moving into and around the Afghan city of Jalalabad. By early November, Osama bin Laden is said to be there. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall: “We knew from day one the likely places that bin Laden would flee to. There had been lots of work done before 9/11 on where did he hang out, statistical analysis even. We knew Tora Bora was the place where he would be likely to go. People in CIA knew that; people in the counterterrorism community knew about it. We knew that what you should have done was to insert special forces—Rangers, that sort of thing—up into that area as soon as possible.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Knight Ridder Newspapers will later report: “American intelligence analysts concluded that bin Laden and his retreating fighters were preparing to flee across the border. However, the US Central Command, which was running the war, made no move to block their escape. ‘It was obvious from at least early November that this area was to be the base for an exodus into Pakistan,’ said one intelligence official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. ‘All of this was known, and frankly we were amazed that nothing was done to prepare for it.’” [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The vast majority of al-Qaeda’s leaders and fighters will eventually escape into Pakistan. In 2006, Newsweek reporter and columnist Michael Hirsh will write that Bush’s decision to ignore accurate intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora in favor of realigning the US’s war effort to focus on the “gathering threat” of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was a strategic blunder that ranks alongside Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR in 1941. [Rich, 2006, pp. 208]
Walter Isaacson. [Source: Amazon (.com)]CNN chairman Walter Isaacson orders his staff to balance the network’s coverage of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11. Isaacson says it “seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” In an internal memo to his international correspondents, he writes: “As we get good reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/31/2001] Inside sources later say that CNN is bowing to pressure from certain segments of its viewing audience. [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Suggested Endings Reiterate Pentagon Statements - In a corollary memo, CNN’s head of standards and practices, Rick Davis, writes: “As we get enterprising reports from our correspondents or Al Jazeera inside Afghanistan, we must continue to make sure that we do not inadvertently seem to be reporting uncritically from the perspective or vantage of the Taliban. Also, given the enormity of the toll on innocent human lives in the US, we must remain careful not to focus excessively on the casualties and hardships in Afghanistan that will inevitably be a part of this war, or to forget that it is the Taliban leadership that is responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in.” Davis orders CNN reports from Afghanistan to end with a formulaic reminder, such as the following: “We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this, that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan continues to harbor terrorists who have praised the September 11 attacks that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the US.” Another suggested ending: “The Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it is trying to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban regime continues to harbor terrorists who are connected to the September 11 attacks that claimed thousands of innocent lives in the US.” If relevant to the piece, the correspondent can end with the reminder that “the Pentagon has stressed that the Taliban continues to harbor the terrorists and the Taliban forces are reported to be hiding in populated areas and using civilians as human shields.” Davis concludes, “Even though it may start sounding rote, it is important that we make this point each time.” Isaacson tells reporters: “I want to make sure we’re not used as a propaganda platform. We’re entering a period in which there’s a lot more reporting and video from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. You want to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it’s in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States.” Presenters on CNN International are not subject to the edict. [Guardian, 11/1/2001]
Correspondents Fear 'Pro-American Stamp' on CNN Reporting - Some CNN correspondents worry that the network will put an overtly “pro-American stamp” on their reports; CNN executives worry that images showing misdirected US missile attacks landing on residential areas or Red Cross warehouses could be manipulated before they come out of Afghanistan. Some have criticized network coverage of the destruction rained on Afghan cities, towns, and villages by errant US bombs, while others say such coverage is necessary to present more than one side of the issue. CNN, like other American networks, airs hours of coverage every day of President Bush and his top officials. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/31/2001; Guardian, 11/1/2001] In 2002, then-CNN foreign correspondent Anthony Collings will say that “the Pentagon must surely have been pleased to learn that whenever its planes killed the wrong Afghans, CNN would quickly provide PR damage control.” [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Some Pundits Agree with CNN's Position - Fox News anchor Brit Hume agrees that stories of casualties should not be emphasized, explaining, “Civilian casualties are historically, by definition, a part of war.” National Public Radio White House correspondent Mara Liasson agrees with Hume, noting, “War is about killing people; civilian casualties are unavoidable.” [Bob Zelnick, 3/22/2003]
Other Networks Not Following Suit - Other US news networks do not follow CNN’s lead. Jim Murphy, executive producer of the CBS Evening News, says: “I wouldn’t order anybody to do anything like that. Our reporters are smart enough to know it has to be put in context.” NBC News vice president Bill Wheatley adds, “I’d give the American public more credit, frankly.” In Britain, the BBC has no plans to put any such reminders on its broadcasts, but a spokeswoman for that network says, “Correspondents may or may not decide to put in this sort of detail in their reports to put things in context.” [Guardian, 11/1/2001]
Issue Not Relevant if Good Journalistic Standards Observed - In 2003, veteran foreign correspondent Robert Zelnick will write that the entire issue should have been moot, as long as reporters and networks followed strong standards of journalism. It is newsworthy in a tactical, a psychological, and a propagandistic sense to report civilian casualties, Zelnick will observe, especially when the targeting of civilians is deliberate. He cites examples of media coverage in Korea, Kosovo, and especially Vietnam, that galvanized public debate on those wars. “[N]o reasonable case can be made for temporizing reports of the war’s impact on the civilians that US forces were fighting to ‘save,’” he will write. On the other side, he will cite the US invasion of Panama in 1989, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and Israel’s ongoing battles with the Palestinians as examples of wars fought with little US media coverage of civilian casualties; as a result, relatively few Americans raised objections or expressed doubts about those military actions. [Bob Zelnick, 3/22/2003]
Entity Tags: Brit Hume, Al Jazeera, Anthony Collings, Bill Wheatley, US Department of Defense, Walter Isaacson, Rick Davis, Robert Zelnick, CNN, Mara Liasson, Jim Murphy
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan
According to author Ron Suskind, some time in November the US makes a deal with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan will seal off the passages to Pakistan from the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan where Taliban and al-Qaeda forces are expected to gather. In return, the US will give Pakistan nearly a billion dollars in new economic aid. Pakistan will fail to effectively seal the border in the next month (see December 10, 2001) and almost the entire force in Tora Bora will escape into Pakistan. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58]
In the late autumn of 2001, when US-allied forces are overrunning Taliban positions in Afghanistan, the Darunta camp run by al-Qaeda is seized and searched. Al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) ran al-Qaeda’s WMD program and conducted crude chemical weapons experiments there. The CIA recovers one document there by Mursi that refers to connections between al-Qaeda and Pakistani nuclear scientists. It reads, in part, “As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, amongst which are radioactive elements that could be used for military ends. One can use them to contaminate an area or halt the advance of the enemy. It is possible to get more information from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 345; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 294] This could be a reference to links between al-Qaeda and the Pakistani nuclear scientists working with the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau charity front (see 2000 and Mid-August 2001).
