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Jerry Bruckheimer. [Source: Thomas Robinson / Getty Images / Forbes]ABC airs the first of a six-episode reality series entitled Profiles from the Front Line, which purports to document the war in Afghanistan from the soldiers’ point of view. It was conceived and produced with the extensive help and oversight of the Pentagon. [Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003] Filming for the show began in May 2002. [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003] ABC executives say that the show will tell the “compelling personal stories of the US military men and women who bear the burden of the fighting” in Afghanistan. The series was quickly approved by Victoria Clarke, the head of the Pentagon’s public relations office (see Early 2002 and Beyond), and by Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, the public relations commander of US Central Command. Clarke and Quigley granted the series producers unprecedented access to the troops, technical advice, and even the use of aircraft carriers for filming. In return, the Pentagon received the right to review and approve all footage before airing (in the interests of national security, Pentagon officials said). [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] The Pentagon denies that it asked for any changes in the series’ broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 3/9/2003]
Producers Insist Show Not Propaganda, No Censorship from Pentagon - Though the show is widely considered to be tied in to the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq (some question the fact that the show was shelved for months before suddenly being approved just as news of the impending invasion began hitting the news), series producer Bertram van Munster says he came up with the idea after 9/11. “We were all kind of numb, I certainly was extremely numb for two or three weeks,” he will recall. “And I said I’ve got to do something.” Van Munster and his co-producer, famed movie and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer (an acknowledged Bush supporter best known for his action-film blockbusters such as Top Gun, Black Hawk Down, and Pearl Harbor, as well as the CSI television series), put together a proposal that van Munster says does not necessarily support President Bush’s war plans. Instead, he says, the show is intended to personalize America’s fighting forces. “There’s nothing flag-waving about death. We have people getting killed on the show,” he says. “In many ways, I see this thing as much anti-war as it is a portrait of what these people are doing out there.” Bruckheimer insists that the Defense Department did not exercise any censorship whatsoever except in minor instances, such as the withholding of a Special Forces soldier’s last name. “They didn’t use any censorship whatsoever,” Bruckheimer says. “They were very cooperative.… They were very receptive to the concept of showing what US forces were doing in Afghanistan.” The show’s own film, shot on location in Afghanistan, is bolstered by Defense Department footage. [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003; Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003; Washington Post, 3/9/2003; Progressive, 4/1/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] The Progressive’s Andrea Lewis calls the show “reality television, war movie, documentary video, and military propaganda all rolled into one.” Other critics call it “a Pentagon infomercial.” Bruckheimer denies that the show is propaganda, but admits that he ensured the show would present the positive face of the military: “Put it this way. If I were to rent your apartment, I’m not going to trash it. It wouldn’t be right. So I’m not going to go and expose all their blemishes.” [Progressive, 4/1/2003; Television Week, 7/14/2003]
Documentary or Reality TV? - Chicago Tribune reviewer Allan Johnson writes of the first episode: “Stirring orchestral music and editing, framing and [quick] pacing… succeed in instilling enough patriotic feelings so that Bush should give the producers a cheer. Which raises the question of whether such advocacy is appropriate in these sensitive times.” The first episode provides what Johnson calls a reflection of standard reality-show characters: the serious-minded father figure (a captain who commands 150 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division); a gung-ho aircraft mechanic who tells the camera that the terrorists “had better be ready for some payback, and it’s going to continue until we end it;” a roguish Special Forces sergeant who says his job is to “find and kill all al-Qaeda;” the stockbroker-turned-soldier whose wife weeps uncontrollably as he leaves for Afghanistan; and others. One soldier says with a smile, “I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be than right here doing my job, knowing I’m doing my part to keep America free.” Lewis calls the soldiers who are profiled for the series “good looking, articulate, and enthusiastic about what they’re doing… archetypes of characters you’d expect to see in a big-budget Bruckheimer film.” Answering the question of whether the show is reality television or straight documentary, Bruckheimer says, “I think it’s a little bit of both.” Van Munster adds: “I think documentary and reality are actually brother and sister. And it’s also cinema verite.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003; Progressive, 4/1/2003] Others disagree. “It raises all sorts of questions, which are exacerbated by the entertainment factor,” says Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “One check on war news becoming propaganda is the professionalism of journalists, which will be ostentatiously lacking.… Documentaries are inherently more informative than entertainment. ‘Reality’ programming turns the tables.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003]
Journalists Shocked at Wide Access Enjoyed by Show's Producers, Camera Teams - Many war correspondents are shocked at the level of access, and the amount of cooperation, between the Pentagon and ABC, especially considering the difficulties they routinely encounter in getting near any battlefields. Even a complaint from ABC News regarding the show’s broad access as contrasted to the restrictions forced upon their reporters is rejected by ABC’s parent company, Disney. “There’s a lot of other ways to convey information to the American people than through news organizations,” Quigley says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] Lewis writes: “During the months when Profiles was filmed, ‘real’ journalists weren’t allowed anywhere near the front lines, and news organizations had to survive on a limited diet of highly coordinated military briefings. Meanwhile, Profiles camera crews were given nearly unlimited access to US soldiers in Afghanistan.” CBS anchor Dan Rather says: “I’m outraged by the Hollywoodization of the military. The Pentagon would rather make troops available as props in gung-ho videos than explain how the commanders let Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders escape or target the wrong villages.” [Progressive, 4/1/2003]
Show Used to 'Train' Pentagon for Embedding Journalists in Iraq - The Pentagon’s project officer for the series, Vince Ogilvie, later says that the interactions of the Profiles film crews and military personnel provided “a prelude to the process of embedding” media representatives in military units for war coverage in Iraq. The series had a number of different crews in different military units over its shooting schedule, Ogilvie will say: “Though they were not reporting on a daily basis, they were with the unit—living with the unit and reporting on what different individuals or units were involved in. With each passing day, week, month came a better understanding.” [Washington Post, 3/9/2003]
Show Not Renewed - The show will do extremely poorly in the ratings, and after its six-episode run is completed, it will not be renewed. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] Van Munster will become involved in a shadowy Pentagon-driven project to document the Iraq occupation, of which little will be known. A Cato Institute official will say of that project: “This administration is fighting a PR battle over weapons of mass destruction and whether we’re getting bogged down in a quagmire. So maybe they want to frame their own message and own history about their time in Iraq.” [Television Week, 7/14/2003]
Entity Tags: American Broadcasting Corporation, Allan Johnson, Andrea Lewis, Cato Institute, Bush administration (43), Craig Quigley, Bertram van Munster, Robert Lichter, Jerry Bruckheimer, Dan Rather, Vince Ogilvie, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan
There are several credible sightings by CIA and military informants of top Taliban leader Mullah Omar entering a mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan. A Green Beret team located at a base just minutes away are ready to deploy to go after Omar, but each time US military commanders follow strict protocol and call in the Delta Force commando team instead. But this team is based hundreds of miles away near Kabul and it takes them several hours to arrive in Kandahar. By that time, Omar has disappeared. Apparently this is part of a pattern only allowing certain Special Forces units to go after important targets. The Washington Post will report in 2004 that any mission that takes Special Forces farther than two miles from a “firebase” requires as long as 72 hours to be approved. And on the rare occasions that such forces are authorized to act, they are required to travel in armed convoys, a practice that alerts the enemy. [Washington Post, 1/5/2004]
Abdurahman Khadr. [Source: Cageprisoners]Prisoner Abdurahman Khadr says he is forced at a US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, to lie on a cold concrete block for two days in the spring of 2003. He also experiences US soldiers stepping on his shackles, which cut through his skin “to the bone.” A female guard drags him up a flight of stairs, he recalls, after smiling at her. He is then flown to the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. He says the flight was a “whole torture on its own,” because, “There were people screaming around me and there was people begging for water and nobody was getting anything.” At Guantanamo, he is placed in an isolation block for 30 days, in a dark cell with just a hole for food. He is only allowed out for 15 minutes every three days. He claims, “They use this room to torture us.… They put the heat up or they put it too low so we are freezing or we are suffering because there is no air. They put the music on so you can’t sleep. They throw rocks at the block so you can’t sleep.” Ironically, Khadr is serving as a CIA informant at the time (see November 10, 2001-Early 2003). When he asks his CIA handlers why he has to suffer so much, he is told it is to make the prisoners think he is one of them. [Toronto Star, 8/19/2004] He complains and in the early summer of 2003 he is transferred to better quarters and secretly allowed better treatment. Sometimes he is even allowed to secretly leave the prison. In September 2003, he will leave Guantanamo as the CIA gives him another assignment (see September-November 2003). [PBS Frontline, 4/22/2004]
At the beginning of 2002, the US, Britain, and other countries around the world made large pledges of aid to Afghanistan (see November 2001-January 2002). But with a new war in Iraq taking considerable focus in the West, those pledges appear to be largely unfulfilled. In February 2003, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) says, “I think [the Bush administration has] already given up the ghost in Afghanistan. They’ve basically turned it over to the warlords.” In December 2002, President Bush signed a law authorizing close to $1 billion a year in aid to Afghanistan for the next four years. But one month later, when Bush submitted his actual budget to Congress, it authorized no money for Afghanistan aid whatsoever. Congress soon authorizes $300 million, but Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) notes that this amount “does not come near” the promise made a short time before. Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, complains to the press, “What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing…There have been no significant changes for people.… [I don’t] know what to say to people anymore.” [Salon, 4/10/2003] As of early 2003, there are only about 3,000 Afghan soldiers who have been trained for the country’s new army, and many of those have quit because they had not been paid in more than six months. By contrast, there are roughly 200,000 fighters controlled by warlords. [Salon, 4/10/2003; Observer, 5/25/2003] A study of post-conflict zones done by Care International estimates that Bosnia is receiving international aid of $326 per person, and Kosovo $288 per person, but Afghanistan is receiving only $42 per person. There is one peacekeeper per 113 people in Bosnia, one per 48 people in Kosovo, but one per 5,380 in Afghanistan (and those are not allowed outside the capital of Kabul). [Observer, 5/25/2003] Only 3 percent of all international aid spent in Afghanistan has been for reconstruction, 13 percent is for emergency aid, and the rest is spent on security. One Afghan minister complains, “We don’t even have enough money to pay [government] wages, let alone plan reconstruction.” [Guardian, 9/20/2003] The Independent reports, “Afghans have also listened with astonishment as Americans portray their country’s experience since the overthrow of the Taliban as a ‘success’. Another Western observer summed up his views more acidly. ‘If the Americans think this is success, then outright failure must be pretty horrible to behold’.” [Independent, 2/24/2003]
Lt. Gen. Daniel McNeill, US troop commander in Afghanistan, tells the New York Times that prisoners are forced to stand for long periods at the US prison in Bagram, but denies that they have been chained to the ceilings. “Our interrogation techniques are adapted,” he says. “They are in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques, and if incidental to the due course of this investigation [of Dilawar’s death (see December 10, 2002)], we find things that need to be changed, we will certainly change them.” [New York Times, 3/4/2003]
Jan Mohammed re-enacts the alleged murder of his brother, Wakil. [Source: Crimes of War Project]Wakil Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, is shot to death by a US Special Forces soldier while being questioned about his possible role in a firefight. He was protesting that he and his brother—an eyewitness to the shooting—were merely returning home from afternoon prayers and had nothing to do with the fighting. (His brother will later tell the reporters that he and several others were detained and tortured, including having their heads held underwater in a form of waterboarding, and having their toenails torn out.) Mohammed’s death is not reported at all in the initial reports of the firefight. The death is later listed by the Army as a murder, but no charges have ever been filed in relation to the shooting. The team’s battalion commander will later claim that Mohammed’s death was never reported to him. One member of the Special Forces team involved in the murder will tell the Los Angeles Times that his unit held a meeting after the teen’s death in order to coordinate their stories should an investigation arise. “Everybody on the team had knowledge of it,” says the soldier. “You just don’t talk about that stuff in the Special Forces community. What happens downrange stays downrange… Nobody wants to get anybody in trouble. Just sit back, and hope it will go away.” The Times learns that the Special Forces unit in Gardez already is under heavy scrutiny by superior officers. One officer reported that the Gardez unit was “the most troubled” field team among nearly a dozen in Afghanistan. Another senior officer wrote that the team was gaining a reputation as “a rogue unit,” and a battalion commander characterizes the unit’s performance as “a Guard unit operating unprofessionally in a combat zone.” The Times will later report, “What distinguishes these two fatalities from scores of other questionable deaths in US custody (referring to the murder of both Mohammed and another detainee, Jamal Naseer—see March 16, 2003) is that they were successfully concealed—not just from the American public but from the military’s chain of command and legal authorities.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.) [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]Following his arrest in Pakistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), al-Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) finds himself in CIA custody. After two days of detention in Pakistan, where, he will allege, he is punched and stomped upon by a CIA agent, he is sent to Afghanistan. After being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Mohammed will say of his transfer: “My eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head and with a cloth bag pulled over it. A suppository was inserted into my rectum. I was not told what the suppository was for.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Naked - He is reportedly placed in a cell naked for several days and repeatedly questioned by females as a humiliation. He is attached to a dog leash and repeatedly yanked into the walls of his cell. He is suspended from the ceiling, chained naked in a painful crouch for long periods, doused with cold water, and kept in suffocating heat. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; MSNBC, 9/13/2007] On arriving in Afghanistan, he is put in a small cell, where, he will recall, he is “kept in a standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.” After about an hour, “I was taken to another room where I was made to stand on tiptoes for about two hours during questioning.”
Interrogators - He will add: “Approximately 13 persons were in the room. These included the head interrogator (a man) and two female interrogators, plus about 10 muscle guys wearing masks. I think they were all Americans. From time to time one of the muscle guys would punch me in the chest and stomach.” This is the usual interrogation session that Mohammed will experience over the next few weeks.
Cold Water - They are interrupted periodically by his removal to a separate room. There, he will recall, he is doused with “cold water from buckets… for about 40 minutes. Not constantly as it took time to refill the buckets. After which I would be taken back to the interrogation room.”
No Toilet Access - During one interrogation, “I was offered water to drink; when I refused I was again taken to another room where I was made to lie [on] the floor with three persons holding me down. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside. Afterwards I wanted to go to the toilet as I had a feeling as if I had diarrhea. No toilet access was provided until four hours later when I was given a bucket to use.” When he is returned to his cell, as he will recall, “I was always kept in the standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] However, he is resistant to these methods, so it is decided he will be transferred to a secret CIA prison in Poland (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003), where he will be extensively waterboarded and tortured in other ways.