Al-Qaeda documents found in Kabul by CNN reporters [Source: CNN]As US forces invade Afghanistan, they and the journalists following them, uncover a quantity of al-Qaeda documents in training camps and houses used by the organization. The documents reveal a chilling array of terrorist plots. Some documents are apparently related to the planning of the 9/11 attacks. [Observer, 11/18/2001] A New York Times reporter finds two houses in Kabul’s diplomatic district containing, among other papers, a map showing the locations of power plants in Europe, Africa and Asia; training notebooks in military tactics and bomb-making; a list of Florida flight schools and a form that comes with “Microsoft Flight Simulator 98”; a document entitled “Before and After Precautions For Using Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Warfare”; and a notebook on how to make nitroglycerine, dynamite, and fertilizer bombs, with a note next to one of the formulas saying “the type used in Oklahoma.” [New York Times, 11/17/2001] CNN reporters are led by Afghan police to a house in an upscale district of Kabul, which is apparently the same as the one visited by the New York Times reporter. In it they find a quantity of documents revealing al-Qaeda’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons (see Mid-August 2001) and conventional explosives. According to David Albright, a nuclear weapons expert who is asked by CNN to analyze the documents, “These are people who are thinking through problems in how to cause destruction, for a well-thought-through political strategy.” [CNN, 12/4/2001; CNN, 1/24/2002; CNN, 1/25/2002; Albright, 11/6/2002] However, an extensive review of the documents later concludes that al-Qaeda’s main activity was to support the Taliban. “Reporters for The New York Times collected over 5,000 pages of documents from abandoned safe houses and training camps destroyed by bombs.… The documents show that the training camps, which the Bush administration has described as factories churning out terrorists, were instead focused largely on creating an army to support the Taliban, which was waging a long ground war against the Northern Alliance.… They show no specific plans for terror operations abroad, and while hinting at an ambition to use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, they contain no evidence that the groups possess them.” [New York Times, 3/17/2002]
Shortly after State Department official Hillary Mann joins the National Security Council staff as its resident Iran expert, she flies to Europe with senior State Department official Ryan Crocker to establish contact with Iranian government officials. Iran has let the US know through back channels that it is ready to re-establish diplomatic relations (see Fall 2001); Mann’s efforts were critical in the early stages of diplomatic contacts (see September 11, 2001). Mann and Crocker meet with Iranian diplomats in the old United Nations building in Geneva, and the two sides hammer out an agreement for Iran’s assistance in the war against the Taliban. The Iranians agree to provide assistance if any American fliers are shot down near their border with Afghanistan, let the US ship food across their borders, work with the Americans to intercept Iraqi oil being shipped out of the Persian Gulf, and even help capture some “really bad Afghans,” particularly anti-American warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom they agree to quietly put under house arrest in Tehran. In addition, the Iranians offer the US tactical assistance in the war against the Taliban, including sharing their deep knowledge of the Taliban’s strategic capabilities. Simultaneously, special envoy James Dobbins has a successful meeting with the Iranian deputy foreign minister in Bonn, Germany, discussing Iranian involvement in establishing a new government for Afghanistan. Mann will recall one meeting with Iranian officials shortly after the US began bombing Taliban targets (see October 19, 2001); an Iranian interrupts a rather desultory conversation about a future Afghani constitution by pounding on the table and shouting, “Enough of that!” He then unfurls a map of Afghanistan and begins jabbing his finger at points on the map, telling Mann and her colleagues that the Americans need to bomb this and that target. [Esquire, 10/18/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 245-246]
Juma al-Dosari. [Source: PBS]In November 2001, al-Qaeda operative Juma al-Dosari is captured in Afghanistan. He is soon transferred to the Guantanamo prison. During interrogation in the spring of 2002, he reveals several aliases and that he was trying to recruit a group of US citizens in New York state known as the “Lackawanna Six.” Based on the aliases, US intelligence realizes they have already intercepted communications between him and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden, and also him and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. They learn he has a long history with al-Qaeda, having fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. He was arrested in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on different occasions for involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings (see June 25, 1996). He first went to the US in 1999, staying several months in Indiana. Then he got a job at a mosque in Bloomington, Indiana, in the autumn of 2000. He began traveling around the US as a visiting imam, but investigators believe this was just his cover while he worked to recruit for al-Qaeda. In April 2001, he visited Buffalo, New York, and helped convince the “Lackawanna Six” to go to Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). He left the US for Afghanistan in late September 2001. The FBI gets this information in May 2002 and begins monitoring the “Lackawanna Six,” as they are all back in the US. Investigators suspect al-Dosari recruited others in other cities, but they do not know who. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003] In 2007, al-Dosari will be released from Guantanamo without explanation and set free in Saudi Arabia (see July 16, 2007).
Shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan (see October 19, 2001), the CIA takes control of an abandoned brick factory, and turns it into a training facility and secret prison. The facility, code-named the “Salt Pit,” is a 10-acre facility just north of Kabul. It is used to train Afghan counterterrorism forces and to house prisoners. The agency intends the Salt Pit to be a “host-nation facility,” manned and operated entirely by Afghans, in part so that CIA officials cannot be held accountable for the actions taken by the Afghan guards and interrogators. Similar methodologies are used in secret CIA prisons in other countries. However, the CIA pays the entire cost of maintaining the facility. It vets the guards who work there, and decides which prisoners will be kept in the facility, including some senior al-Qaeda operatives who will eventually be transferred to other facilities such as Guantanamo. Sometime before March 2005, the CIA will transfer its operations to another facility, and the Salt Pit will be demolished. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The US military loses both a helicopter and a drone in Afghanistan on the same day. The Taliban claim that the helicopter was shot down and that up to 50 US soldiers died in the crash, which was just south of Kabul. “All together between 40 to 50 Americans have died in both these incidents,” Qari Fazil Rabi, a Taliban information ministry official, tells Reuters. “You can see the bodies of the Americans on board the helicopters with their uniforms.” However, the Pentagon dismisses the claims, blaming bad weather for the crash landing of the special forces helicopter and the loss of the drone. According to the Pentagon, the helicopter had a crew of four and was on a mission to pick up a sick soldier. The crew members were injured in the crash, but were rescued by another helicopter, and the downed helicopter was later destroyed by F-14 Tomcats from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. According to The Guardian, “Such a search-and-destroy mission would only take place if the items on the helicopter were considered extremely sensitive and the US military did not want it to fall into enemy hands.” [Guardian, 11/3/2001]
A video still of bin Laden filmed during his interview with Hamid Mir in November 2001. [Source: National Geographic]Pakistani reporter Hamid Mir is taken blindfolded to a location somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan to interview bin Laden. The sound of antiaircraft fire can be heard in the distance. Bin Laden looks paler and his beard is greyer. While he doesn’t claim responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, he says that Muslims were behind it and that Muslims have the moral right to commit such attacks because they are done in self-defense. He says, “I wish to declare that if America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as deterrent.” He also says, “This place may be bombed. And we will be killed. We love death. The US loves life. That is the big difference between us.” [Reuters, 11/10/2001; Newsweek, 11/26/2001]
Gary Berntsen, leader of the CIA effort in Afghanistan, names the four most wanted terrorist suspects in Afghanistan at a meeting of his team. They are al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). Berntsen places one of his subordinates in charge of these four men, giving orders to “find and kill” them. Berntsen also wants the Taliban’s top three intelligence officials killed. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 114] While the connections between the other three and al-Qaeda are well known by this time, the US government apparently first develops information indicating KSM is the mastermind behind 9/11 during FBI questioning of military training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida around April 2002. [New York Times, 4/22/2009] However, KSM is an known terrorist and one of the top 22 fugitives named by the FBI the previous month (see October 10, 2001).
The Taliban abandon the strategic northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, allowing the Northern Alliance to take control. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] The Taliban abandons the rest of Northern Afghanistan in the next few days, except the city of Kunduz, where most of the Taliban flee. Kunduz falls on November 25, but not before most of the thousands of fighters there are airlifted out (see November 14-25, 2001). [New Yorker, 1/21/2002]
Abdurahman Khadr. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]On November 10, 2001, Abdurahman Khadr is arrested in Afghanistan as a suspected member of al-Qaeda. His father is Ahmed Said Khadr, a founding member of al-Qaeda, and virtually everyone in his family is linked to al-Qaeda. He has known Osama bin Laden and played with his children since he was a little boy, and has frequently attended al-Qaeda training camps. However, Abdurahman has always been the “black sheep” of the family and reluctant to embrace the militant jihadist ideology. He begins cooperating with the US military. Due to his in-depth knowledge of al-Qaeda operations, soon he is frequently leading US officials on tours of Kabul, pointing out the locations of what were al-Qaeda and Taliban safe houses and strongholds. For nine months, he lives in a CIA safe house near the US embassy in Kabul. In the summer of 2002, the CIA trusts him enough to offer him a formal paid job as an informant. He accepts. In early 2003, he agrees to pretend to be captured so he can be shipped to Guantanamo and inform on the prisoners there (see Spring 2003). [PBS Frontline, 4/22/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 4/20/2006]
Pakistani forces capture Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national, apparently as he is trying to flee Afghanistan. Al-Libi is considered an al-Qaeda leader and head of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan for many years. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] He is the first al-Qaeda figure captured after 9/11 of any importance. He will be transferred to US custody one month later (see December 19, 2001).
Gul Agha with US General D. K. McNeill. [Source: Rob Curtis/ Agence France-Presse]On November 11, 2001, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar concedes defeat and orders thousands of Taliban to retreat to Pakistan. Within a week, large sections of Afghanistan are abandoned by the Taliban. The Northern Alliance, however, does not have the means or the support to occupy those areas, and warlords take effective control of most of the country. On November 19, the New York Times reports, “The galaxy of warlords who tore Afghanistan apart in the early 1990s and who were vanquished by the Taliban because of their corruption and perfidy are back on their thrones, poised to exercise power in the ways they always have.” The warlords all claim some form of loyalty to the Northern Alliance, but some of the same warlords had previously been allied with the Taliban and bin Laden. For instance, the new ruler of Jalalabad let bin Laden move from Sudan to Jalalabad in 1996. [New York Times, 11/15/2001; Guardian, 11/15/2001; New York Times, 11/19/2001] For the next few weeks, there is widespread “chaos, rape, murder, and pillaging” in most of Afghanistan as old scores are settled. The Western media does little reporting on the brutality of the situation. [Observer, 12/2/2001] The central Afghanistan government will later officially confirm the warlords’ positions with governor and minister titles (see June 20, 2002). In late 2005, it will be reported that warlords generally still retain their positions and power, even after regional elections. [Independent, 10/8/2005] The US made a conscious decision shortly after 9/11 not to allow peacekeepers outside of the capital city of Kabul, creating a power vacuum that was filled by the warlords (see Late 2001). Further, in some cases the US military facilitates the return of former warlords. For instance, Gul Agha Sherzai ruled the Kandahar area in the early 1990s; his rule was notorious for bribery, extortion, drug dealing, and widespread theft. Yet the US arms his militia and US Special Forces personally escort him back to Kandahar, and he will become governor of Kandahar province. [New York Times, 1/6/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] In 2003, Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor will look back at the US decisions in late 2001 and opine, “Perhaps the most serious tactical error was the restoration of warlords in Afghanistan. The common people were disaffected by the proteges and stooges of foreign occupiers who had carved Afghanistan into fiefdoms. Most or all of them were driven out by the Taliban and Pakistan and the remainder were on the verge of collapse or on the run.… US forces brought the warlords back, arming, financing and guiding them back to their lost thrones.” [Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor, 2/24/2003] Journalist Kathy Gannon will later write, “At the heart of these misguided machinations was Zalmay Khalilzad, the US president’s hand-picked envoy to Afghanistan, who choreographed the early US decisions” in the country. [Gannon, 2005, pp. 113]
Jamal Udeen, a British national of Jamaican descent who has been imprisoned since October (see October 2001), along with a handful of other non-Afghans, is left in a Kandahar prison when the Taliban leadership flees the advancing Northern Alliance troops. Having lost his passport, Udeen does not know how to leave the country. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits the jail and asks him if he wants to go to Pakistan together with some Pakistanis who were also prisoners of the Taliban and who will be allowed to cross the border. But with “no money and no way of getting back to Britain,” Udeen decides to remain in Kandahar. [Mirror, 3/12/2004]
Northern Alliance forces entering Kabul. One holds a poster of recently assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, falls to the Northern Alliance. The Taliban will abandon the rest of the country over the next few weeks. [BBC, 11/13/2001] The US and Pakistan did not want the Northern Alliance to conquer Kabul for ethnic and strategic regions. But after a change in US bombing tactics, the Taliban front line unexpectedly and suddenly collapsed, making this conquest all but inevitable (see October-Early November 2001). It is later reported that the US paid about $70 million in bribes to get dozens of Taliban leaders to surrender or change sides. This is credited with assisting the sudden collapse of Taliban forces. [Washington Times, 2/7/2002; Washington Post, 11/18/2002]
Two days after the opening of the UN General Assembly, and one day after the Taliban defeat, the Security Council adopts Resolution 1378. Although it stays short of endorsing the military campaign, it comes very close to actually providing retroactive authorization. The resolution applauds the goals of the US’s actions, supports its motives, and condemns the the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [United Nations, 11/14/2001]
Neoconservative Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, says during remarks at the Foreign Policy Research Institute that the proposed invasion of Iraq is merely the first step in a much larger military strategy that should encompass most of the Middle East and other states which, in Perle’s view, pose threats to the US. “Those who think Iraq should not be next may want to think about Syria or Iran or Sudan or Yemen or Somalia or North Korea or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority,” Perle says. “These are all institutions, governments for the most part, that permit acts of terror to take place, that sponsor terrorists, that give them refuge, give them sanctuary, and very often much more help than that. When I recite this list, people typically say ‘Well, are we going to go to war against a dozen countries?’ And I think the answer to that is that, if we do it right with respect to one or two, we’ve got a reasonable chance of persuading the others that they should get out of the business of supporting terrorism. If we destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I’m confident we will, and we then go on to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein, and we certainly could if we chose to do so, I think we would have an impressive case to make to the Syrians, the Somalis, and others. We could deliver a short message, a two-word message: ‘You’re next. You’re next unless you stop the practice of supporting terrorism.’ Given the fact that until now there has been no cost attached to supporting terror, I think there’s a reasonable prospect that looking at the costs on the one side—that is, that those regimes will be brought to an end—and the benefits on the other—they will decide to get out of the terrorist business. It seems to me a reasonable gamble in any event.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]
Ismail Khan. [Source: US Navy]Independent warlord Ismail Khan’s troops and other Northern Alliance fighters are reportedly ready to take back Pashtun areas from Taliban control at this time. Khan, former and future governor of Herat province and one of Afghanistan’s most successful militia leaders, later maintains that “we could have captured all the Taliban and the al-Qaeda groups. We could have arrested Osama bin Laden with all of his supporters.” [USA Today, 1/2/2002] However, according to Khan, his forces hold back at the request of the US, who allegedly do not want the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance to conquer Pashtun areas. British newspapers at the time report bin Laden is surrounded in a 30-mile area, but the conquest of Kandahar takes weeks without the Northern Alliance (see November 25, 2001). However, more reliable reports place bin Laden near Tora Bora by mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [CNN, 11/18/2001]
Mohammed Atef. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs) is believed to have been killed in Gardez, near Kabul, Afghanistan. Atef is considered al-Qaeda’s military commander, and one of its top leaders. Initial reports claim he was killed by a US bombing raid, but later reports will reveal he was hit by Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. [US Department of State, 11/16/2001; ABC News, 11/17/2001; Newsweek, 11/11/2002] CIA Director George Tenet will later indicate that Atef was “a key player in the 9/11 attacks,” but the exact nature of his role has not been revealed. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 187] Documents and videotapes are discovered by US forces in the rubble after the raid. Details on two upcoming al-Qaeda attacks are discovered. Investigators examining the videotapes find images of about 50 al-Qaeda operatives (see November 15-Late December 2001). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 57]
A still from the casing video shows a US warship docked in Singapore. [Source: CBC]After killing al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef and other operatives with a Predator drone (see November 15, 2001), US forces search the building where he was killed and find lots of evidence about al-Qaeda members and various plots. One of the pieces of evidence found is a casing video for an attack on US personnel in Singapore, which al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) have been plotting for some time (see June 2001). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 56-57] Shortly before dying, Atef instructed JI leader Hambali to conduct the operation fast, because of the US invasion of Afghanistan. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] In addition, JI is also plotting a wave of embassy attacks. A senior Western diplomat will later comment: “There was an imminent danger. Their plans could have been operational in a week.” However, many militants are arrested in Southeast Asia in mid-December and the attacks never happen. US officials initially claim that the passage of the video to Singapore helps with the arrests. But Singapore authorities later point out that they did not receive the tape until the end of December and they had already arrested everybody by then based on information they had acquired on their own. They had also found a copy of the video in a suspect’s house in Singapore. [Washington Post, 2/3/2002; Washington Post, 2/3/2002; Dallas Morning News, 3/16/2002]
Khaled al-Harbi (right) talking to Osama bin Laden or one of his doubles. [Source: US Department of Defense]A conversation between Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda spokesman Suliman abu Ghaith, and Khaled al-Harbi, a veteran of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Bosnia, is videotaped. A portion of the taped conversation is later said to be found by the US and will be used as evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. [Unknown, 2001; Guardian, 12/13/2001; Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-9] According to a translation released by the Pentagon, the man said to be bin Laden says: “[W]e calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all… (inaudible)… due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is what we had hoped for.” He continues: “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day. We had finished our work that day and had the radio on. It was 5:30 p.m. our time.… Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington.… At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.… After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The release of the tape, which is said to be found by US intelligence officers in Jalalabad, will be a major news story, and the tape will be taken by the media as proof of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11. President Bush will comment, “For those who see this tape, they’ll realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization.” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will add, “By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, bin Laden confirms his guilt.” [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/16/2001] However, the tape will later be disputed from three points of view:
The accuracy of the translation will be questioned (see December 20, 2001). For example, the man thought to be bin Laden does not say “we calculated in advance the number of casualties,” but “we calculated the number of casualties”;
An analyst will conclude that the tape was actually made earlier as a part of a US-run sting operation (see (September 26, 2001));
Some commentators will question whether the person in the video is actually bin Laden (see December 13, 2001).