After being transferred from Afghanistan to Poland (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003), alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is repeatedly waterboarded by the CIA, a technique simulating drowning that international law classifies as torture. He is only one of about four high-ranking detainees waterboarded, according to media reports (see May 2002-2003). [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; MSNBC, 9/13/2007; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] He will recall: “I would be strapped to a special bed, which could be rotated into a vertical position. A cloth would be placed over my face. Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe.… The cloth was then removed and the bed was put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the waterboarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breathe. Female interrogators were also present… and a doctor was always present, standing out of sight behind the head of [the] bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to [the] breaking point.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Accounts about the use of waterboarding on KSM differ. He says he is waterboarded five times. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] However, contradictory reports will later appear:
NBC News will claim that, according to multiple unnamed officials, KSM underwent at least two sessions of waterboarding and other extreme measures before talking. One former senior intelligence official will say, “KSM required, shall we say, re-dipping.” [MSNBC, 9/13/2007]
In 2005, former and current intelligence officers and supervisors will tell ABC News that KSM “won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005] In 2007, a former CIA official familiar with KSM’s case will tell ABC News a sligntly different version of events: “KSM lasted the longest under waterboarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.” A senior CIA official will claim that KSM later admitted he only confessed because of the waterboarding. [ABC News, 9/14/2007] In November 2005, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch will say of waterboarding, “The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The New York Times will claim that “KSM was subjected to intense and repeated torture techniques that, at the time, were specifically designated as illegal under US law.” Some claim that KSM gives useful information. “However, many of the officials interviewed say KSM provided a raft of false and exaggerated statements that did not bear close scrutiny—the usual result, experts say, of torture.” CIA officials stopped the “extreme interrogation” sessions after about two weeks, worrying that they might have exceeded their legal bounds. Apparently pressure to stop comes from Jack Goldsmith, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who is troubled about updates from KSM’s interrogations and raises legal questions. He is angrily opposed by the White House, particularly David Addington, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
The New Yorker will report that officials who have seen a classified Red Cross report say that KSM claims he was waterboarded five times. Further, he says he was waterboarded even after he started cooperating. But two former CIA officers will insist that he was waterboarded only once. One of them says that KSM “didn’t resist. He sang right away. He cracked real quick. A lot of them want to talk. Their egos are unimaginable. KSM was just a little doughboy.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007]
A different ABC News account will claim that KSM was al-Qaeda’s toughest prisoner. CIA officers who subject themselves to waterboarding last only about 14 seconds, but KSM was able to last over two minutes. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
In 2009, evidence will surface that indicates KSM was waterboarded up to 183 times (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009).
The Afghan government warns that unless the international community hands over the aid it promised, Afghanistan will slip back into its role as the world’s premier heroin producer. The country’s foreign minister warns Afghanistan could become a “narco-mafia state.” [BBC, 3/17/2003] A United Nations study later in the month notes that Afghanistan is once again the world’s number one heroin producer, producing 3,750 tons in 2002. Farmers are growing more opium poppies than ever throughout the country, including areas previously free of the crop. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
A Moroccan named Yassir al-Jazeeri is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by Pakistani police and the FBI. Al-Jazeeri is not on any wanted list and there is virtually no known public information about him before his arrest, but a Pakistani official will call him one of the seven top leaders of al-Qaeda. He is said to be linked to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in some way, who was arrested in Pakistan not long before (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). He is soon transferred into US custody. Witnesses see him at a CIA operated portion of the Bagram prison in Afghanistan in late 2003 through early 2004. One fellow detainee will later claim that al-Jazeeri told him he had been tortured and permanently injured, and forced to listen to loud music for four months straight. In 2007, Human Rights Watch will list him as a likely “ghost detainee” still being held by the US (see June 7, 2007). [Human Rights Watch, 6/7/2007]
Jamal Naseer, an 18-year old newly recruited Afghan soldier, dies in US custody, apparently as a result of beating and torture. Naseer dies after several days in detention at a US Special Forces “firebase,” a small, outlying military base set up to support advancing troops, at Gardez, Afghanistan. [CBS News, 9/21/2004] Naseer and seven other detainees were taken into custody about a week before by Special Forces troops attempting to secure the area from the depredations of a local warlord, Pacha (or Bacha) Khan. Naseer’s brother Ahmad insists that he, his brother, and the other detainees are allies of the Americans, and never participated in Taliban- or al-Qaeda-led attacks against American forces. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] It is unclear why the men were detained in the first place, but Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti report that according to an Afghan intelligence report. “the action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Naseer’s death will be officially recorded as resulting from “natural causes,” but fellow detainees will say that Naseer’s death was caused by abuse suffered at the hands of US Army Special Forces soldiers near Gardez. Ahmad Naseer will later describe how he and his brother were beaten and abused while in custody, subjected to electric shocks, immersed in cold water, forced to assume stress positions, thrashed with cables, suffered the forcible tearing off of their toenails, and made to lie for hours in the snow. The last time he spoke with his brother, he says Jamal was “moaning about the pain in his kidneys and back” from being repeatedly beaten. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Jamal died shortly thereafter while being helped outside to relieve himself by two Afghan kitchen workers. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] After Naseer’s death, the unit holds a meeting to discuss the incident. The team is told that Naseer died of a sex-related infection that shut down his kidneys. According to one soldier in the meeting, the point of discussion is “to make sure everybody’s on the same sheet of paper—this is what happened to the man”—in case there’s ever an investigation. Captain Craig Mallak, medical examiner for the US armed forces, says that Naseer’s death is never reported to his office (any death of a detainee is required to be reported unless the detainee is determined to have died of natural causes). Naseer’s body is transferred to a civilian hospital where no autopsy is performed. One hospital worker who prepares the body for burial will later tell the Times that Naseer’s body was “completely black” from bruising and injuries, and was “completely swollen, as were his palms, and the soles of his feet were swollen double in size.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Asked about such injuries, Dr. Michael Baden, a prominent forensic pathologist who works for the New York State Police, says the descriptions are inconsistent with death by organ failure. “You can’t confuse those. It sounds very much like blunt trauma.” A local physician who examined the survivors later confirmed that all of the men were suffering from similar trauma, with extensive bruising and seeping, and unbandaged wounds. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Eventually, Ahmad Naseer and his comrades are secretly transferred to a civilian prison in Kabul, still without any formal charges. Afghan military prosecutors immediately launch an investigation into their unexplained detention. That inquiry eventually produces a 117-page report asserting that the detainees had been tortured and that there is a “strong probability” that one of the men had been “murdered.” The report speculates that the prolonged imprisonment was intended to give the detainees’ wounds time to heal. Fifty-eight days later, all of the prisoners are released; no charges are ever filed. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006]
Rand Beers, the National Security Council’s senior director for counterterrorism, resigns from his post. Administration sources say Beers is resigning for personal reasons, but intelligence sources say Beers’s resignation is triggered by his concern that the administration’s looming war with Iraq is drawing critically needed resources away from the war on terror (see February 2003). “Hardly a surprise,” says one former intelligence official. “We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don’t blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies.” A Senate Intelligence Committee staffer adds, “Randy said that he was ‘just tired’ and did not have an interest in adding the stress that would come with a war with Iraq.” Beers’s supervisor, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, asked Beers twice during his exit interview if his resignation was a protest against the war with Iraq. Beers told her that it was not. Author and intelligence expert James Bamford says, “This is a very intriguing decision” for Beers to resign. “There is a predominant belief in the intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq will cause more terrorism than it will prevent. There is also a tremendous amount of embarrassment by intelligence professionals that there have been so many lies out of the administration—by the president, [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [Secretary of State Colin] Powell—over Iraq” (see January 24, 2008). One administration official says: “If it was your job to prevent terror attacks, would you be happy about an action that many see as unnecessary, that is almost guaranteed to cause more terror in the short-term? I know I’m not [happy].” [United Press International, 3/19/2003] Beers, who will soon join the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry as a foreign policy adviser, will tell an interviewer in late 2006 that “I’m sorry to say that the reason that I resigned from the National Security Council staff and the government has turned out to be true, and that is that I was concerned then, and we see now, that our entry into Iraq, the way in which we entered with a small, rather than a large, coalition, without UN approval, without Arab support, has ended up making Iraq a recruiting poster for al-Qaeda. It has made our job more difficult around the world.” [Democracy Now!, 10/4/2006]
The FBI issues a reward of $5 million for information on Adnan Shukrijumah, starting a world-wide manhunt that will last for years. Shukrijumah lived in the same area as most of the 9/11 hijackers and was reportedly seen with Mohamed Atta in the spring of 2001 (see May 2, 2001), when he was being investigated by the FBI over two terrorist plots (see April-May 2001 and (Spring 2001)). Information gleaned from detainees suggests that Shukrijumah is a top al-Qaeda operative who was trained in Afghanistan and is associated with 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002). In May 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft will even single out Shukrijumah as the most dangerous al-Qaeda operative planning to attack the US. However, despite reported sightings in Central America, he is still on the run in 2006 and believed to be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan. [US News and World Report, 4/7/2003; USA Today, 6/15/2003; FrontPage Magazine, 10/27/2003; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 40-41 ; Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2006]
Flight Training - US authorities claim he is a pilot and has been receiving flight training outside the US for several years, though they do not release any evidence to substantiate this. His family insists that he is neither a qualified pilot nor an al-Qaeda operative. [USA Today, 6/15/2003; CNN, 9/5/2003] A senior Bush administration official says the government has evidence Shukrijumah had attended the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, but does not say when. Other Islamist militants, including Zacarias Moussaoui, attended that school before 9/11 (see February 23-June 2001, May 18, 1999 and May 15, 1998). The director of the school claims there is no evidence of a student with any of Shukrijumah’s publicly revealed aliases. [New York Times, 3/21/2003]
Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Associated Press]Afghan President Hamid Karzai travels to Islamabad, Pakistan, and meets with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Karzai hands Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Quetta, Pakistan, and urges Musharraf to have them arrested. The list includes the names of senior Taliban leaders Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, and Mullah Akhter Mohammed Usmani. All are believed to be in Quetta. The list is leaked to the press. The Pakistani government denounces Karzai and denies any Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. The US government declines to back the list, even though the US embassy in Kabul had helped make it. Journalist Ahmed Rashid will later explain: “The Americans were already deeply involved in Iraq and wanted no distractions such as a cat fight between the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. [The US] was unwilling to push the Pakistanis, and the Afghans were angry that the Americans had allowed Karzai’s credibility to suffer.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 246]
One of a group of 25 al-Qaeda members captured in Pakistan, Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29, 2003), is taken into US custody and sent to a CIA-run detention facility in Afghanistan. Years later, after being transferred to Guantanamo, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006), who will identify him as “Walid bin Attash” in their documents.
'Forced Standing' - Bin Attash will recall his introduction to detention in Afghanistan as follows: “On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural. During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.… The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.… I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing 24 hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.” Author Mark Danner, writing of the ICRC report in 2009 (see March 15, 2009), will note that the “forced standing” technique. with arms shackled above the head, was a favorite technique of the Soviets, who called it “stoika.” Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan, found the technique particularly painful: “After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position.” He is checked periodically by a doctor. The doctor does not object to the ‘forced standing,’ even though the treatment causes intense pain in bin Attash’s leg; neither does the doctor object to the suspension from shackles, even though the shackles cut and abrade his wrists.
Cold Water, Physical Beatings - Bin Attash will tell ICRC officials that he is “washed down with cold water every day.” Every day he is also subjected to beatings: “Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves.… Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements. Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.… I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”
Moved to Second Facility - It remains unclear where bin Attash is moved to after his initial detention in Afghanistan, but he will tell ICRC officials that his captors there—also Americans—“were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me.” Danner will later note that the methods used to interrogate and torture bin Attash are somewhat more refined than those used on an experimental basis with another al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002). For example, a towel was wrapped around Zubaida’s neck and used to slam him into walls, while bin Attash was given a plastic collar. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
[Source: Public domain]Abdelghani Mzoudi is charged in Germany for an alleged role in the 9/11 plot. The 30-year-old electrical engineering student from Morocco is accused of accessory to murder and membership of a terrorist organization. He was arrested in October 2002 (see October 10, 2002). He is alleged to have trained in Afghanistan, transferred money, and provided other logistical support to his fellow cell members involved in the 9/11 attacks. Mzoudi had known hijacker Mohamed Atta since 1996 and had roomed with Mounir El Motassadeq, another Moroccan who was convicted of the same charges (see February 18, 2003). Mzoudi denies any involvement in the hijacking plans. [Associated Press, 5/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/10/2003; Washington Post, 8/15/2003] In Mzoudi’s trial, which begins in August 2003, his lawyers say they may explore theories during the trial about how the 9/11 attacks suspiciously served the foreign policy goals of US conservatives. One defense attorney says, “As I take a close look at the results of the investigations through my glasses, I find anomalies that are immediately apparent. They begin with passenger lists that include the Arabic names of people who are still very much alive today.” (see September 16-23, 2001]) [Washington Post, 8/15/2003; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/8/2003]
Nearly half the US intelligence agents and commandos in Afghanistan and Pakistan are reassigned to Iraq as the resistance begins intensifying there. Some politicians in Washington apparently privately complain that President Bush is easing the pressure on bin Laden. Many transferred to Iraq end up in an elite task force created in October 2003 to track down Saddam Hussein and other resistance figures. But there is no anticipated shift of personnel back to Afghanistan after Hussein is captured in December 2003. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will say shortly after Hussein’s capture, “Clearly, the resources devoted to bin Laden were diluted, but I don’t expect a switch back to Afghanistan just because of the capture of [Hussein].” [Knight Ridder, 12/14/2003]
The CIA appoints a new chief of its station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The chief, known only as “Peter,” will remain in the position for a year (see June 2004). [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Pat and Kevin Tillman, pro athletes who joined the Army Rangers and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom (see May 23-June 1, 2002), are presented with the annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN. Both refuse to attend the awards ceremony, another example of their continued effort to avoid the public acclaim surrounding their joining the military. Younger brother Richard accepts on their behalf, and for the first time since their enlistment, their friends and parents speak publicly of the brothers in the ESPN televised tribute. ESPN senior vice president Ron Semiao says of the occasion: “The Tillman brothers’ story is remarkably inspiring. They turned their backs on stardom and potential fortune, dedicated themselves to a larger cause and never once sought glory or recognition. Pat and Kevin’s approach of leading by example is reminiscent of the way Arthur Ashe lived his life and like Arthur, the Tillmans’ decisions have had a profound impact.” [ESPN (.com), 7/2003]
NATO takes control of security in Kabul, Afghanistan. This is NATO’s first-ever operational commitment outside Europe. [BBC, 5/15/2007] NATO will eventually take control of military operations for all of Afghanistan in 2006 (see July-October 2006).
After heavy criticism from military families and Democratic presidential candidates, President Bush backpedals from his decision to support a plan that would have reduced the pay of the nearly 160,000 US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The plan proposed to eliminate the $75 per month “imminent danger pay” and the $150 per month “family separation allowance.” [Democracy Now!, 8/18/2003]
A frame of Saeed Alghamdi in his martyr video. [Source: Al Jazeera]A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi is broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network. Alghamdi says, “America is the enemy that every Muslim should fight.… I tell you that we are preparing something for you. God will punish you in a big way. And we promise the United States of America that we will stop you, that we will hurt you - and we will make sure that you don’t have any peace.” Alghamdi specifically mentions in the video that it was recorded December 23, 2000, and that it will serve as the reading of his final will and testimony before he leaves to the US. Al Jazeera has previously broadcast two 9/11 hijacker martyr videos (see April 15, 2002 and September 9, 2002), but while those only showed speeches, this seven-minute video also shows Alghamdi using a variety of weapons in Afghanistan, including a rocket launcher. The video also contains audio of a voice said to belong to Osama bin Laden praising Alghamdi. Bin Laden is heard saying, “He is a good person. He has good qualities. He is very righteous. He fears God, and God may protect him.” [CNN, 9/12/2003]
Department of Defense officials ask Congress not to renew a temporary increase in the Family Separation Allowance (FSA) and Imminent Danger Pay (IDP) for deployed forces that had been enacted in April. Instead, Defense suggests raising the Hardship Duty Pay for troops deployed only in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Chu, the department’s top personnel official, says that the April raises were like “using a sledgehammer to hit a small nail.” The Pentagon’s intent to rollback the FSA and IDP reignites a controversy that had sprung up during the summer (see Summer 2003) when it was first revealed that the White House supported the Defense Department’s plan to save money by cutting back on the two programs. [Stars and Stripes, 10/4/2003] The final National Defense Authorization bill, which is passed by Congress in November, rejects the Pentagon’s recommendations and renews the pay increases. [Sun Herald (Biloxi), 11/8/2003]
A new audiotape thought to contain a message from Osama bin Laden is broadcast by Al Jazeera. On the 31-minute tape the speaker says that the US occupation of Iraq, a “new Crusader campaign against the Islamic world,” is bogged down in the “quagmires of the Tigris and Euphrates” and suffering mounting casualties from guerrillas. He also compares supporters in Iraq to great Muslim warriors of the past and forbids them from working with the Ba’ath party. After describing democracy as “the religion of ignorance,” he addresses the question of Palestine, and attacks the “road map” for peace between Israel and Palestine as well as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, saying he is similar to Afghani President Hamid Karzai. He highlights US financial losses and budget deficits after 9/11, and would also apparently like to fight in Iraq: “God knows, if I could find a way to get to your battlefields, I would not hesitate.” [Associated Press, 10/19/2003; Laden, 2005, pp. 207-211] He also says, “We reserve the right to respond at the opportune moment and place against all of the countries participating in this unjust war, in particular: Great Britain, Spain, Australia, Poland, Japan, and Italy.” [Irujo, 2005, pp. 257] Bin Laden had not specially threatened Spain in any previous speeches. According to a Spanish investigator, the Madrid al-Qaeda cell hears the speech, notices this, and begins planning an attack in Spain the next day. This will result in the Madrid train bombings only five months later (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 10] However, some evidence suggests the cell was already planning a bombing from about late 2002. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004]
Zalmay Khalilzad, a prominent neoconservative connected to top Bush administration officials, is appointed US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Ethnically Afghani, he had already been appointed special envoy to Afghanistan at the start of 2002 (see January 1, 2002). But it is increasingly obvious that the US effort in Afghanistan is not going well and Khalilzad’s appointment as ambassador reflects a new Bush administration resolve to devote more attention to Afghanistan. He had worked for the likes of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney in years past and is easily able to reach President Bush on the phone. Khalilzad agrees to take the job if the US expands resources in Afghanistan, and as he takes over the US gives $2 billion in aid to the country, double the amount of the year before. [New York Times, 8/12/2007] Khalilzad becomes so powerful that in 2005 the BBC will note that he is sometimes dubbed “the viceroy, or the real president of Afghanistan.” He is accused of “frequently overshadowing President Hamid Karzai.… No major decisions by the Afghan government [are] made without his involvement.” [BBC, 4/6/2005] Similarly, a London Times article on him will be titled: “US Envoy Accused of Being the Power Pulling Karzai’s Strings.” [London Times, 10/5/2004] A New York Times article on him will be titled: “In Afghanistan, US Envoy Sits in Seat of Power.” [New York Times, 4/17/2004] He will keep this position until April 2005, when it is announced that Khalilzad will become US Ambassador to Iraq, as the Bush administration grows more concerned about the war there. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the nonprofit think tank the International Crisis Group, later says that during a trip to Afghanistan in November 2003, he is told by US military commanders and State Department officials that they are frustrated by rules preventing them from fighting Afghanistan’s booming illegal drug trade. Author James Risen notes the US military’s rules of engagement in Afghanistan states that if US soldiers discover illegal drugs they “could” destroy them, which is “very different from issuing firm rules stating that US forces must destroy any drugs discovered.” An ex-Green Beret later claims that he was specifically ordered to ignore heroin and opium when his unit discovered them on patrol. Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles, who fights in vain for tougher rules of engagement (see November 2004), will later complain, “In some cases [US troops] were destroying drugs, but in others they weren’t. [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld didn’t want drugs to become a core mission.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162]
Muhammad Bashmilah. [Source: Public domain via Raw Story]Muhammad Bashmilah, a Yemeni detained in Jordan and then moved to a CIA prison in Afghanistan, will later say that he sees cameras in the prison. He will describe to his lawyer cameras both in his cells and in interrogation rooms, some on tripods and some on the wall. [New York Times, 12/11/2007] This claim contrasts with a later statement by the CIA saying that it stopped recording detainee interrogations in late 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002).
An Afghani civilian later identified as Abdul Wahid dies from what his autopsy report calls “multiple blunt force injuries to head, torso, and extremities.” Wahid is being held by US forces at a forward operating base in Helmand province. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
The Army issues “stop-loss” orders forbidding thousands of its 110,000 troops from returning to the US once their tours of duty are completed. Instead, the troops will remain deployed for a minimum of three additional months. The orders affect troops currently deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, as well as soldiers preparing for deployment. [USA Today, 1/5/2004]
Bags of hashish, below, found on the fishing boat, above, in the Arabian Sea in December 2003. [Source: Michael Sandburg / US Navy]In December 2003, a US naval vessel stops a small fishing boat in the Arabian Sea. According to a Western anti-narcotics official, a search turns up “several al-Qaeda guys sitting on a bale of drugs.” Later that month, a raid on a drug runner’s house in Kabul, Afghanistan, leads to the discovery of a number of satellite phones. The CIA determines the phones had been used to call numbers linked to suspected al-Qaeda-linked operatives in Turkey, the Balkans, and Western Europe. One official describes this as part of “an incredibly sophisticated network.” In March 2004, US troops raiding a suspected al-Qaeda hideout in remote Afghanistan discover opium with a street value of $15 million. [Time, 8/2/2004]
Opium production in Afghanistan, 1980-2005. Based on United Nations data. [Source: UNODC/MCN] (click image to enlarge)Roughly 4,600 tons of opium are harvested in Afghanistan during 2004, according to a December 2004 statement by Russian Federal Drug Control Service Oleg Kharichkin. By the end of the year, more than 206,000 hectares in Afghanistan are reportedly planted with the crop. The Russians believe that 2005 production will approach 5,000 tons. [PakTribune (Islamabad), 12/22/2004]
Up until 2004, suicide bombings were almost unheard of in Afghanistan. But beginning that year, the Taliban launches six suicide attacks. In 2005, the number increases to 21. In 2006, the number skyrockets to 141, causing 1,166 casualties. In 2007, the number remains steady at 137, but the number of casualties increases 50 percent to 1,730. On September 8, 2006, a suicide bomber hits a US convoy just outside the US embassy in Kabul, killing two US soldiers and 16 Afghans. The resulting investigation uncovers a suicide bomb support network in Kabul that links to militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, says: “Every single bomber we arrest is linked to Pakistan in some way. The training, provisions, explosives, technical equipment, are all being manufactured in Pakistan, and the CIA knows this.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 366-367]
Noam Chomsky, noted linguist and and “anti-imperialism” activist. [Source: Convencion Bautista (.com)]Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) enlists a friend, MIT graduate student Jared Schrieber, to email MIT linguistics and philosophy professor Noam Chomsky. Tillman wants to set up a meeting with Chomsky, an opponent of the Bush administration’s war on terror and someone Tillman has long admired. Later, Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, will say that Tillman and Chomsky were to meet after her son completed his military tour of duty in July 2005, a meeting later confirmed by Chomsky. [ESPN (.com), 4/2006] After Tillman’s death (see April 23, 2004), it will emerge that, like his brother Kevin, a philosophy major, he read widely and was known to family and friends as a deep and independent thinker. Russell Baer, a fellow Ranger who served with the brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan, will recall Tillman saying of the Iraq war, “this war is so f_cking illegal.” His mother will state that, while feeling that the Afghan war was “justified by the September 11 attacks,” her son was against “the whole Iraq war.” Further, a soldier who requests anonymity will say that Tillman “urged him to vote for Bush’s Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Senator John Kerry.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/25/2005; Sports Illustrated, 9/11/2006] Ann Coulter, conservative political commentator, and Sean Hannity, co-host of the Fox News show Hannity & Colmes, will dispute reports that say Tillman respected Chomsky, endorsed Senator John Kerry, or opposed Bush. “I don’t believe it,” Coulter will say. “I don’t believe it either,” Hannity will agree. [Media Matters, 9/24/2005; Nation, 10/24/2005]
In early 2004, the head of the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan, known only as “Peter,” reports a revival of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces near the border of Pakistan. He proposes a spring intelligence push in the Pakistani tribal regions of South Waziristan and Kunar. Since 2002, al-Qaeda has mainly been regrouping in Waziristan, and many speculate that Osama bin Laden may be hiding there (see August 2002). Peter estimates that 24 field officers and five station officers would be needed for the new push. However, CIA headquarters replies that it does not have the resources to make the surge, presumably due to commitments in Iraq. Peter is rotated out of his post a short time later. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Hy Rothstein. [Source: Center on Terrorism and Irregular Warfare]In late 2002, the Defense Department asks retired Army Colonel Hy Rothstein, a leading military expert in unconventional warfare, to examine the planning and execution of the war in Afghanistan. Rothstein travels to Afghanistan and interviews dozens of military personnel at all levels. The New Yorker calls his report, completed this month, “a devastating critique of the [Bush] administration’s strategy.” While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has described the US military to be mostly reliant upon unconventional forces, Rothstein sees a reliance on heavy aerial bombing that results in large numbers of civilian casualties. He sees a poor effort at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, and many mistakes such as allying with corrupt, drug-dealing warlords who oppress the population. One military expert calls the US strategy “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” When Rothstein presents his conclusions to Rumsfeld, he is told to dampen his criticisms before the report can be published. He refuses to do so, and so the report is left sitting in bureaucratic limbo. Many other officials privately agree with the report’s conclusions. One former senior intelligence officer says, “The reason they’re petrified is that it’s true, and they didn’t want to see it in writing.” [New Yorker, 4/5/2004]
A British special forces team in Afghanistan calls in a US air strike on a drug lab. The damage leads to a 15 percent spike in heroin prices. It is unclear if US commanders knew that the proposed target was a drug lab. However, this seems to be nearly the only such strike on drug-related targets since 9/11. Shortly after 9/11, the US military decided to avoid such targets (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). The US continued to gain new intelligence on the location of drug facilities and continued not to act. Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles later will complain, “We had regular reports of where the labs were. There were not large numbers of them. We could have destroyed all the labs and warehouses in the three primary provinces involved in drug trafficking… in a week. I told flag officers, you have to see this is eating you alive, that if you don’t do anything by 2006 you are going to need a lot more troops in Afghanistan.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
In 2004, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill) visits Pakistan to find out why the US Rewards for Justice program has generated so little information regarding al-Qaeda’s leadership. In the early 1990s, the program was effective in helping to catch al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef after a $2 million reward was announced for him and a huge number of matchboxes with his picture and the reward information on it were distributed in countries where he was likely to be (see April 2, 1993). The program has $25 million rewards for al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and lesser rewards for other al-Qaeda leaders. Kirk discovers that the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has effectively shut down the reward program. There is no radio or television advertising. A bin Laden matchbook campaign had begun in 2000 (see February 16, 2000), but the embassy has stopped giving away matchbooks with photos of bin Laden and other leaders. Kirk will later say: “We were at zero. I couldn’t believe it.” Embassy officials tell Kirk they are busy with other issues, such as assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Kirk proposes a congressional bill that would increase funding for the rewards program to advertise, extend the program to target drug kingpins (especially those who fund al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and make other reforms and improvements. But apparently the bill does not pass and the problem is not fixed. In 2008, Kirk will complain, “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area—anywhere—knows about it.” Former CIA officer Arthur Keller will also say in 2008 that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere with information who would be open to informing. “They’d love to have a $25 million bounty, and they aren’t supportive of Osama. But they don’t necessarily trust the US. Who do you report it to? The local police chief?… They’re not sure who to turn to or who to trust.” [US Congress, House, 2/12/2004; Washington Post, 5/17/2008] In 2006, the program will conduct a large advertising blitz in the US, seemingly one of the most unlikely places to figure leaders such as bin Laden (see December 2006).
After 15 months of brutal torture in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), British terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown to Afghanistan by the CIA.