In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview al-Qaeda figures Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April, June, or August 2002). In a 2003 book he will co-write, Fouda will claim that he asked an unnamed al-Qaeda operative who was setting up the interview if the bin Laden video was fake. This person will supposedly reply: “No. The tape, the brothers said—I am not sure whether they left it behind or not—but the Sheikh [bin Laden], yes, was talking to someone from Mecca.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 135]
Hazrat Ali. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, warlords in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, both later claim that they are first approached in the middle of November by US officers and asked to take part in an attack on Tora Bora. They agree. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] By late November, the US-allied warlords assemble a motley force of about 2,500 Afghans supported by a fleet of old Russian tanks at the foot of the Tora Bora mountains. They are poorly equipped and trained and have low morale. The better-equipped Taliban and al-Qaeda are 5,000 feet up in snow-covered valleys, forests, and caves. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] On December 3, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor overhears Ali in a Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hotel making a deal to give three al-Qaeda operatives safe passage out of the country. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The US chooses to rely mainly on Hazrat Ali’s forces for the ground offensive against Tora Bora. Ali supposedly pays one of his aides $5,000 to block the main escape routes to Pakistan. But in fact this aide helps Taliban and al-Qaeda escape along these routes. Afghan villagers in the area later even claim that they took part in firefights with fighters working for Ali’s aide who were providing cover to help al-Qaeda and Taliban escape. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Author James Risen later claims, “CIA officials are now convinced that Hazrat Ali’s forces allowed Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants to flee Tora Bora into Pakistan. Said a CIA source, ‘We realized those guys just opened the door. It wasn’t a big secret.’” While the US will never publicly blame Ali for assisting in the escape, the CIA will internally debate having Ali arrested by the new Afghan government. But this idea will be abandoned and Ali will become the new strongman in the Jalalabad region. [Risen, 2006, pp. 168-169] CIA official Michael Scheuer later will comment, “Everyone who was cognizant of how Afghan operations worked would have told Mr. Tenet that [his plan to rely on Afghan warlords] was nuts. And as it turned out, he was.… The people we bought, the people Mr. Tenet said we would own, let Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Gary Bernsten]Heavy US bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban and al-Qaeda mountainous stronghold near the Pakistani border, begins. A large convoy containing bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Tora Bora about three day earlier. The son of a tribal elder later recalls, “At first, we thought that the US military was trying to frighten the Arabs out, since they were only bombing from one side.” Rather than send in US ground forces in large numbers, the US chooses to supply two local warlords and have their fighters do most of the fighting while heavy bombing continues. Within days, a small number of US special forces are brought in to assist the local warlords. One of the warlords chosen, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, was actually living in exile in France and has to be flown to Afghanistan. He is “known to many as a ruthless player in the regional smuggling business.” Between 1,500 to 2,000 of bin Laden’s fighters are in Tora Bora when the battle begins. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] There are two main mountain passes out of Tora Bora and into Pakistan. From the beginning on this day, eyewitnesses report that the US bombs only one pass. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] The fighting and bombing will continue through early December (see December 5-17, 2001) while bin Laden and most of his forces escape via the other pass (see November 28-30, 2001).
A Tora Bora cave used by al-Qaeda forces in December 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]According to Newsweek, approximately 600 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including many senior leaders, escape Afghanistan on this day. This is the first day of heavy bombing of the Tora Bora region (see November 16, 2001). There are two main routes out of the Tora Bora cave complex to Pakistan. The US bombs only one route, so the 600 are able to escape without being attacked using the other route. Hundreds will continue to use the escape route for weeks, generally unbothered by US bombing or Pakistani border guards. US officials later privately admit they lost an excellent opportunity to close a trap. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] On the same day, the media reports that the US is studying routes bin Laden might use to escape Tora Bora [Los Angeles Times, 11/16/2001] , but the one escape route is not closed, and by some accounts bin Laden and others escape into Pakistan will use this same route several weeks later (see November 28-30, 2001). High-ranking British officers will later privately complain, “American commanders had vetoed a proposal to guard the high-altitude trails, arguing that the risks of a firefight, in deep snow, gusting winds, and low-slung clouds, were too high.” [New York Times, 9/30/2002]
Laura Bush, wife of President Bush, temporarily takes over her husband’s weekly radio address to condemn the Taliban’s policies toward women. The war in Afghanistan will benefit women, she says. “I’m delivering this week’s radio address to kick off a worldwide effort to focus on the brutality against women and children by the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the regime it supports in Afghanistan, the Taliban.… The severe repression and brutality against women in Afghanistan is not a matter of legitimate religious practice.… Only the terrorists and the Taliban forbid education to women. Only the terrorists and the Taliban threaten to pull out women’s fingernails for wearing nail polish.… [I]n Afghanistan we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.… The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.… Because of our recent military gains, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes.” Mrs. Bush’s radio address coincides with the release of a State Department report on “The Taliban’s War Against Women,” which describes women’s losses of rights and opportunities under the regime. [White House, 11/17/2001; US Department of State, 11/17/2001; New York Times, 11/18/2001; Associated Press, 11/18/2001]
When asked under what terms the US might be willing to accept a surrender from Taliban Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld responds: “The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders, nor are we in a position, with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners.… Any idea that those people in that town who have been fighting so viciously and who refuse to surrender should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent. They’re people who have done terrible things.… The idea of their getting out of the country and going off to make their mischief somewhere else is not a happy prospect. So my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner [by the Northern Alliance].” [US Department of Defense, 11/19/2001; London Times, 11/20/2001]
When US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is asked by a reporter what the US might do to prevent the Arab Taliban and Chechen soldiers surrendering in Kunduz from going free, Rumsfeld responds, “It would be most unfortunate if the foreigners in Afghanistan—the al-Qaeda and the Chechens and others who have been there working with the Taliban—if those folks were set free and in any way allowed to go to another country and cause the same kind of terrorist acts.” [US Department of Defense, 11/20/2001; Fox News, 11/22/2001; Associated Press, 11/22/2001]
Two radical Muslims involved in a shoe bombing plot, Richard Reid and Saajit Badat, travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan to meet an al-Qaeda bomb maker named Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri). Mursi has been working on a plan to get enough plastic explosive to puncture a plane’s fuselage into a shoe and thinks he has finally succeeded. It is unclear where the explosives the two men later obtain for the plot come from. At his trial, Reid will claim that he obtains the explosives from a neo-Nazi group and then rigs a bomb he tries to detonate on an airliner himself. However, the prosecution will point out that a hair and a palm print found on the mechanism are not his. If the two men do obtain the explosives directly from Mursi, it is unclear how they manage to transport them back to Britain, to which they return on December 5. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 230-231] The war is raging in Afghanistan at this time (see November 26, 2001), but this does not seem to hinder them.