Shock at Brutal Treatment - Even the hardened CIA agents in Afghanistan are shocked by the treatment meted out by the Moroccans, who, among other treatments, had repeatedly slashed and lacerated Mohamed’s genitals with scalpels and knives. Mohamed will later recall: “When I got to Kabul a female agent started taking close-up pictures of my genitals. She was shocked. When they removed my diaper she could see blood was still oozing from the cuts on my penis. For the first two weeks they had me on antibiotics and they took pictures of my genitals every day. They told me, ‘This is not for us. It’s for Washington.’ They wanted to be sure it was healing.”
'The Dark Prison' - But the initial shock gives way to a new session of brutality at the hands of his American captors. Mohamed will later call his Afghani detention facility “the dark prison,” and recall it as one of the lowest points of his life. In Morocco, Mohamed confessed to anything he was asked—being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb,” being a confidant of 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, having met Osama bin Laden dozens of times—in order to, he says, avoid further torture. Now the Americans want him to be a prosecution witness against high-ranking al-Qaeda already in US custody. But Mohammed knows nothing of these people or their crimes, he will later say. The tortures with scalpels are not repeated, but Mohamed will recall seemingly endless ordeals of being shackled by the wrists to his door frame, often in complete darkness, and in one memorable instance, being subjected to a rap CD being played in his cell at ear-shatteringly loud volumes for an entire month without stop. “It’s a miracle my brain is still intact,” he will later say. In September, he is transferred to Guantanamo (see September 2004 and After). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Khalid el-Masri. [Source: Reuters]In Macedonia, Khalid el-Masri is told he is free to return to Germany. His guards videotape him as evidence that he is in good health when he leaves their country. El-Masri steps out the door of the motel where he has been held, and walks a few meters, when a pick-up truck pulls up next to him. Several men pull him inside, handcuff him, and put a hood over his head. The truck appears to be driving towards the airport. [New York Times, 1/9/2005; Guardian, 1/14/2005] He hears the sounds of a plane, and the voice of one of his Macedonian minders saying he will receive a medical examination. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He is then taken into a building. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] “I heard the door being closed,” he recalls. “And then they beat me from all sides, from everywhere, with hands and feet. With knives or scissors they took away my clothes. In silence. The beating, I think, was just to humiliate me, to hurt me, to make me afraid, to make me silent. They stripped me naked. I was terrified. They tried to take off my pants. I tried to stop them so they beat me again. And when I was naked I heard a camera.” He is then rectally examined by force. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] “After I was naked they took off my mask so I could see, and all the people were in black clothes and black masks. There were seven or eight people.” El-Masri is then dressed in a blue warm-up suit, and his hands are cuffed and tied to a belt; his feet shackled. Plugs are put in his ears and he is blindfolded. Next, they put him on a plane and force him to lie on the floor, while someone injects him with a drug that makes him fall asleep. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] But he vaguely notices the plane taking off. He receives a second injection during the flight. When he awakes, the plane has landed and he finds himself driven in the boot of car. Taken inside a building, he is thrown into the wall and onto to the floor of a small room that is to become his cell for the next five months. His head and back are stepped upon, while his chains are removed. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] “Everything was dirty, a dirty blanket, dirty water, like from a fish aquarium.” Guards and fellow prisoners will later tell him he is in Kabul, Afghanistan. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] On the first evening of his captivity in Afghanistan, El-Masri receives a visit from a masked man, he assumes is a doctor, who takes a blood sample and appears to be an American. Accompanying guards repeatedly punch El-Masri in the head and neck. El-Masri says he nevertheless has the nerve to ask the American for fresh water. “And he said: ‘It’s not our problem, it’s a problem of the Afghan people.’” [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He is also forced to run up and down a stairs while his hands are tied behind his back. The next morning, an interrogator shouts at him: “Where you are right now, there is no law, no rights; no one knows you are here, and no one cares about you.” [New York Times, 1/9/2005] Perhaps the same interrogator says, while seven or eight men with black masks watched silently, “Do you know where you are?” El-Masri answers: “Yes, I know. I’m in Kabul.” The interrogator replies: “It’s a country without laws. And nobody knows that you are here. Do you know what this means?” [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He discovers the identity of some of the other prisoners. There are two Pakistani brothers, who have Saudi citizenship, a man from Tanzania, who has been detained for several months, a Pakistani who has been there for nearly two years, a Yemeni, and a number of Afghans. [New York Times, 1/9/2005; Guardian, 1/14/2005] Comparing his situation to that of the others, El-Masri concludes: “It was a crime, it was humiliating, and it was inhuman, although I think that in Afghanistan I was treated better than the other prisoners. Somebody in the prison told me that before I came somebody died under torture.” The identity of his interrogators remains a secret, though after about a month, he is visited by two unmasked Americans. One, referred to by the prisoners as “the Doctor,” is tall, pale, in his 60s and has long grey hair. The other, named “the Boss,” has red hair and blue eyes and wears glasses. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] In the meantime, el-Masri’s wife, Aisha, completely unaware of her husband’s whereabouts, begins to think he has gone to marry another woman. Together with their children, she moves to Lebanon. [New York Times, 1/9/2005]
The CIA’s inspector general conducts an internal investigation of the treatment of CIA detainees in Afghanistan. As part of that investigation, the use of drugs on detainees is raised. When the inspector interviews the commanding officer of a secret detention facility in eastern Afghanistan shared by US military and intelligence teams, the inspector asks if the “OGA”—an acronym standing for “other government agency” and used to refer to the CIA—had been able to “practice their TTP [tactics, techniques and procedures] at your facility.” The commander replies, “No, they can’t use drugs or prolonged sensory deprivation in our facility.” It is unclear whether the commander is referring to interrogations. A senior US official will say in 2008 that the commander’s mention of drugs was either a mistake or a reference to am agency other than the CIA. [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
The US learns that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaeda camp commander, was allegedly tortured in Egypt, where he was rendered by the CIA (see January 2002 and After). Although CIA Director George Tenet will describe al-Libi’s handling by the Egyptians as “further debriefing,” after being returned to US custody, al-Libi tells CIA officers he was tortured and these claims are documented in a series of cables sent to CIA headquarters on February 4 and 5. These cables are the final proof, many believe, that the US is illegally “outsourcing” torture to other countries, against suspects who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime. After being tortured by his Egyptian captors (see November 11, 2001), al-Libi was returned to US custody on November 22, 2003. The February 5 cable reads, in part, that al-Libi was told by the Egyptians that “the next topic was al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq…. This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” The Egyptians didn’t like al-Libi’s response, and locked him in a 20 inch by 20 inch box for 17 hours—effectively burying him alive. The Egyptians released him and gave him one more change to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not give the proper response, he was knocked to the ground and beaten. The CIA debriefers send this information straight to Washington (see February 14, 2004), thus informing the CIA that not only was this key piece of evidence about the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda false, but it was obtained by extreme, US-sanctioned torture. Although stories and witness accounts about torture in such US-allied countries as Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Uzbekistan have long been known, this is the first time such torture has been detailed in an official US government document. It will be almost a year before the Bush administration will confirm the CIA’s rendition program (see March 11, 2002), and even then it will begin a litany of reassurances that the US does not torture, nor does it hand over prisoners to countries that torture. The CIA cables will be declassified in September 2006, and roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And as of late 2007, al-Libi will still be a “ghost prisoner” whose whereabouts and circumstances are considered a US state secret. [ABC News, 11/6/2007]
An Army memorandum records an interview of a US interrogator stationed at the Orgun-E Military Intelligence Detention Facility in Afghanistan. According to the interrogator, “standard operating procedure” with detainees includes extended sleep deprivation, stress positions, and withholding food. The interrogator also refers to standard practices of “OGA” officials (OGA means “other goverment agency” and is a reference to the CIA), who drug prisoners and subject them to lengthy sensory deprivation. Another memo records the use of what interrogators call “fear up harsh” techniques, which include “disrespect for the Koran,” insults, subjecting prisoners to blinding lights, and exposing them to extremely loud music for prolonged periods. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
A senior UN official reports that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country, Brahima says. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. [Foreign Affairs, 5/2004]
In late 2001, a Pakistani named Abdullah Mahsud was arrested in northern Afghanistan and transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. He apparently concealed his true identity while there, and is released in March 2004. He returns to Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where he was born, and quickly becomes an important Taliban leader. The US Defense Department belatedly realizes he has been associated with the Taliban since he was a teenager, and calls him an “al-Qaeda-linked facilitator.” He earns a fearsome reputation by orchestrating attacks and kidnappings, starting later in 2004. His forces will sign a peace deal with the Pakistani government in early 2005 that effectively gives them control over South Waziristan (see February 7, 2005). Mahsud will be killed on July 24, 2007, just days after a peace deal between the Pakistani government and Waziristan militants collapses (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He reportedly blows himself up with a grenade while surrounded by Pakistani security forces in a town in Baluchistan province about 30 miles from the Afghan border that is also near Waziristan. A Pakistani official will say: “This is a big blow to the Pakistani Taliban. He was one of the most important commanders that the Taliban had in Waziristan.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2007]
Many of the Madrid train bombers have their phones tapped for months before the March 2004 train bombing (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Some of them have been monitored for years (one, Moutaz Almallah, was under surveillance for nine years (see November 1995). While snippets from some phone calls will be made public after the bombings (see February 28-29, 2004), the content of the vast majority of these calls remain unknown. One example hints at what some of these calls might contain. Rosa Ahmidan, the wife of bomber Jamal Ahmidan, begins fully cooperating with the authorities after being interviewed for the first time on March 25, 2004 (see March 27-30, 2004). She will later say that in April she gets a phone bill from one land line used by her husband. The bill is for around 1,000 euros. It shows Jamal Ahmidan made many calls to Afghanistan, London, and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008]
A news release issued from the headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida heralds the start of a new offensive, Operation Mountain Storm (OMS), describing it as “the next in the continuing series of operations in the south, southeast, and eastern portions of Afghanistan designed to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure while continuing to focus on national stability and support.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
OMS to Go after Bin Laden, Or Not To? - Elsewhere, the objective of Operation Mountain Storm is reported to be to “flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network” and “insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.” Although military sources have indicated that US forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden, according to US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking from Kabul, this new operation is “not aimed at hunting for individuals.” All coalition troops, 13,000-plus, are to join the US-led campaign. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Measure of Success: Numbers - CENTCOM’s news release touts the success of the previous campaign, Operation Blizzard, enumerating its results thusly: “[W]e conducted 1,731 patrols, 143 raids and cordons and searches, killing 22 enemy combatants and discovering caches with 3,648 rockets, 3,202 mortar rounds, 2,944 rocket propelled grenades, 3,000 recoils rifle rounds, 2,232 mines, and tens of thousands of small arm ammunitions.” The CENTCOM news release then ticks off several areas where Operation Blizzard’s successor, Mountain Storm, has already found weapons caches. Concluding, it reports that “just yesterday afternoon, an Afghan citizen turned in to coalition forces in the vicinity of Deh Rawood a recoiless rifle, an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and machine guns, along with ammunition.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Numbers Game and Pat Tillman's Death - Later, Stan Goff, an analyst and critic of military culture, writing about Pat Tillman’s death while on patrol in OMS less than a month after its launch (See April 23, 2004 and Early April 2004), will cite “the Rumsfeldian ‘metrics’ of quantification” used to measure and then propagandize military progress, as driving the order to split Tillman’s platoon, a chain-of-command decision which many, including some in command, will later contend led to his death by friendly fire, or as some define it, fratricide (see April 22, 2004). [Huffington Post(.org), 8/2/2007; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Ron Synovitz, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFL/RL), reports on “how one commando team is contributing to the overall strategy” Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) employs in Afghanistan.
Report Relies upon Department of Defense Sources - Synovitz appears to base his observations of the “one commando team” solely on audio clips provided by a US Department of Defense (DoD) video; an undocumented description of same; the fact that an unidentified RFE/RFL correspondent “saw the team leave the Kandahar Air Field in camouflaged humvees,” bearing the DoD video cameramen; unnamed “US officials;” and a press conference in Kabul with the US military’s chief spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty. It is unclear if the eyewitness to the team’s departure is Synovitz himself or some other RFE/RFL reporter. What the article does clearly imply is 1) this OMS-participant team is representative of an overall well-coordinated and carefully planned strategy 2) the strategy, using “unconventional warfare” tactics, has the potential to prevail against any remaining “terrorist” threat in a wide-sweeping area 3) the strategy underlies a “new” operation, OMS, but continues the US Department of Defense’s military success, a success rooted in the effective strategy.
Article Highlights OMS Break with Tradition - Reporting on Hilferty’s description of the “counter-terrorism tactics designed to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” the article points out that, as distinguished from the use of “methods of conventional warfare,” in which units by the thousands amass “on the ground”—OMS combat forces—at times consisting of US Special Forces and Afghan National Army soldiers; at others, of US, Marines, Navy SEAL commandos, and CIA paramilitary officers—carry out “search and destroy” missions in small “commando teams,” operating along a large swath of Afghanistan’s interior as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, to seek out enemy fighters and their weapons hidden in the mountains. For OMS, “there are no Bradley armored personnel carriers or Abrams tanks,” as used in the Iraq war, but rather, armored humvees and “fast-moving military trucks,” Special Forces employ all-terrain vehicles in desert regions.
Hilferty Touts Conventional Support for New Strategy - Still, Hilferty claims these departures from tradition are supported with the continuation of “patrols and vehicle checkpoints.” He also notes the “close air support” by “fighter jets, AC-130 Spectre gunships, and A-10 Warthog attack planes,” at the ready to intervene if OMS commandos run into problems. Hilferty touts this air support as available “24 hours a day circling overhead, ready to assist coalition forces.” In smaller airborne operations that military planners refer to as “heliborne insertion,” Chinook helicopters transport commando teams into the heart of the mountain posts guerrilla fighters claim. All of these tactics are custom-fitted to Afghanistan’s battlefield, primarily a mountainous terrain not well-served by a “heavy, mechanized force,” and are conducted simultaneously, so that the sum of the parts is what, mission by mission, adds up.
Article Echoes US Central Command's Focus on Quantity - Synovitz’s approach to reporting on the new offensive echoes that of US Central Command’s in its focus on discrete incidents, itemizing specific weapons recovered or enemy combatants killed. Synovitz contends that the unconventional nature of the conduct of warfare in Afghanistan calls for reporting “a stream of isolated incidents—like the announcement today by Hilferty that US-led soldiers had killed three suspected Taliban members this weekend while searching a cave in Qalat, in Zabul province.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/15/2004]
Pat Tillman Death Investigations Will Bolster Critics' View of OMS Strategy - Critics of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s reliance on what former solider and journalist Stan Goff will call “the metrics of quantification,” exemplified by OMS in its design and in reporting on it, will argue that, as with the “body counts” former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara boasted to claim success in Vietnam, much publicized hauls from “search and destroy” missions amount to little in terms of valid results. Further, promised support from conventional combat operations often does not materialize. For instance, Goff will point to a mission botched on several fronts as causing Pat Tillman’s death near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (seeApril 23, 2004 and April 22, 2004). Regimental chain of command denied Tillman’s Ranger platoon the use of a helicopter to airlift a disabled humvee that became a link in a series of foul-ups leading to the “friendly fire” killing of Tillman and an Afghan Militia soldier while on patrol in OMS. In adddition, command denied the beleaguered Rangers air support in the “search and destroy” mission Tillman’s platoon was forced to conduct as night fell. Command’s urgency that there be “boots on the ground by dusk” stemmed from a need to fulfill the very sort of “checklist” Rumsfeld offered to document military progress. [FromTheWilderness, 6/23/2006; Associated Press, 11/9/2006; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Operation Mountain Storm, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Bryan Hilferty, US Army Rangers, US Central Command, Stan Goff, Radio Free Europe, Pat Tillman, Ron Synovitz, Taliban
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
A top analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), an influential think tank with its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, challenges the publicity campaign the US military appears to be waging for Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) in Afghanistan (see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004). [Time (Asia), 10/3/2005] Vikram Parekh, a top ICG analyst based in Kabul, comments: “I don’t understand… why they’ve been so public about it. I don’t see what it accomplishes.” Other experts contradict the US military’s central thesis—that it is keeping the new surge low-profile—and instead echo Parekh’s criticism. Reportedly: “As recently as late last month, Washington was playing up what officials there were touting as a spring offensive to catch bin Laden—leading to suggestions that US President George Bush’s administration hoped for an election-year gain out of the hunt and capture. But if the United states is now hot on the trail of bin Laden, some analysts question why US officials would signal so openly to the al-Quaeda leader to rethink his hiding place.” Parekh calls the publicity around OMS “tactically foolish.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/15/2004; Independent Online, 3/15/2004]
Tahir Yuldashev. [Source: Corbis Reuters]In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. [CNN, 3/18/2004; FOX News, 3/18/2004] On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. [Interactive Investor, 3/19/2004] In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Tahir Yuldashev, Taliban, George W. Bush, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, Ali Jan Orakzai, Nek Mohammed, Colin Powell, Frontier Corps, Ayman al-Zawahiri
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
As the US Defense Department launches Operation Mountain Storm (OMS—see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004), a major planner for the Afghan resistance reveals the insurgency’s counter-strategy in an “exclusive meeting” with Asia Times Online.
Coalition Vs. Resistance Plan - In his article, “Afghan offensive: Grand plans hits rugged reality,” Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, describes the plan behind OMS: “US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction.” If the widely publicized operation were to go according to plan, Shahzad writes, “There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself.” However, according to the unnamed insurgent, the resistance has a plan of its own: to waylay US-led forces with a series of small-scale, local skirmishes and to divert Pakistani allies from joining the coalition’s new surge.
Afghan Resistance Leverages Tribal Loyalty and Harsh Landscape - The insurgent claims that tribes people, familiar with the increasingly forbidding territory, can exhaust their much stronger opposition through “a classic guerrilla strategy” designed by “foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab origin.” Hidden in a dizzying array of seemingly endless mountains, they can “regroup,” then emerge to carry out “hit and run” battles against coalition forces while under the protection of villagers loyal to their cause. In turn, according to Asia Times, these local tribes “are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters” ranged along and across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistani Army De-Railed - Meanwhile, Pakistani troops are occupied in South Waziristan with Wazir tribes and their neighbors. And Asia Times reports that “the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas,” flaring up in North Waziristan, for instance, where recently an attack on the Pakistani army resulted in the death of an officer and his soldiers. Effectively, the insurgency has stopped Pakistan from helping the US clean out “remnants” of its opposition, while more guerrilla fighters join in. This, in only the first week of the official launch of OMS.
Based on his interview with the opposition strategist, Shahzad concludes that, thus far, “the operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribes people.” [Asia Times Online, 3/20/2004]
Critics Point Finger at US Defense Secretary for Poor Planning - Later, critics of the US military strategy in Afghanistan will cite numerous problems in the design and conception of OMS. Some will blame the high-profile death of Pat Tillman while on patrol for OMS, or on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed strategy, one designed to boast quick results so as to help re-elect President George Bush in the upcoming November 2004 elections (see March 15, 2004).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who remained in that position up until days before the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan began, states in an interview that the Bush administration’s real focus at the start of the Afghanistan war was Iraq. “The reason they had to do Afghanistan first was it was obvious that al-Qaeda had attacked us. And it was obvious that al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan. The American people wouldn’t have stood by if we had done nothing on Afghanistan. But what they did was slow and small. They put only 11,000 troops into Afghanistan.… To this day, Afghanistan is not stable. To this day, we’re hunting down Osama bin Laden. We should have put US special forces in immediately, not many weeks later. US special forces didn’t get into the area where bin Laden was for two months.… I think we could have had a good chance to get bin Laden, to get the leadership, and wipe the whole organization out if we had gone in immediately and gone after him.” [Good Morning America, 3/22/2004]
In response to a request by Human Rights First, the Defense Department says, “The number of detainees within Afghanistan is classified due to ongoing military operations and force protection concerns.” [First, 6/2004 ]
A report by the inspector general of the US Army’s Combined/Joint Task Force 180 in Bagram, Afghanistan, finds numerous problems with detainee treatment at Bagram and other facilities. The problems include a lack of training and oversight on acceptable interrogation techniques (see July 2002). According to the report, “Army doctrine simply does not exist” at the base, and detainees are not afforded “with the privileges associated with enemy or prisoner of war status” or the Geneva Conventions. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
After a tour of duty in Iraq, the Army Ranger platoon containing Pat and Kevin Tillman, the Black Sheep—officially, 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment—ship out from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Afghanistan. It is to participate in a new offensive codenamed Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and Early 2003).
Tillman 'Battled Steadfastly' - The year before, the Tillman brothers’ platoon had been sent to Iraq (see March 2003). There, in place of his fallen lead gunner, Pat Tillman stepped up to his first firefight and “battled steadfastly.” Although Tillman voices opposition to the war in Iraq, he originally joined the military because he wanted to fight in Afghanistan (see Early 2004).
Redeployed for Operation Mountain Storm - Assigned to the newly-minted OMS campaign, the infantrymen in the Tillmans’ platoon are to act as “special operators,” tasked to “flush out and entrap enemy guerrillas,” sweeping zones “grid by grid,” and traveling in “small, mobile, lethal units.” As Rangers, the soldiers are trained in the use of unconventional, commando-style tactics in which small units conduct search-and-destroy missions rather than larger combat operations. The US Department of Defense has developed a strategy designed to eliminate insurgents along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border relying on searching for weapons and guerrilla fighters by “sweeping and clearing” villages. It is while on such a search and destroy mission during OMS that Pat Tillman will meet his death under circumstances triggering a military criminal probe (see April 23, 2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004]
The Army issues a classified “Information Paper” entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that details the status of 62 investigations into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cases documented in the paper include allegations of assaults, physical assaults, mock executions, sexual assaults, threatening to kill an Iraqi child to “send a message to other Iraqis,” stripping detainees, beating them and shocking them with a blasting device, throwing rocks at handcuffed Iraqi children, choking detainees with knots of their scarves, and interrogations at gunpoint. The document will be released to the public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see May 2, 2006). Of the 62 cases, 26 involve detainee deaths. Some have already gone through courts-martial proceedings. The cases involve allegations from Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Camp Bucca, and other sites in Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, and Tikrit, and the Orgun-E facility in Afghanistan. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
The Army notifies the Tillman family that Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) has been killed in combat in Afghanistan. It reports that Tillman, a 27 year old Ranger who gave up a lucrative football career to join the US Army, was airlifted to the nearest field hospital in Salerno, where he died an hour later. It will be another five weeks before the family learns Tillman died, not in combat with the enemy, but in a “friendly fire” incident. Eventually, they will also learn that the Salerno field hospital report, apparently written up the day of his death, stating that he died an hour after arrival, contradicts fellow soldiers who will testify that he was clearly dead at the scene of the attack. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/25/2005]
Cover of Mary Tillman’s book, titled after reason given for order to split platoon. [Source: Rodalestore (.com)]En route to its last “sweep and clear” operation on the 10th day of a combat patrol mission in southeastern Afghanistan, the Black Sheep, Pat and Kevin Tillman’s Ranger platoon, is forced to lay over in Magarah, a small town in “the heart of Taliban country,” because of a vehicle breakdown (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 20-22,2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004] Their young platoon leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, relays the situation to a tactical operations center (TOC) at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, near Khost, 65 miles away. There, the “Cross Functional Team” (CFT) works out platoon movements stationed in “a 20-by-30 tent with a projection screen and a satellite radio.” Already running late as a result of trying to repair and then tow the Humvee, the soldiers are low on supplies, “down to the water in their CamelBak drinking pouches, and forced to buy a goat from a local vendor.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Warning in Magarah Ignored - Later, several soldiers will report that an ominous incident occurs in Magarah during their “down time.” They testify that a village doctor passes a note that the chain of command on the ground ignores. Although they will not all agree on the exact contents of the note, they concur that it warns of impending enemy action against them. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Soldiers Want to Get Rid of the Humvee - Some of the men, among them Kevin Tillman, think they should dispose of the $50,000 Humvee and “blow the b_tch up.” [ESPN, 10/12/2006; Tillman and Zacchino, 2008] Army regulations won’t allow it. And if they abandon the gun-mounted vehicle, base command is worried that guerrilla fighters could take propagandist pictures of themselves in possession of it. [Tillman and Zacchino, 2008, pp. 51]
Uthlaut Goes over Options with Command: They Leave Him Only One - Uthlaut offers an option: as previously, tow the disabled Humvee using another Humvee, but this time “on two wheels instead of four.” This would mean the platoon as a whole would bring the Humvee up to paved road for a wrecker to haul it back to the base. Command at TOC nixes this solution as it is concerned that additional stress to the Humvee’s rear suspension could further damage it. Uthlaut asks for a helicopter sling load for the Humvee. His request is denied. An officer at TOC tries to arrange for airborne support for the platoon. This request is also denied. [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] As Uthlaut messages the cross-functional team at TOC, locals are “coming out of the village” to ascertain what is going on. An Afghani “Jinga” (flatbed tow truck) driver offers to haul the vehicle out of the valley and up to a hard-topped road for a price. Uthlaut helps to negotiate the deal.
Now, reporting in to base command again, he enumerates three possible options to save both the vehicle and the mission. Uthlaut will later testify: “The first option was to split the platoon and send one element to deal with getting the broken HMMWV to the hardtop and the other element would move to the village and begin clearing operations. The second option was to keep the whole platoon together, move with the HMMWV up to the hardball [sic] road, drop the broken HMMWV off with the escort platoon and the wrecker, then move as a platoon to start clearing Manah. The third option was not to worry about meeting a wrecker or escort platoon and move as a platoon with the ‘Jinga’ truck towing the broken [redacted] and then take further orders from there.” Uthlaut continues, “From there, the response I got back from [REDACTED] was to go with option one, which was to split the platoon.”
Uthlaut "Pushes the Envelope" - Uthlaut questions the order. He messages CFT the following: “I strongly recommend not splitting the platoon… for several reasons.” Mainly, Uthlaut is concerned for the safety of the platoon. He feels its security will be undermined by the split. Part of the platoon will be without a satellite radio. In addition, half of the soldiers will be without his immediate command. He brings up these concerns and also asks if it is not a problem that one of the two “serial” convoys will have less firepower in that there is only one heavy weapon—a .50 caliber machine gun—between the entire platoon. This fact does not persuade command to alter its order. In addition, Uthlaut will testify that he is aware that standard operating procedure had changed since two Rangers were killed in ambush recently—“our clearing procedures were to clear the villages in the day time”—so as to be a less visible target. He asks if the platoon element that is to go ahead to Manah will begin a night operation. Even as he makes plans to re-configure his men into separate convoys, he is still “disagreeing with… the course of action.” His concerns about communication are met with the information that there is another satellite radio on one of the vehicles in addition to his own, as the company commander’s vehicle is being used. Then he learns that “the clearing was not to start at night.” Instead, serial one proceeding in advance of serial two is to “set up an assembly area,” outside of the village, wait for two, and clear the next morning in daylight.
Command Wants Boots on the Ground before Nightfall - Uthlaut presses for clarification. He asks if the whole purpose of sending one element ahead of the other is “to get boots on the ground before nightfall.” He will say that he is told “yes, that was the intent.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ] Although exactly who gives the order to split the platoon will remain in contention across several future investigations, the record will show that soldiers on the ground and even some back at TOC do not think it wise. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] But Uthlaut will later testify that he “figured I had pushed the envelope far enough and [I] accepted the mission.” It will be dark soon. After a six hour stop over, Ulthaut must hurry his men to their respective destinations. Sergeant Trevor Alders, later identified as one of the shooters in that day’s friendly fire incident (see April 23, 2004) will tell Army investigators that his convoy, serial two, escorting the Afghani tow truck driver, does not even have a chance to glance at a map before “we were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws… which in the end would prove to be fatal.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Ordered by command to split up into two convoys, Kevin and Pat Tillman’s platoon leaves Magarah (see April 22, 2004 and May 23-June 1, 2002) en route to clear the village of Manah near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Both convoys must move through a narrow canyon, presided over by steep cliffs where they are easy targets for enemy fighters.
Brothers in Separate Convoys - The brothers ride in separate convoys, Pat in designated Serial One, advancing to the village; Kevin, in designated Serial Two, escorting a local tow truck with the platoon’s disabled Humvee (see April 20-22,2004).