Neoconservative professor Eliot Cohen writes that the Afghan war is misnamed. It should be, he says, the latest salvo in “World War IV,” the US-led fight against Islamist terrorism. In agreement with other neoconservatives (see 1992, February 2002, April 3, 2003, and Spring 2007), Cohen says that World War III was the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Like the Cold War, this “world war” against militant Islam “is, in fact, global;… will involve a mixture of violent and nonviolent efforts;… will require mobilization of skill, expertise and resources, if not of vast numbers of soldiers;… may go on for a long time; and… has ideological roots.” Afghanistan is “just one front in World War IV,” Cohen asserts, and after the US destroys al-Qaeda and kills its leadership, including, presumably, Osama bin Laden, it must then engage in new battles. Cohen recommends that the US ally itself with secular democracies in the Muslim world, and actively target Islamic regimes that sponsor terrorism, including Iraq (which he calls “the obvious candidate,” as it “not only helped al-Qaeda, but attacked Americans directly… and developed weapons of mass destruction”). After overthrowing the Iraqi regime, he counsels the US to “mobilize in earnest.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/20/2001]
The Independent runs a story with the title: “Opium Farmers Rejoice at the Defeat of the Taliban.” Massive opium planting is underway all across Afghanistan. [Independent, 11/21/2001] Four days later, the Observer runs a story headlined, “Victorious Warlords Set to Open the Opium Floodgates.” It states that farmers are being encouraged by warlords allied with the US to plant “as much opium as possible.” [Observer, 11/25/2001]
Uzbek Northern Alliance leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum meets with Mullah Faizal, the Taliban commander in Kunduz, to discuss what should be done with the Taliban’s fanatical “foreign legion.” They agree that the 5,000 Afghan Taliban fighters “would be given safe passage after surrender, but the foreign fighters would be handed over to General Dostum.” [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001] This is in line with orders from Washington, which has demanded that the foreign fighters not be freed. Top US officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have publicly opposed any plan that would allow the foreign Taliban troops to be freed in exchange for their surrender (see November 19, 2001). John Walker Lindh, an American Muslim, is among the legion of foreign fighters (see September 6, 2001). [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 10/4/2002]
Foreign Taliban fighters agree to be transported to Erganak, located 12 miles west of Kunduz. But to their surprise they arrive in a desert on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif. According to some sources, the “foreigners [were] tricked into going to Mazar on the understanding they would attack it.” Tension increases when they realize they have actually surrendered. After some negotiating, a second agreement is made with Amir Jan, a Northern Alliance commander with Pashtun roots. The foreign fighters are told by their Taliban commander to disarm—but are not told that they will later be detained as prisoners. Amir Jan tells the Guardian of London: “The foreigners thought that after surrendering to the Northern Alliance they would be free. They didn’t think they would be put in jail.” [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001]
Taliban fighters being transported to Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]The foreign Taliban fighters, who surrendered in Kunduz the day before (see November 23, 2001), are taken into custody by General Dostum who wants to send them to a Soviet-built airfield in Mazar-i-Sharif. But US Special Forces say the runway might be needed for military operations. A last minute decision is then made to transport the prisoners to Dostum’s 19th Century Qala-i-Janghi fortress. Prior to leaving for the compound, all of the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are supposed to be disarmed, but for some reason fighters in only three of the five transport vehicles are actually checked. [Guardian, 11/27/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001] The foreign Taliban fighters arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fort early in the morning. When some of Dostum’s men attempt to frisk the group of fighters who have not yet been disarmed, one of the Chechen prisoners detonates a hand grenade, killing himself, several other prisoners, and two Northern Alliance commanders. As a result, the weapons search is abandoned and the prisoners are herded into a stable area north of the fort. Between two and eight of the prisoners in the stable area blow themselves up that night. As a result, the Northern Alliance decides to relocate them into the basement of the fortress. [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Newsweek, 12/1/2001]
Salim Hamdan is captured in Afghanistan. [Guantanamo Military Commissions, 11/20/2007 ] Hamdan is an Arab who has lived in Afghanistan for some time and has some knowledge about al-Qaeda and its operations there. He will later become well known after he is transferred to Guantanamo and engages in a series of legal battles to gain his freedom (see November 8, 2004 and June 30, 2006). [USA Today, 7/24/2008; Reuters, 7/24/2008] At some point, he is handed over to the FBI. However, agents for the bureau do not read him his Miranda rights. “Our policy at the time was not to read Miranda rights,” FBI special agent Robert Fuller will say in testimony at a US military commission hearing for Hamdan. Reuters will later write, “Similar warnings must be given to suspects in US military custody, and suspects overseas who may face US charges commonly receive warnings.” FBI special agent Stewart Kelley will say, “If they are a suspect, and they are detained, a Miranda is usually given.” [Reuters, 7/24/2008]
US troops are set to land near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, Afghanistan (see November 26, 2001). [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Apparently, as the noose tightens around Kandahar, Hamid Karzai, the new leader of Afghanistan, makes a deal with the Taliban. He gives them a general amnesty in return for surrender of the city. Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar is allowed to escape “with dignity” as part of the deal. However, the US says it will not abide by the deal and Karzai then says he will not let Omar go free after all. Taliban forces begin surrendering on December 7. [Sydney Morning Herald, 12/8/2001] Omar escapes.
Salim Hamdan, a detainee with some knowledge about al-Qaeda who was captured in late November, takes FBI agents on two tours of facilities associated with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Hamdan and the agents twice drive around Kandahar in the months after his capture and he points out compounds owned by Osama bin Laden, including Tarnak Farms, and guest houses where al-Qaeda members could safely stay, which the agents take pictures of. Robert Fuller, one of the agents who accompanies Hamdan, will later say: “The first compound, when we arrived to it, it was destroyed. No roof was left.” The second compound is intact, and “in great shape,” according to Fuller. Hamdan also tells the FBI of his time at a training camp, but says he only stayed for a month and then returned to a guest house to be with his family. In addition, he identifies several high-ranking al-Qaeda officials and describes visits by bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures to the camp. They gave speeches and “offered words of encouragement,” according to FBI agent Craig Donnachie. [USA Today, 7/24/2008; Reuters, 7/24/2008] Despite this co-operation, Hamdan will be transferred to Guantanamo, held there for years, and prosecuted in a military commission (see June 30, 2006).
Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]After a sleepless night in the overcrowded basement in Dostum’s fortress, a group of Taliban prisoners, including John Walker Lindh, are led out, one by one, by the guards. They are searched, tied up and later seated in rows on an open lawn. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001] Simon Brooks, head of the International Committee for the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan, arrives at the Qala-i-Janghi compound seeking an assurance from Said Kamal, Dostum’s security chief, that the prisoners will be treated in accordance with international law. He also wants to write the prisoners’ names down and get messages for their families. [Guardian, 12/1/2001] Another official from the Red Cross, Olivier Martin, is also inside Qala-i-Janghi making sure that the prisoners are being cared for in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. [Independent, 11/29/2001] Meanwhile, Northern Alliance fighters are tying up prisoners at the south end of the fortress. [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 11/29/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001] The prisoners are scared and think the Northern Alliance is preparing to execute them. They believe that the two television crews—from Reuters and the German station ARD—present intend to film their deaths. One of the prisoners recalls, “Our hands were tied, and they were beating and kicking some of us. Some of the Mujahedin [Taliban] were scared, crying. They thought we were all going to be killed.” [New York Times, 11/28/2001; Newsweek, 12/1/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001] One guard hits Lindh in the back of his head, so hard that he “nearly [loses] consciousness.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
Two CIA agents, “Dave” and Johnny Michael Spann, are singling out prisoners for interrogation in an effort to determine their affiliations and backgrounds and screen them for possible links to al-Qaeda. Two television crews—from Reuters and the German station ARD—are present. John Walker Lindh has been pointed out to Spann as a Westerner, or at least someone who speaks English. Spann approaches Lindh and begins asking him questions: [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Newsweek, 12/6/2001]
Spann - “[Speaking to Lindh] Hey you. Right here with your head down. Look at me. I know you speak English. Look at me. Where did you get the British military sweater?” Lindh does not respond and Spann walks away. A few moments later, Northern Alliance soldiers approach Lindh and tighten the ropes around his elbows. A Northern Alliance officer kicks him lightly in the stomach. Later, Lindh is brought over to a blanket covering bare earth and pushed down so he sits cross-legged on the blanket. Spann then squats down on the edge of the blanket, and faces Lindh:
Spann - “[Speaking to Lindh] Where are you from? Where are you from? You believe in what you’re doing here that much, you’re willing to be killed here? How were you recruited to come here? Who brought you here? Hey! [He snaps his fingers in front of Lindh’s face. Lindh is unresponsive] Who brought you here? Wake up! Who brought you here to Afghanistan How did you get here? [Long pause] What, are you puzzled?” Spann kneels on the blanket and attempts to photograph Lindh with a digital camera.