Platoon Leader Did Not Want Split - The platoon’s leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, who has strongly resisted the split-up—believing it compromises security in terms of weapons, communications, personnel, and command—leads Serial One. Sergeant Greg Baker commands “the heaviest armed vehicle” in Serial Two. Subsequent investigations will determine that two of Baker’s men have never been under fire before. [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Serial One is the first to go through a dangerous canyon en route to complete a combat patrol mission (see 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004). Military writer Stan Goff will describe the extremely narrow canyon as acting “like a funnel, a megaphone.” In a later book, Where Men Win Glory, author Jon Krakauer will write that Pat Tillman’s convoy must “move at an excruciatingly slow pace,” taking 20 minutes to do so because “the slot [is] so tight that the Humvees’ fenders scraped against its sheer walls.” [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Afghanistan Canyon Area. [Source: ABC News]Serial Two of the Tillman brothers’ Rangers’ platoon, the Black Sheep, heads in a different direction from Serial One to deliver a disabled Humvee to a wrecker on the Khost highway (see April 20-22,2004). However, the tow truck driver refuses to continue when the road becomes impassable. He suggests taking the same route as Serial One, passing Manah to “circle around to the designated highway.” Sergeant Eric Godec must make the call. Although he finds his serial, Two, has lost radio communication with One, he agrees. Two must now make it through the same narrow passage as One (see 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004) with about 17 men and six vehicles, including the tow. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Soldiers Have Eerie Feeling - Men in both convoys will recall having “an eerie feeling” as they pass through the canyon. Kevin Tillman will say, “I knew damn well we were going to get hit.” According to author Jon Krakauer, “the cliffs rose so precipitously [on either side of the canyon],” Private Bryan O’Neal, in Serial Two, has to “lie on his back in order to scan the canyon’s ledges for Taliban through the scope of his M4 carbine.” Sergeant Trevor Alders, manning the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) for Serial Two, and later named one of the “friendlies” shooting at Pat Tillman’s position, will recall that the men speak of this “mutual feeling” of “eeriness” among themselves. As he remembers it, “the canyon closed in on us as we went further into it.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
US Army soldiers in Afghanistan at dusk. [Source: ESPN (.com)]Pat Tillman’s part of the Black Sheep Platoon, known as Serial One, gets through a perilous canyon passage without incident. But just as it emerges—after missing a turn—at the far mouth of the canyon, to an open area on the edge of a nearby village, it receives what will be described as “a highly-amplified, and highly-alarming acoustics-and-light show.” This is the effect of the other part of the platoon, known as Serial Two, engaging apparent guerrilla fighters from within the depths of the canyon (see April 22, 2004, 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004, 6:18 pm April 22, 2004, and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). In his book on Pat Tillman, author Jon Krakauer will write that “from behind them, gunfire erupted inside the canyon. The Rangers in Serial One [look] back to see red tracer bullets blasting out of the passage, and [scramble] to provide cover for their embattled fellow soldiers.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Kevin and Pat Tillman. [Source: IraqHeroes (.com)]The Tillman brothers (see May 23-June 1, 2002) ride in separate convoys to complete a mission, Pat Tillman in designated Serial One and Kevin Tillman in Serial Two; while One moves safely through a dangerous canyon, Two, following shortly behind, runs into an ambush ( see April 22, 2004 and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Trapped in 'Kill Zone' - Serial Two—in the canyon only a minute—hears an explosion. Thinking they have hit a land mine or that an IED has been detonated, Sergeant Greg Baker and his men follow Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and dismount their “machine gun-laden” vehicle. Baker, in command of that vehicle, will later testify that he “noticed rocks falling,” and “then… saw the second and third mortar rounds hit.” He also will say that he could hear the “rattle of enemy small arms fire.” Now, realizing they are in an ambush, Two tries to get out of the “kill zone,” but the tow truck, which has been at the head of the convoy, blocks the way, its driver “cowering behind rocks.” Baker grabs the driver, throws him back in the truck, and gets him to move out, while he unloads his weapon “up the canyon walls” until it is out of ammunition. He dismounts the tow truck, racing back to his own vehicle—a roofless Humvee open on all sides—reloads, and continues firing. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 264]
Serial Two 'Trigger-Happy' - Ranger Corporal Jason Parsons, a Serial Two member, will describe a scene of “tunnel vision” and “panic,” as his “trigger-happy crew”—men in the convoy’s last vehicle—fire at dark shapes they perceive above, to their north. Both Black Sheep soldiers, Pedro Arreola and Kyle Jones, shoot multiple rounds at this area, the northern ridge line. Kevin Tillman, riding atop Parson’s Humvee, holds his fire, fearing a ricochet effect will land his ordinance on a fellow Ranger’s head, but when he does finally see an opportunity to get off a shot, he finds his Mark 19 machine gun jammed, perhaps due to all the jostling, and he cannot get off a grenade during the entire incident. [Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Half of Pat Tillman’s platoon, the Black Sheep, attempts to exit a narrow canyon-slot in southeastern Afghanistan where it has been ambushed (see 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). Coming out of the ambush, the part of the platoon known as Serial Two, in which Tillman’s brother Kevin rides, fires on Serial One, Pat Tillman’s convoy (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Serial Two out of Canyon, Keeps Firing - As the men in Serial Two race out of the canyon, firing at an enemy they believe surrounds them, they do not know where One is positioned. And they do not know that One is trying to provide them with cover. Testifying in the Army’s later criminal investigation, Pat Tillman’s squad leader, Sergeant Matthew Weeks, will state that he “heard over the radio” of Two’s change in route. But he does not recall being able to get through to Two to coordinate their positions. Yet, he will state that because Two had been briefed as to One’s route, according to “Ranger training,” its men should have been able to maintain “situational awareness.” He will add that he does not think, however, that they “had any idea how close we were.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Pat Tillman Leads Fire Team - Specialist Bryan O’Neal is nearest in proximity to Pat Tillman during the whole of the firefight. Initially, upon hearing an explosion, Lieutenant David Uthlaut orders the first convoy to dismount and “press the fight.” He assigns Tillman as one of the three fire team leaders. Tillman dismounts the second vehicle in the convoy and beckons for O’Neal, in the lead vehicle, to hurry up and follow him. One of the Allied Militia Forces (AMF) soldiers, an Afghani armed with an AK 47, has dismounted the vehicle he shares with four other AMFs and their interpreter, and he catches up with O’Neal and Tillman, the three of them then taking a position on a spur on the outskirts of a nearby village. Testifying in the third Army investigation which will, subsequent to this day’s events, be conducted by Brigadier General Gary Jones, O’Neal will state that he follows Tillman’s fire, opening up where he believes Tillman thinks the attackers are firing from. O’Neal can see muzzle flashes up on top of the ridge line. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; ESPN, 7/19/2006; US Army, 7/19/2006 ; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
Serial Two Draws Fire; AMF Soldier Fires AK-47 over Road - Weeks will report seeing muzzle flashes and silhouettes and that the first convoy “received fire from across the valley as well.” Tillman runs back to his squad’s leader to ask him if he can take off his body armor and also to let him know where he is positioned. According to Army regulations, Weeks cannot allow him to drop his body armor. O’Neal will tell Army criminal investigators that while Tillman seeks orders from Weeks, the AMF soldier is “firing in all directions… firing over the main road.” Coming back to position, Tillman tells the small firing team that it will be running up a hill.
Squad Leader Weeks Gives Cease-Fire Signal; Sets off Flare - At this time, Weeks gets a radio transmission with the information that “Serial Two [is] mounting up to get around the tow truck vehicle.” He will state: “I remember the lead vehicle starting to make its way out of the canyon, after I had to stand up and look over the spur. I told everybody on the fire teams that friendlies [were] coming out of the low ground, and the lead vehicle was coming out of the canyon, and they mimiced [sic] the call. When I saw the vehicle coming out I also saw [Tillman’s] position. I knew Serial Two did not know where we were.” He will further relate that he rolls on his back and prepares a pen flare gun, then sees a vehicle carrying Sergeant Greg Baker and others stop and “the M240B gunner in the back… fire a burst of fire towards me.” Weeks sets off the flare and gives the cease-fire signal; although some of the soldiers will state to criminal investigators that there is no such signal known, others confirm that the signal is made by waving a hand and arm over the front of the face, palm out. As Weeks does this, he hears another burst, and then people in Baker’s vehicle shouting “cease fire.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
A soldier posted close to Pat Tillman on a ridge-line fired upon by “friendlies” (see 6:34 p.m. - 6:44 p.m. April 22, 2004) will later testify that he, Tillman, and an Allied Forces soldier fighting with them, are fired upon in two incidents involving two different vehicles.
Account of Eyewitness in Nearest Proximity to Tillman - In Private Bryan O’Neal’s account, provided in the Army’s third investigation prior to its criminal probe, he recalls two encounters with friendly fire from two different vehicles, each of which he refers to as a “GMV.” He will testify that the first GMV fires an M-4 at the location where the AMF soldier, Tillman, and he are positioned on the spur, and that the AMF soldier is not hit until the “second encounter of friendly fire,” from a different vehicle. In an official inquiry conducted by Brigadier Gary Jones, O’Neal will detail the two encounters: “[M]y belief was that the first GMV that shot at us was like a cargo GMV, sir. It wasn’t—I didn’t, at that time, see any heavy—heavy weaponry on that sir. It was pretty much—you know there was nothing on it. And then the next one that came on us had a mounted fifty-cal and 240 and they were the ones that opened up on us, sir.” O’Neal will relate that in the initial confrontation with the first vehicle, the one he identifies as being a cargo transport, he and Tillman recognize friendlies, but not considering the situation serious, try to signal that they are friendlies by “a lot of waving.” O’Neal believes the shooters in the first vehicle realize they have made a “mistake,” and, as a result, “stop shooting… pretty instantaneously.” He will say the cargo GMV moves past them. Then the second vehicle “came and they pretty much stopped in the exact same spot… not too far forward of that spot.” But, according to O’Neal, “that one [the second, heavily armed vehicle] had a better angle on us.”
"I Guess They Figured We Were All Dead" - O’Neal will say that the second GMV “stopped and fired for a good 45 seconds to a minute,” but that “it felt like forever.” He will remember that “when they initially opened up… we were waving back and forth, back and forth,” but after GMV-2 hits them with “the fifty-cal and 240,” they stop moving, “and then they carried on after, I guess they figured we were all dead.” Asked about the distance of the second vehicle from his and Tillman’s position, he gauges it to be “no more than 30 meters,” possibly as far as 35. Although he will say he cannot see individual faces, the light is still good enough that he can see that “they were my friends.”
Tillman: "I Have Something that Can Help Us" - O’Neal will describe Tillman’s attempt to save their lives: “Pat was behind some pretty good cover, to where he wasn’t really too much in danger, and I was completely open for getting shot. I was watching them as they were shooting at me, and I was watching the rounds where they were—and Pat could look around—and I was noticing that most of their fire seemed to be directed towards me. The AMF guy, he was dead at that time. He was lying down. I could see him lying down and I realized that they were predominantly shooting at me and I guess he [Tillman] did too. And he moved out from behind his cover to throw some smoke.… All I remember him telling me, ‘Hey, don’t worry, I’ve got something that can help us.’ And he popped a smoke, I guess, and that’s when he got shot—one of the few times he got shot, sir.” Questioned as to when GMV-2 stops firing, O’Neal will reply, “Not too long after Pat threw the smoke, because I just remember him throwing the smoke and then he started having a cry in his call, you know, and he started screaming, ‘My name is Pat Tillman,’ and he said that probably five to 10 times, and then he went silent completely.” O’Neal will confirm that the shooters continue firing all through Tillman’s repeated “cry.”
Shooters Stopped - Towards the end of his testimony, O’Neal will be asked several times about whether or not GMV-2 was stopped when “they were firing.” He will answer that “they pulled up, stopped, looked at our position directly… it was like, stop, acquire, okay that’s our targets, now we can start firing.” In subsequent investigations, O’Neal will not be questioned about his account of receiving fire from two different GMVs, and he will not reiterate it. [ESPN, 7/19/2006]
Serial Two Leader Only Sees 'a Figure Holding an AK-47' - Sergeant Gary Baker, leader of the convoy later established to have fired at Pat Tillman’s position, will state that when he sees “a figure holding an AK-47, his muzzle flashing,” who is not wearing a helmet that might identify him as a coalition force soldier, he “[gets] tunnel vision.” He will claim that he does not notice O’Neal, Tillman, or any other Serial Two soldiers on the ridge-line. He will recall that the bearded Afghan is lying on his stomach. Others in his convoy will say the Afghan is shooting standing up, which they know to be the traditional fighting stance of “the enemy.” Although men under Baker’s command will say they can see that the Afghan is not dressed in what they call “man-dresses” (traditional garb) worn by guerrilla fighters, and in fact the CIA-trained Afghans traveling with the Black Sheep are all in standard battle dress uniforms (BDUs), none of the soldiers have combat trained with the allied Afghan fighters, and “shifting alliances” in the province have previously led to fatal mistakes in identifying friend from foe. Baker will say he sees a man with a dark complexion firing “a rifle typically carried by the enemy.” He believes the Afghan is firing directly at him. Only later does he realize that fading light, distance, and angle compromised his vision. In fact, the AMF soldier is attempting to provide cover for Baker and his men.