Spann - “Put your head up. Don’t make me have to get them to hold your head up. Push your hair back. Push your hair back so I can see your face.” An Afghan soldier pulls Walker’s hair back, holding his head up for the picture.
Spann - “You got to talk to me. All I want to do is talk to you and find out what your story is. I know you speak English.” Dave then walks up and speaks with Spann.
Dave - “Mike!”
Spann - “[to Dave] Yeah, he won’t talk to me.”
Dave - “OK, all right. We explained what the deal is to him.”
Spann - “I was explaining to the guy we just want to talk to him, find out what his story is.”
Dave - “The problem is, he’s got to decide if he wants to live or die and die here. We’re just going to leave him, and he’s going to f_cking sit in prison the rest of his f_cking short life. It’s his decision, man. We can only help the guys who want to talk to us. We can only get the Red Cross to help so many guys.”
Spann - “[to Lindh] Do you know the people here you’re working with are terrorists and killed other Muslims? There were several hundred Muslims killed in the bombing in New York City. Is that what the Koran teaches? I don’t think so. Are you going to talk to us?” Walker does not respond.
Dave - “[to Spann] That’s all right man. Gotta give him a chance, he got his chance.” Spann and Dave stand and keep talking to each other.
Spann - “[to Dave] Did you get a chance to look at any of the passports?”
Dave - “There’s a couple of Saudis and I didn’t see the others.”
Spann - “I wonder what this guy’s got?” Walker is then taken back to the group of prisoners by an Afghan guard. [Newsweek, 12/6/2001]
CIA agent “Dave”. [Source: CNN/House of War]One of the prisoners who is being interrogated by the two CIA agents tells Mike Spann that he has come to Afghanistan “to kill” him. With that, the prisoner lunges towards him. At this point accounts differ over what happens. According to an early account, Mike Spann immediately shoots the prisoner and three others dead with his pistol before the nearby Taliban prisoners join the skirmish and “beat, kick, and bite” Spann to death. [London Times, 11/28/2001] In the other account, the prisoner who lunged towards Spann, used a grenade to blow him and Spann up, killing both of them immediately. [Guardian, 12/1/2001] “Dave,” the second CIA agent, then shoots at least one of the foreign Taliban fighters dead and flees the vicinity. He goes to General Dostum’s headquarters in the north side of the fort where he contacts the American embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan using a satellite phone borrowed from the German TV crew. He tells the embassy, “We have lost control of the situation. Send in helicopters and troops.” [Guardian, 12/1/2001] One witness later recalls, “David asked his superiors for choppers to be brought in, as well as ground troops to get everyone out. They sent about 40 American soldiers, but the choppers were too far away in Uzbekistan. David’s people offered to bring in gunships and bomb the Taliban. They would flatten the whole castle and kill us all. David told them twice they shouldn’t do that. They were really pressing for airstrikes and after three hours they started.” [London Times, 11/28/2001] Meanwhile, Dostum’s soldiers began to shoot indiscriminately at the rows of bound prisoners. Some are killed and as prisoners stand up and run for cover, more are shot in their flight. John Walker Lindh too tries to run but after two or three paces a bullet hits him in his right thigh and he falls to the ground. Unable to walk, with chaos all around him, Lindh pretends to be dead. He remains on the ground for the next twelve hours. The Taliban soldiers soon overpower their Northern Alliance captors, take their weapons and break into the arms depot located towards the center for the compound where they help themselves to Dostum’s mortars and rocket launchers. [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
SAS soldiers fighting for Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]Eight British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers dressed in civilian clothes arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fortress in Land Rovers after receiving orders from US Central Command in Florida. They position themselves on the perimeter of the fortress and shoot over the walls at the prisoners inside who are armed with thirty guns, two anti-tank guns, and two grenade launchers. “They pulled up in two long-range desert patrol vehicles,” one witness tells reporters. “They were clearly British and not American. They have been leading the firing at the Taliban’s positions. You can tell they are special forces because their firing is more disciplined: they use single shots rather than bursts.” Some time later, six uniformed American Special Forces officers arrive, positioning themselves in the southwest corner of the fort to prevent any Taliban prisoners from fleeing the compound. [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/1/2001]
CIA officer “Dave” (center) and US special forces near Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]American jets arrive over the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, and over the next two days, drop nine or 10 bombs directly into the compound. The aerial attacks are coordinated by Special Forces and CIA operatives on the ground. [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/1/2001] The air strikes drive surviving detainees into the basement for cover. As night falls, John Walker Lindh is helped by his comrades into the basement as well. They will remain there for seven hellish days. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Describing how the scene appears the following day, the London Times reports: “The nighttime raids left many bodies half-buried in the ground. Limbs and torsos rose out of the disturbed ground like tree trunks after a forest fire.” [London Times, 11/28/2001]
US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001. [Source: Earnie Grafton / Agence France-Presse]A force of about 1,200 US marines settles in the countryside around Kandahar, Afghanistan. This will make up nearly the entire US force actually on the ground in the country during the war to remove the Taliban from power. Over the previous week, CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton had been in contact with Gen. Tommy Franks and other military leaders at CENTCOM, arguing that “the back door was open” in Tora Bora and the troops should go there instead. But Franks responded that the momentum of the CIA’s effort to corner bin Laden could be lost waiting for the troops to arrive. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58] The marines will end up being largely unused in the Kandahar region while bin Laden will escape from Tora Bora. In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden, will claim that Franks “was either badly misinformed by his own people or blinded by the fog of war. I’d made it clear in my reports that our Afghan allies were hardly anxious to get at al-Qaeda in Tora Bora.” [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] The Afghan allies the US relies on to find bin Laden will actually help him escape (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).