First Investigation Reports Tillman Was Charged - Baker opens up on the AMF, who is standing about 10 feet to the right of Tillman. His men follow his fire. Baker will refute the first investigative report, which notes that he dismounted his vehicle and “charged 15 meters toward Tillman” before firing. Staff Sergeant Kellett Sayre, Baker’s driver, will say he is also initially wary of the AK-47, but he spots Ranger vehicles parked in the area and Rangers along the ridge. He sees hands thrown up in the air—O’Neal and Tillman frantically trying to signal they are friendlies. He hears shouts of “cease fire.” He yells cease fire and even pulls on Specialist Stephen Ashpole’s leg, while driving with one hand on the wheel, racing away hoping to deprive the squad of a stationary shooting platform. But Ashpole is busy unloading every round in the .50-caliber machine gun up in the turret. And the men will say that by the time their platoon mates are trying to stop the barrage of fire, they themselves have been deafened by it. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
"They Just Wouldn't Stop Shooting" - According to Krakauer, “as Baker’s Humvee kept driving across the wadi [dry riverbed valley], the shooters continued to spew bullets with reckless disregard, raking the entire hillside.” Many of the Serial One Rangers under Weeks’s command are arrayed up on a slope above Tillman’s position. Private Will Aker sees Specialist Steve Elliott “shooting [his 240 machine gun] everywhere,” over the slope and into village buildings. Aker recalls one of the bullets as landing within 12 inches of his foot. Specialist Russell Baer will reflect on a moment during which he contemplates shooting at his own men to put an end to the deadly chaos: “You could see rounds impacting all around us… they just wouldn’t stop shooting. I came so close to shooting back at those guys. I knew I would be able to kill everyone of them with my SAW.” Although he does not act on his impulse, and is glad not to have, he will say “it didn’t seem like anything else was gonna stop them.” [Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
The Toll - When the shooters’ Humvee finally comes to a stop, the toll amounts to two dead—Tillman and the AMF soldier—and two seriously wounded—platoon leader Lieutenant Uthlaut and his radio operator, Specialist Jade Lane, who had been attempting to communicate with Regimental Command in Kabul from 100 yards up the road. Tillman is killed by three shots to the forehead. The AMF soldier dies of chest wounds. Uthlaut is shot in the mouth, Lane in the knee. [ESPN, 7/19/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Although an Army investigation conducted within a few days of Pat Tillman’s death (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 23, 2004) concludes that Tillman died due to his own unit’s “gross negligence,” shot three times in the head, this information is not given to the Tillman family for several weeks. Not until after a televised memorial service is held do Tillman relatives and the American public learn that Tillman died under “friendly,” not enemy fire. It will be another year before the Washington Post breaks the story that Tillman’s fellow Rangers had reported details of a friendly fire incident immediately and that US Army local command and top officials knew the truth well in advance of the family, but deliberately chose not to share it. A report consisting of 2,000 pages of investigative material, made by Brigadier General Gary M. Jones at the request of Tillman’s family and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), will reveal that Army commanders know the results of an initial, in-house investigation days before the memorial at which they award Tillman the Silver Star. [Washington Post, 5/4/2005]
Specialist Pat Tillman marching in
graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, GA. [Source: National Ledger]The Pentagon reports that Army Ranger Pat Tillman has died in combat with enemy fighters in Afghanistan. Tillman gave up a multi-million dollar NFL contract to fight against al-Qaeda ( seeMay 23-June 1, 2002, and was was perhaps the most well-known US soldier in the Middle East. [Rich, 2006]
White House Calls Tillman Death "Ultimate Sacrifice" - In a statement made a day after Tillman’s death, Taylor Goss, a White House spokesman, says: “Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush.” [MSNBC, 4/26/2004]
Military Spokesman Tells NBC Tillman Died at Hands of Enemy - According to Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Beevers, Tillman died at the hand of enemy fighters in an ambush near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pentagon will release more details of Tillman’s death a week later. [Rich, 2006]
The Silver Star. [Source: Pat Dollard (.com)]The Pentagon awards Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who it claims died at the hand of the Taliban a week before (see April 23, 2004), a posthumous Silver Star for conspicuous bravery under enemy fire. It also releases more details of Tillman’s death. According to an Army press release, Tillman had stormed an enemy-occupied hill trying to save fellow soldiers pinned down by enemy fire: “Through the fire, Tillman’s voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to enemy forces emplaced on the dominating high ground [even as he] personally provided suppressive fire with an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun.” Weeks later, the Pentagon’s story will prove to be completely false. Tillman actually died from friendly fire. [Rich, 2006, pp. 124]
Coalition Joint Task Force-7, an Army command in Afghanistan, is still operating under rules of interrogation issued by CENTCOM commander General Ricardo Sanchez in September 2003 and rescinded in October 2003 (see October 12, 2003). This information comes from a report issued by Brigadier General Richard Formica (see November 2004) and from documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (see July 10, 2006). The September 2003 rules allowed for the use of attack dogs, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and “environmental manipulation”—subjecting prisoners to extremes of heat and cold. In February 2004, a JTF-7 officer asked in a memo: “Can you verify that this [the September Sanchez memo] is a valid, signed policy? If not, can you send me (or steer me toward) the current policy?” The officer received a reply consisting of another copy of the September memo. On May 16, 2004, unit commanders become aware that the September memo had been superceded by reading news reports. [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2006] According to the Defense Department, the September memo was “erroneously” provided to JTF-7. The Defense Department credits the Formica investigation for finding the error, which, Defense officials say, was “corrected immediately.… In the months between the policy’s creation and the investigation, some interrogations had been conducted using five unapproved interrogation methods, but none had resulted in abuse.” The official will note: “That’s the important point—we found [the error] and looked into it. When we discovered the error, we corrected it immediately.” [Armed Forces Press Service, 6/17/2006]
Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager tells reporters that the media will not be permitted access to secret detention facilities in Afghanistan, claiming that to do so would violate the prisoners’ rights under the Geneva Conventions. However in February 2002, the administration had denied “prisoner of war” status to all Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters captured in Afghanistan (see February 7, 2002) on grounds they were “illegal combatants.” Since then, the US has maintained that these prisoners are not protected by the Conventions. Nonetheless, Mansager explains: “Part of… spirit [of the Geneva Conventions] is to ensure that the persons under confinement are not subject to any kind of exploitation. It is the coalition’s position that allowing media into the facilities would compromise that protection.” [Reuters, 5/19/2004]
Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey Jr. releases a newly declassified Pentagon report that states that al-Qaeda “master planner” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was “very skeptical” about Jose Padilla’s dirty bomb plan when they met in Pakistan in March 2002, and suggested instead that Padilla bomb apartment buildings through conventional means. Padilla tells US interrogators later that he “proposed the dirty-bomb plot only as a way to get out of Pakistan and avoid combat in Afghanistan, yet save face with Abu Zubaida” (see May 8, 2002). He says he also had “no intention of carrying out the apartment-building operation.” Nevertheless, the release of the Pentagon report is apparently intended to draw attention to Padilla’s high-level al-Qaeda connection in an attempt to influence deliberations by the Supreme Court on the Padilla case. [Newsweek, 6/9/2004] Comey and other government officials admit that Padilla’s alleged confession can never be used as evidence in court, because Padilla made the statements without ever being informed of his legal rights. The government had consistently refused to discuss how Padilla was interrogated, claiming that to make that knowledge public would assist al-Qaeda in preparing countermeasures for other operatives who might be captured in the future. Defense lawyers and civil rights experts believe that the government may have used illegal methods in interrogating Padilla. The criminal charges eventually filed against Padilla will make no mention of the allegations of planning to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” or of any plans to blow up apartment buildings. [Newsweek, 2/28/2007] The release of the Pentagon report by the Justice Department is heavily criticized at the time as being an inappropriate interference of the executive with the judiciary branch. [New York Review of Books, 7/15/2004]
The chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, leaves his position. The official, known only as “Peter,” was appointed to the position a year earlier (see June 2003) and departs upon the completion of his tour. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
The CIA closes a prison known as the Salt Pit near Kabul, Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, the reason for the closure is that the road leading to the prison is unsafe. The facility is relocated to Bagram Air Base. The date of closure is uncertain, although a detainee was still being held there in late May 2004 (see May 29, 2004) and the prison’s closure is reported in November 2005. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005]
An official known only as “Spider” is appointed as the new chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan. Presumably, this occurs around June, when the previous station chief, “Peter,” departs (see June 2004). [Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] Spider will leave the position at some point, but will be reappointed in 2009 (see Summer 2009).
Bush, with Oak Ridge’s Jon Kreykes, looks at nuclear weapons materials turned over by Libya. [Source: Associated Press]In a speech given at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, President Bush defends the decision to invade and occupy Iraq as necessary for the nation’s safety. “Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq,” he tells listeners. “I had a choice to make. Either take the word of a madman, or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time.… We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder, and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them. In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take.” Bush is battling against recent findings by the Senate Intelligence Committee that showed his administration distorted and cherry-picked intelligence reports in its progress towards the invasion (see July 9, 2004). In his speech, Bush attempts to revise the rationale for invading Iraq. While the reasoning for invading was formerly the specter of Iraqi WMD imperiling the Middle East and even the US itself, now Bush asserts that invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the first action of a larger, three-pronged strategy for peace. The strategy is, he says, “defending the peace, protecting the peace, and extending the peace.” He says, “We are defending the peace by taking the fight to the enemy,” in what the Washington Post calls “a subtle reformulation of the idea of ‘preemption’ that has been a centerpiece of his foreign policy since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” Bush continues: “We have followed this strategy—defending the peace, protecting the peace, and extending the peace—for nearly three years. We have been focused and patient, firm and consistent. [The administration is] protecting the peace by working with friends and allies and international institutions to isolate and confront terrorists and outlaw regimes.” Both Iraq and Afghanistan are the beneficiaries of positive change, he says, as are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Libya. Most importantly, he says, “the American people are safer.” [USA Today, 7/12/2004; White House, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 7/13/2004] Reading about Bush’s speech, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraqi WMD, is bemused by Bush’s words. In 2007, she will write, “It was as if there were two wars: the one that the administration touted with pride, and the one that everyone else followed on their TVs and that wasn’t going as promised.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 184]
The Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for US Central Command (CENTCOM) says that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of torture methods against detainees in US custody (see December 2, 2002) rendered such methods legal for use in Afghanistan. According to the lawyer: “[T]he methodologies approved for [Guantanamo]… would appear to me to be legal interrogation processes. [The secretary of defense] had approved them. The general counsel [Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes] had approved them.… I believe it is fair to say the procedures approved for Guantanamo were legal for Afghanistan.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Officials at the CIA refer a case in which a detainee named Gul Rahman apparently froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) to the Justice Department for examination. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] The full name of the CIA officer who caused the detainee to die is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 ] The case is reviewed with an eye to prosecution by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, where one of the office’s top prosecutors works on it. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] This is apparently one of eight such referrals around this time. [New York Times, 10/23/2005] According to the New York Times, the Justice Department will be “reviewing its jurisdiction” in the case in May 2005. [New York Times, 5/22/2004] The department will decide not to prosecute in October 2005 (see Mid-October 2005), but will re-examine the case in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).
Dhiren Barot. [Source: London Metropolitan Police]Dhiren Barot, a Londoner of Indian descent who converted to Islam and fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is arrested along with about a dozen other al-Qaeda suspects by British authorities (see August 3, 2004). Barot, who uses a number of pseudonyms, including Abu Eissa al-Hindi, will be charged with several crimes surrounding his plans to launch attacks against British and US targets. Barot’s plans were discovered in a computer owned by al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in July 2004 and was helping US intelligence until his outing by US and Pakistani officials on August 2, 2004 (see August 2, 2004). Though Barot is not believed to be a high-level al-Qaeda operative, he has connections to some of al-Qaeda’s most notorious leaders, including bin Laden and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who, according to the 9/11 Commission, dispatched him to “case” targets in New York City in 2001. Under the alias Issa al-Britani, he is known to have been sent to Malaysia in late 1999 or very early 2000 by KSM to meet with Hambali, the head of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. According to the commission report, Barot may have given Hambali the names of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Barot may have traveled to Malaysia with Khallad bin Attash. Bin Attash is believed to be one of the planners behind the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Barot’s trip to Malaysia came just days before the well-documented January 2000 al-Qaeda summit where early plans for the 9/11 bombings were hatched (see January 5-8, 2000), though US officials do not believe that Barot was present at that meeting. British authorities believe that Barot was part of an al-Qaeda plan to launch a mass terror attack using chemical and/or radioactive weapons. Barot and other suspects arrested were, according to Western officials, in contact with al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, who themselves were communicating with bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders as recently as July 2004. [MSNBC, 8/20/2004] Barot’s plans seem to have focused more actively on British targets, including London’s subway system. In November 2006, Barot will be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes, and eventually sentenced to thirty years in prison by a British court. [BBC, 11/7/2006; BBC, 5/16/2007]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, USS Cole, Nawaf Alhazmi, Hambali, Dhiren Barot, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Almihdhar, Jemaah Islamiyah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Former president Bill Clinton questions the priorities of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” asking why the administration is issuing groundless terror alerts “[b]ased on four-year-old information” (see August 1, 2004). He asks rhetorically, “Now, who is the threat from? Iraq? Saddam Hussein? No. From bin Laden. And al-Qaeda. How do we know about the threat? Because the Pakistanis found this computer whiz [Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan and got his computer and gave it to us so it could be analyzed (see August 2, 2004). … [W]e basically are dependent on [Pakistan] to find bin Laden…to break in and find the computer people and give it to us because we got all our resources somewhere else in Iraq.” He continues to ask why Bush isn’t focusing on bin Laden: “Why did we put our number one security threat in the hands of the Pakistanis with us playing a supporting role and put all of our military resources into Iraq, which was, I think, at best, our number five security threat[?] After the absence of a peace process in the Middle East, after the conflict between India and Pakistan and all the ties they had to Taliban, after North Korea and their nuclear program. In other words, how did we get to the point where we got 130,000 troops in Iraq and 15,000 in Afghanistan? It’s like saying… Okay, our big problem is bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We now know from the 9/11 Commission, again, that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. Right? We now know that al-Qaeda is an ongoing continuing threat, even though when I was president we took down over 20 of their cells, they still had enough left to do 9/11, and since then, in the Bush years, they’ve taken down over 20 of their cells. But they’re operating with impunity in that mountainous region going back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan and we have only 15,000 troops in that country.…[W]e would have a better chance of catching them if we had 150,000 troops there rather than 15,000.” Asked if the US could have captured bin Laden in the days and months after 9/11, he replies, “[W]e will never know if we could have gotten him because we didn’t make it a priority….” [Canadian Broadcast Corporation, 8/6/2004]