A Northern Alliance tank fires on Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]Northern Alliance troops establish a command post near Qala-i-Janghi’s northeast tower where they position a tank and begin shelling prisoners at the south end of the compound. [BBC, 12/1/2001; CNN, 8/3/2002]
US special forces in Afghanistan. [Source: CNN/House of War]Four members of US Special Forces and eight soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division join the US and SAS troops already at the Qala-i-Janghi fort near Mazar-i-Sharif. They call in more airstrikes. During the two days of airstrikes, which began the day before (see (3:30 p.m.) November 25, 2001), two bombs miss their targets. One strays off into a field located more than a kilometer away, while the other, a 2,000-lb laser-guided bomb dropped on November 26, between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., mistakenly hits a Northern Alliance tank killing at least four Northern Alliance soldiers and wounding five US soldiers and two SAS soldiers. [BBC, 12/1/2001; CNN, 8/3/2002]
Mike Spann. [Source: CIA]In the morning, CIA agent “Dave,” US Special Forces, SAS soldiers, and an additional 200 Northern Alliance troops arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fortress to fight the remaining ten or so Taliban fighters who are still resisting. One of the US soldiers warns journalists not to be inside the compound at night. [London Times, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/1/2001; CNN, 8/3/2002] “To clear the last pockets of Taliban resistance in the afternoon, Alliance soldiers approached the houses in the middle of the compound and fired at random into basement windows,” the London Times later reports. “Some 20-liter petrol canisters were thrown in, then grenades.” [London Times, 11/28/2001] Alliance soldiers roaming the complex shoot at the bodies to make sure there are no survivors. They also loot corpses, stealing rifles, boots, clothing, and even gold fillings from their teeth. [Independent, 11/29/2001] According to an escaped prisoner, a Northern Alliance tank runs over the bodies of injured survivors. [Pakistan News Service (Newark, CA), 12/3/2001] A tank attacks the western half of the compound and reportedly kills the last two remaining holdouts who are still fighting. By noon, “the ground was littered with countless mangled bodies,” the London Times reports. [London Times, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/1/2001] Foreign reporters are allowed in the compound. One Associated Press photographer sees Northern Alliance soldiers removing the bindings from the hands of the dead Taliban fighters. [Independent, 11/29/2001] In the afternoon, it is discovered that there are about 100 survivors in the basement of a one-story building at the center of the compound. US Special Forces order Northern Alliance soldiers to pour diesel fuel into the basement and ignite it. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001] General Dostum’s men pour fuel down several air ducts, two of which lead into a room where John Walker Lindh is sitting, drenching him. Unable to walk, he has to crawl away from the air ducts. Some minutes later, the fuel is lit and fire spreads quickly throughout the basement. “People were being burned alive,” an eyewitness will recall. Lindh loses consciousness in the smoke-filled air, while Dostum’s soldiers fire rockets amidst the surviving Taliban. The report by Lindh’s defense will say, “Human remains litter the entire basement floor.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] At dusk, US soldiers recover CIA agent Mike Spann’s (see September 10, 2001) booby-trapped body. [CNN, 8/3/2002]
A Taliban fighter killed in the battle for Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]Amnesty International calls for an inquiry into the violence at Qala-i-Janghi. The organization states, “An urgent inquiry should look into what triggered this violent incident, including any shortcomings in the holding and processing of the prisoners, and into the proportionality of the response by United Front, US, and UK forces. It should make urgent recommendations to ensure that other instances of surrender and holding of prisoners do not lead to similar disorders and loss of life, and that the key role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in overseeing the processing and treatment of prisoners is facilitated.” [Amnesty International, 11/27/2001]
The US intensifies its aerial attack against the Qala-i-Janghi fortress. An AC-130 Spectre gunship rakes the compound with machine gun and cannon fire for several hours at close range. One US Special Forces soldier calls the bombing, “fireworks you’ll never forget.” It destroys the fortress’s armories. [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; CNN, 8/3/2002] Alim Razim, General Dostum’s adviser, reportedly says, “Those who are left over will be dead.” [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 11/29/2001]
The “Tipton Three.” From left: Shafiq Rasul, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Asif Iqbal. [Source: Martin Cleaver / Associated Press]Three young men from Tipton in the English West Midlands, all British citizens, find themselves detained in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance. [Guardian, 8/4/2004] Shafiq Rasul, of Pakistani descent, and a temporary employee with Currys, flew to Pakistan in October 2001 [Guardian, 3/10/2004] in order, he claims, “to visit relatives…, explore his culture, and continue his computer studies.” While in Pakistan, he was seized “after leaving a visit with his aunt.” Asif Iqbal, a factory worker, traveled to Pakistan with the intention “to marry a woman from his father’s small village.” [Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al., 3/3/2004 ] Shortly before the marriage was to take place, Iqbal told his father he wanted to visit a friend in Karachi. [Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al., 3/3/2004 ] While still in Pakistan, he too was captured. [Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al., 3/3/2004 ] The third man from Tipton, Rhuhel Ahmed, is a friend of Iqbal, also a factory worker and is the same age. Ahmed flew to Pakistan shortly after his friend. [Guardian, 3/10/2004] In 2007, Ahmed will confess that he visited an Islamist training camp and also handled weapons and learned how to use an AK47. [Observer, 6/3/2007] The three narrowly escape death when they are loaded along with almost 200 others into containers for transport to Sheberghan prison. The journey takes almost eighteen hours, during which almost all die due to lack of oxygen and shot wounds caused by Northern Alliance troops who at one point riddle the containers with bullets. Asif is shot in the arm. The three are among the only 20 prisoners who survive. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ]
The Northern Alliance assaults Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum returns to the Qala-i-Janghi fortress from Kunduz. Three health officials attempting to enter the basement where Taliban survivers are still holding out are shot by armed Taliban who refuse to surrender. Several Taliban mullahs brought in by Dostum are unable to convince the holdouts to surrender. [CNN, 8/3/2002]
Bin Laden made his last known public appearance on November 25, 2001, giving a speech in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border (see November 25, 2001). According to later interviews with many locals in the area, it is believed he and four loyalists cross the Pakistan border between November 28 and 30. [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] According to another account, bin Laden crosses the border at this time by helicopter instead (see November 28, 2001). His voice continues to be heard until December 10 on short wave radio transmissions in the Tora Bora enclave he had proportedly left. According to later interviews with loyalists, he calls from Pakistan to Tora Bora to urge his followers to keep fighting. But according to some eyewitness accounts, bin Laden is still in Tora Bora to make the radio transmissions, then leaves with about 30 followers by horseback. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002]
Ayub Afridi, a well-known Afghan warlord and drug baron, is released from prison in Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan with the apparent approval of both the US and Pakistani governments. Afridi had just begun serving a seven year sentence after being convicted of attempting to smuggle over six tons of hashish into Belgium. The Pakistani government gave no explanation for his release nor pointed to any law allowing the release. The Asia Times claims, “Afridi was a key player in the Afghan war of resistance against the Soviet Union’s occupying troops in the decade up to 1989.” The CIA lacked the billions of dollars need to fund the Afghan resistance. “As a result, they decided to generate funds through the poppy-rich Afghan soil and heroin production and smuggling to finance the Afghan war. Afridi was the kingpin of this plan. All of the major Afghan warlords, except for the Northern Alliance’s Ahmed Shah Massoud, who had his own opium fiefdom in northern Afghanistan, were a part of Afridi’s coalition of drug traders in the CIA-sponsored holy war against the Soviets.” The Asia Times speculates that Afridi, an ethic Pashtun, was released to help unify Pashtun warlord support for the new US supported Afghan government. Afridi also served three years in a US prison for drug smuggling in the mid-1990s. [Asia Times, 12/4/2001]
Hank Crumpton. [Source: State Department]According to author Ron Suskind, CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton briefs President Bush and Vice President Cheney about the looming battle in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, where about 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban are settling in. He points out the region is very mountainous, with many tunnels and escape routes. Bush asks about the passages to Pakistan that the Pakistani government has agreed to block (see November 2001). Using a map, Crumpton shows “the area on the Pakistani side of the line [is] a lawless, tribal region that [Pakistan has] little control over. In any event, satellite images showed that [Pakistan’s] promised troops hadn’t arrived, and seemed unlikely to appear soon.” Crumpton adds that the Afghan forces in the region allied to the US are “tired and cold and, many of them are far from home.” They were battered from fighting in the south against Taliban forces, and “they’re just not invested in getting bin Laden.” He tells Bush that “we’re going to lose our prey if we’re not careful” and strongly recommends the US marines being sent to Kandahar (see November 26, 2001) get immediately redirected to Tora Bora instead. Cheney says nothing. Bush presses Crumpton for more information. “How bad off are these Afghani forces, really? Are they up to the job?” Crumpton replies, “Definitely not, Mr. President. Definitely not.” However, the Pentagon is not voicing the same concerns to Bush. The marines are not redirected to seal off the passes. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58-59]
Abdullah Tabarak. [Source: Public domain]As US forces close in on Tora Bora, bin Laden’s escape is helped by a simple ruse. A loyal bodyguard named Abdallah Tabarak takes bin Laden’s satellite phone and goes in one direction while bin Laden goes in the other. It is correctly assumed that the US can remotely track the location of the phone. Tabarak is eventually captured with the phone while bin Laden apparently escapes. Tabarak is later put in the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Interrogation of him and others in Tora Bora confirm the account. [Washington Post, 1/21/2003] This story indicates bin Laden was still at least occasionally using satellite phones long after media reports that the use of such phones could reveal his location (see February 9-21, 2001). The US will consider Tabarak such a high-value prisoner that at one point he will be the only Guantanamo prisoner that the Red Cross will be denied access to. However, in mid-2004 he will be released and returned to his home country of Morocco, then released by the Moroccan government by the end of the year. Neither the US nor the Moroccan government will offer any explanation for his release. The Washington Post will call the release of the well-known and long-time al-Qaeda operative an unexplained “mystery.” [Washington Post, 1/30/2006]
A mass grave dug up near Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.
[Source: Physicians for Human Rights]Even as the US is allowing some Taliban and al-Qaeda to secretly fly out of Kunduz, Afghanistan (see November 14-25, 2001), it allows a brutal massacre of those who had to stay behind. The Glasgow Sunday Herald later says, “It seems established, almost beyond doubt, that US soldiers oversaw and took part in horrific crimes against humanity,” which resulted in the death of thousands of Taliban supporters who surrendered after Kunduz fell to the Northern Alliance. The documentary, Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death, exposes this news widely in Europe, but the massacre goes virtually unreported in the US. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 6/16/2002]
Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid. [Source: Globalsecurity.org]Al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) gives the only media interview by any al-Qaeda leader besides bin Laden in the months after the 9/11 attacks. Speaking to an Al Jazeera reporter in Kandahar, Afghanistan, he says, “We are not responsible for [the 9/11 attacks] and therefore we are not responsible for religious explanations for it. That’s on the one hand. However, many clerics have issued clear religious rulings [in this matter]… and have proved that if this act was carried out by mujaheddin Muslims, then it was an unblemished act of jihad.” He also adds, “In the US there are [agencies] legally responsible for safeguarding the security of America and the Americans. It is they who should be held accountable.… Where were these apparatuses when these things occurred? These apparatuses have satellites, ground stations, millions of spies, and huge budgets. It is said that they know what is happening in the bedrooms, that they know the shoe sizes of the wanted [men]. How did a group of people manage to stay for years, to train inside the US, and to plan this operation?” [Al Jazeera, 11/30/2001]
Northern alliance fighters retaking Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]After a number of survivors are discovered in the basement of the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, Northern Alliance soldiers drop artillery rockets into the basement and detonate them by fuses. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; CNN, 8/3/2002] Northern Alliance soldiers then redirect an irrigation stream into the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress where surviving Taliban soldiers are, flooding it with freezing cold water. John Walker Lindh almost drowns and suffers from hypothermia. Most of the remaining prisoners die because of the water, and throughout the basement “the stench from decaying human remains becomes particularly acute.” [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
A dog exposed to chemical poison. [Source: CNN]An al-Qaeda video shows how the organization tested a chemical weapon by gassing several dogs. The video is undated but is believed to have been made before the US invasion of Afghanistan. It was found among a trove of al-Qaeda videos by a CNN reporter (see August 2002). The video shows a dog exposed to the vapors of an unknown chemical. The dog is seen going into convulsions and finally collapsing. The chemical may be cyanide or a nerve agent such as sarin. [New York Times, 8/19/2002; CNN, 8/19/2002]
In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will reveal that the late 2001 Afghanistan war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda is fought by only about 500 US fighters, plus their Afghan allies. He says the US force is made up of “110 CIA officers, 316 Special Forces personnel, and scores of Joint Special Operations Command raiders creating havoc behind enemy lines… .” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 255] There are many other US forces in Afghanistan which are not used at the time. For instance, 1,200 Marines remain in a military base in Afghanistan and do not take part in combat (see Late October-Early December 2001).
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.’” [PBS, 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. [Washington Post, 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.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
The mountains of Waziristan. [Source: BBC] (click image to enlarge)In December 2001, al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan are defeated in the battle of Tora Bora, and the survivors generally flee across the border into Pakistan’s tribal region. Many flee into the region of South Waziristan, since it is directly adjacent to Tora Bora and there are no Pakistani government forces guarding the border there (see December 10, 2001). In March 2002, several hundred more militants flee from Afghanistan into South Waziristan after Operation Anaconda (see March 2-13, 2002). They rebuild their central command there, particularly in a remote part of South Waziristan known as the Shakai valley. [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later describe South Waziristan: “With its high mountains, steep slopes, deep ravines littered with broken rock and shale, and its thick forests, it was an ideal hideout. Many of its valleys were virtually inaccessible, except along steep winding paths that required the agility of mountain climbers, and were easy to defend.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 148, 268] In the spring of 2002, US intelligence begins reporting that large numbers of foreigners are hiding in South Waziristan and neighboring North Waziristan. But Gen. Ali Jan Orakzai, the commander of Pakistani forces in the area containing Waziristan, is skeptical. Born in the tribal region, Orakzai is said to be Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s close friend and main adviser on the region. Even in 2008, he will tell the New York Times that he considered the US warnings about al-Qaeda to be mere “guesswork” and that his soldiers “found nothing.” Former US intelligence officials will agree that nothing is found, because they say that Orakzai’s military forces only enter the region in large, slow-moving sweeps that are easily avoided by militants. Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in Pakistan at the time, will later suggest that Orakzai did not want to find the foreigners as this could have caused trouble, including a tribal uprising. Grenier will say, “Orakzai and others didn’t want to believe [the foreigners were there] because it would have been an inconvenient fact.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
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]
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. [Guardian, 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. [Guardian, 6/23/2004]
A. Q. Khan (left) and Pervez Musharraf (right). [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)After CIA Director George Tenet visits Pakistan and pressures the Pakistani government to take stronger action against the charity front Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) (see Early October-December 2001), the CIA learns more about the organization. The CIA was previously aware that the two prominent nuclear scientists who co-founded UTN, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and advised them on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). However, the CIA discovers that other nuclear scientists are also connected to UTN, including Mirza Yusef Beg, a former member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and Humayun Niaz, also formerly with the PAEC. At least two senior Pakistani military officers are also connected to UTN. All these men are brought in and questioned by US officials. But the CIA is unable to question two others connected to UTN, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, a nuclear physicist who worked for the PAEC as a weapons expert, and Suleiman Asad, who worked at A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) in its weapons design division. The CIA reasons that these two scientists would be the type of nuclear bomb makers bin Laden was most interested in. However, the Pakistani government claims that the two are in Burma working on a top secret project and cannot be brought back to Pakistan for questioning. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321] Shortly after 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called one of the leaders of Burma and asked if the two scientists could be given asylum there. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] The CIA is also interested in talking to Hamid Gul, a former ISI director and UTN’s honorary patron, but Pakistan will not allow him to be questioned either, even though he had met with Mahmood in Afghanistan around the time Mahmood met with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. As a result, the CIA is unable to learn just how much UTN could have assisted al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321]
Entity Tags: Suleiman Asad, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Pervez Musharraf, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Mullah Omar, Humayun Niaz, Hamid Gul, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Central Intelligence Agency, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, Osama bin Laden, Kahuta Research Laboratories, Mirza Yusef Beg
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
Alan Cullison, a Wall Street Journal reporter in Afghanistan, obtains two computers looted from an al-Qaeda house in Kabul. One computer apparently belonged to al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef but contained few files. The other had been used mostly by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahiri and had about 1,000 files dating back to 1997. The reporter later gives the computers to the CIA which confirms the authenticity of the files. The computer files reveal how al-Qaeda operates on a day-to-day basis. The files include correspondence, budgets, attack plans, and training manuals. Messages between various al-Qaeda’s offices reveal a fractious, contentious community of terror plotters. There are disputes about theology, strategy, and even expense reports. A montage of 9/11 television reports set to rousing victory reports shows that the computer was used after the attacks. While some of the new information is surprising, for the most part it confirms the claims made about al-Qaeda by Western governments. A letter drafted on the computer in May 2001 confirms that al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). Other messages shows that the organization orchestrated the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, there is no material relating specifically to the plotting of the 9/11 attacks. [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001; Atlantic Monthly, 9/2004]
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. [Time, 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).
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. [Observer, 5/16/2004]
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.” [Time, 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. [Congressional Research Service, 1/25/2006]
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.” [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004]
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).
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