The Independent reports that “there is mounting evidence that [Afghanistan’s] booming opium trade is funding terrorists linked to al-Qaeda.” The governor of Kandahar, in a joint press conference with a US general, states, “One of the most important things prolonging terrorism is drugs. We are 100 percent sure that some of the top terrorists are involved in drug smuggling, and eradication of this industry would not only benefit Afghanistan but would be a step towards eradicating terrorism [worldwide].” The Independent comments, “Patrolling US troops routinely turn a blind eye to opium farming and trading, ignoring poppy fields, and have recruited warlords suspected of being drug dealers to fight al-Qaeda.” Troops are explicitly told not to engage in drug eradication (see November 2003). It is believed that the US and allied military forces are overstretched in Afghanistan, and would face a violent backlash if they took more steps to confront drug trafficking. The Independent notes, “The drugs business is widely believed to have corrupted officials up to cabinet level, and many Afghans fear that they may have exchanged Taliban fundamentalism for rule by narco-mafias in the future.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has raised the possibility of using the 17,000 US soldiers still stationed in Afghanistan to take a more active role against the drug trade. [Independent, 8/14/2004] However, nine months later, no such change of policy will be evident. It will be reported that US and Afghan officials decided in late 2004 that a more aggressive anti-poppy effort is “too risky.” [New York Times, 5/22/2005]
Former Pakistani government official Husain Haqqani says that Pakistan, not the US government, may have originally leaked the news to the international press that Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant for the US and Pakistan, was a double agent (see August 2, 2004). The leak of Khan’s identity ruins his capability to provide information about al-Qaeda and allows senior al-Qaeda operatives to escape arrest. Haqqani writes that there are two possible reasons for Pakistan’s decision to leak such damaging information: either Pakistani officials were eager to demonstrate their success in penetrating al-Qaeda, or, more likely, that Pakistan wanted to curb the inroads being made into al-Qaeda in order to keep the terrorist group safe and functional. A second leak, from Pakistani intelligence officials like the first, fingered US officials for the leak. The US government accepted the responsibility for outing Khan because, Haqqani writes, administration officials were complicit in the leak, and because the Bush administration is involved in a twisted, mutually duplicitous relationship with the Musharraf regime of Pakistan: “ostensibly driven by the mutual desire for security, there is clearly a political element to the relationship related to the survival of both the Bush and the Musharraf governments.” [Salon, 8/17/2004] On August 6, 2004, former President Bill Clinton accused the Bush administration of essentially contracting out US security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Pakistan in its zeal to wage war in Iraq (see August 6, 2004). One consequence of the decision to subcontract the hunt for members of al-Qaeda to Pakistan is that the terrorists appear to be regrouping and regaining in strength. [Washington Post, 8/14/2004] Haqqani believes that the two have mutual political concerns: while Pakistan cooperates, to a point, in hunting down al-Qaeda members, the government of Pervez Musharraf is more secure. In return, Pakistani officials, known for their reticence, have lately been unusually forthcoming in issuing well-timed reports designed to help Bush’s re-election efforts. For instance, on July 29, just hours before John Kerry’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Pakistan’s interior minister, Faisal Hayat, held an unusual late-night press conference announcing the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man wanted for the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see July 25-29, 2004). [Salon, 8/17/2004]
Bashir Noorzai. [Source: DEA]Haji Bashir Noorzai, reputedly Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, was arrested by US forces then inexplicably released in late 2001 (see Late 2001). He lives in Pakistan with the protection of the ISI, but in June 2004, the Bush administration adds his name to a US government list of wanted drug figures. Concerned that he may eventually be arrested again, he agrees to hold secret talks with a FBI team to discuss a deal. According to author James Risen, “The message the Americans delivered to Noorzai was a simple one: you can keep on running, or you can come work with us. Cooperate, and tell us what you know about the Afghan drug business, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their financiers.” Arrangements are made for Noorzai to meet the FBI team in a hotel in the United Arab Emirates to finalize a deal. But the FBI team never arrives. According to Risen, “American sources add that the local CIA station in the UAE was so preoccupied with the war in Iraq that it was unable to devote any attention to the Noorzai case.” Noorzai eventually tires of waiting and returns to Pakistan. One US official familiar with the case says, “We let one of the big drug kingpins go, someone who was a key financier for al-Qaeda, someone who could help us identify al-Qaeda’s key financiers in the Gulf. It was a real missed opportunity. If the American people knew what was going on, they would go nuts.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162; Congressional Research Service, 1/25/2006]
A man thought to be Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Source: Al Jazeera]A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video on Al Jazeera saying that the “mujaheddin” (Taliban and al-Qaeda forces) are gaining ground in Afghanistan. Wearing a white turban and glasses and with an assault rifle propped behind him, he says that the fighters control the country’s south and east, and that their victory is “just a matter of time.” He adds: “The Americans are hiding now in trenches and they refuse to come out and meet the mujaheddin, despite the mujaheddin antagonizing them with bombing and shooting and roadblocks around them. Their defense focuses on air strikes, which wastes America’s money in just stirring up sand.” This is the first al-Qaeda video release in a year. [CNN, 9/9/2004]
Jonathan Idema (far right) and his colleagues interrogating an Afghan. [Source: Columbia Journalism Review]Four Afghans and three Americans, Jonathan Idema, Brent Bennett, and Edward Caraballo, are convicted of running a private jail in Kabul and torturing Afghans. The Afghans are sentenced to between one and five years in prison; Idema and Bennett to 10 years; and Caraballo to eight years. They were arrested in Kabul in July on charges of kidnapping, torture, and illegal entry into Afghanistan. The US government calls Idema a bounty hunter, and the Pentagon denies any ties with the Americans. But Idema says his work was approved by Afghan and US authorities. He also tells the court the FBI is setting him up. During the trial, however, Idema fails to prove that his actions were authorized by the US authorities. An unnamed US agency gave him a passport, he alleges, and a visa similar to those furnished to US Special Forces. He also claims, “while we were not in the United States army, we were working for the United States army.” He says he had hundreds of videos, photos, and documents that could prove his claims—but they were confiscated by the FBI following his arrest. In their defense, lawyer Robert Fogelnest shows a video of the Americans suggesting they have received an official welcome in Afghanistan. In the footage, they are officially greeted by Afghan officials upon arrival in Afghanistan. One of the officials present was the Kabul police chief. [BBC, 9/15/2004]
An unnamed secret CIA prison in Kabul. [Source: Trevor Paglen]The New York Times reports the existence of a secret CIA detention facility housed in a hotel in the center of Kabul called the “Ariana.” It is off-limits to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the number of detainees held there is unknown. A former Taliban commander, Mullah Rocketi, was reportedly detained there for eight months. He says conditions were reasonably comfortable and he was not mistreated. He was released in 2003 after making an undisclosed deal with his captors. Another Taliban leader detained at the Ariana since January 2004 is Jan Baz Khan, according to an anonymous US military commander. [New York Times, 9/17/2004]
Fourteen prisoners are transferred from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. They include Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a Yemeni security official who had foreknowledge of 9/11 and was seized in Egypt (see August 12, 2000 and September 2002), and Saifulla Paracha, a Pakistani citizen who was arrested and sent to Bagram in July 2003 (see July 2003). All the other twelve detainees had previously been transported to Afghanistan as a part of the CIA’s rendition program. [Knight Ridder, 1/11/2005; Grey, 2007, pp. 257]
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) opens a probe into the deaths of two Afghan detainees, allegedly at the hands of US Special Forces soldiers. The two men, Wakil Mohammed and Jamal Naseer, died on March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003, respectively (see March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003). Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, was being interrogated about his role in a recent firefight. While he was protesting his innocence, he was shot in the face by an American soldier. Naseer, taken into custody with seven other Afghans for interrogation about their supposed involvement with local Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters, died about a week after his capture, allegedly from repeated torture and abuse. Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti write, “Motivation for those arrests remains cloaked in Afghan political intrigue. The action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders, an Afghan intelligence report says.” While the Army apparently looked into the circumstances of the deaths shortly after they occurred, no official investigation was ever mounted until the Crimes of War Project began its own investigation into the deaths. When the organization released its findings to two Los Angeles Times reporters, Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, and the reporters filed a series of articles on the deaths in September 2004, the CID opened its own probe. Former Attorney General for the Armed Forces Yar Mohammed Tamkin, who directs the Afghan investigation into the death of Naseer, concludes in his own report that there was a “strong possibility” that Naseer was “murdered as the result of torture” at the hands of his US captors. Under Afghan law, he writes, “it is necessary for our legal system to investigate the torture of the seven individuals and the murder of Jamal, son of Ghazi, and other similar acts committed by foreign nationals.” CID investigators say that the Army’s original inquiry into the deaths was stymied by a lack of information made available by the Gardez unit’s commanders. “We’re trying to figure out who was running the base,” says Army detective Christopher Coffey. “We don’t know what unit was there. There are no records. The reporting system is broke across the board. Units are transferred in and out. There are no SOPs [standard operating procedures]… and each unit acts differently.” Coffey does acknowledge that “Gardez is the worst facility—it is three or four times as bad as any other base in Afghanistan.” Naseer’s death was officially attributed to “natural causes” stemming from an apparent sexually-contracted urinary tract infection, and his death was never reported, as is standard Army procedure. Shortly after Naseer’s death, the other seven detainees were transferred to the custody of local Afghan police, who mounted their own investigation. The seven were released without charge six weeks later. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Two special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in Naseer and Mohammed’s deaths will be given administrative reprimands by the Army in 2007 (see January 26, 2007).
President Bush, campaigning for reelection, says in a speech, “And as a result of the United States military, Taliban no longer is in existence. And the people of Afghanistan are now free.” [White House, 9/27/2004]
Side profiles of Habibullah (left) and Dilawar (right). [Source: CBS]More than one-and-a-half years after the deaths of the Afghan detainees Mullah Habibullah (see November 30-December 3, 2002) and Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), the US Army Criminal Investigation Command completes its investigation of the two cases. It finds that 28 military personnel, including two captains, were involved in the incident. The perpetrators could be charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault, and conspiracy. A Pentagon official says five or six of the soldiers will likely be charged with the most serious offenses. The investigation concludes that “multiple soldiers” beat Dilawar and Habibullah, using mostly their knees. It is likely, according to Pentagon officials, that the beatings were concentrated on the legs of the detainees, so that wounds would be less visible. Amnesty International severely criticizes the long duration of the investigation. “The failure to promptly account for the prisoners’ deaths indicates a chilling disregard for the value of human life and may have laid the groundwork for further abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere,” says Jumana Musa of Amnesty International USA. [New York Times, 10/15/2004]
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections
Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, releases a statement condemning the allegations of the abuse and torture of Iraqi and Afghan detainees; the statement coincides with a letter Leahy sends to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. [Pyes, 9/20/2004] In the statement, Leahy says that committee chairman Sen. John Warner’s efforts to investigate the scandals "remain… hampered by the leadership of his own party and an Administration that does not want the full truth revealed.… Despite calls from a small handful of us who want to find the truth, Congress and this Administration have failed to seriously investigate acts that bring dishonor upon our great Nation and endanger our soldiers overseas.… The Bush Administration circled the wagons long ago and has continually maintained that the abuses were the work of ‘a few bad apples.’ I have long said that somewhere in the upper reaches of the executive branch a process was set in motion that rolled forward until it produced this scandal. Even without a truly independent investigation, we now know that the responsibility for abuse runs high up into the chain of command." He accuses the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Senate as a whole, of falling “short in its oversight responsibilities.” He calls for a truly independent investigation into the torture allegations, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. He also calls for the US to once again begin following the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions. [US Senate, 10/1/2004] Sen. Warner’s office will later admit that Warner was pressured by unnamed Bush administration officials to “back off” investigating the Abu Ghraib abuses (see May 2004).
Hamid Karzai wins the first-ever presidential election with 55 percent of the total vote. Karzai has been the leader of Afghanistan since late 2001 (see December 22, 2001). There were 17 other candidates and the second place candidate finished far behind. Election officials say about eight million of the 10.5 million registered voters cast ballots. Forty-one percent of them were women. The election cost $200 million to hold and was arranged by the United Nations. [CNN, 10/24/2004]
Roughly around 2004, the CIA suspects that Osama bin Laden has moved from the mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan to an urban area in Pakistan. Marty Martin leads the CIA’s hunt for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004. After bin Laden’s death in 2011, he will say: “We could see from his videos what his circumstances were. In the immediate years [after bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora in late 2001] he looked battle fatigued and on the run. He didn’t look healthy. We knew he was moving. But where? We simply didn’t know. Then, he gained weight and looked healthy. I told my analysts, ‘He’s gone urban, moved somewhere stable and safe.’” [ABC News, 5/19/2011] The only publicly known video of bin Laden after December 2001 is one released in October 2004, so Martin presumably is referring to that (see December 26, 2001 and October 29, 2004).
Bobby Charles. [Source: State Department]Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles, who runs the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), has been growing increasingly concerned about the worsening drug crisis in Afghanistan. He starts warning his superiors that unless the problem is dealt with, it could “devour” the Afghan government. Charles pushes for a multi-faceted counter-narcotics program. One controversial aspect of his program would involve aggressive aerial spraying of Afghan poppy fields using a diluted solution of the pesticide known commercially as Roundup. To minimize Afghan opposition to the spraying, the program would be combined with an informational campaign asserting that the pesticide is safe and an aid package for alternative agricultural development. Further, the US military would begin counter-narcotics missions such as destroying drug labs. Secretary of State Colin Powell presents Charles’ program to President Bush and other top officials shortly after Bush’s reelection. Bush completely agrees with the program, even saying that he is determined not to “waste another American life on a narco-state.” However, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is firmly opposed to the program and, as author James Risen notes, “Time and again in the Bush administration, Rumsfeld simply ignored decisions made by the president in front of his war cabinet, according to several senior administration officials.” One month later, with Powell losing power as he leaves the Bush administration, Rumsfeld decreases support for the program, effectively killing it. Charles is told that he is now “highly inconvenient” and is pushed out of his job by the new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in early 2005. [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162]
Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. [Source: Al Jazeera]A US patrol allegedly nearly accidentally stumbles upon bin Laden. High-ranking
al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid will tell the following story to Omar Farooqi, a Taliban officer who later tells it to a Newsweek reporter. Bin Laden and his entourage is holed up somewhere in the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. A sentry spots of a patrol of US soldiers who seem headed straight for the hideout. The sentry radios an alert to bin Laden’s 40 or so bodyguards to remove him to a fallback position and supposedly there is even talk of killing bin Laden to prevent him from being taken alive. But the sentry watches the patrol move in a different direction without realizing how close they accidentally came to bin Laden. A former US intelligence officer later tells Newsweek that he is aware of official reporting on this incident. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]
Pakistani prime minister Shaukat Aziz meets with Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar in Delhi. Summarizing the meeting, Aiyar tells the press: “We did repeat what we have said earlier about using Pakistan as [a] transit corridor [for sourcing gas from Iran] creating mutual dependency [and]… we need to replicate such mutual dependency… in the wider trade and economic relationship between the two countries.” It has been reported that Washington is pressuring Pakistan not to enter into any sort of pipeline agreement with Iran. “The project, if it materializes, would also foreclose whatever prospects remain of the revival of the trans-Afghan pipeline project, which many still see as a raison d’etre of the US intervention in Afghanistan,” the Asian Times notes. [Asia Times, 1/11/2005]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visits Kabul, Afghanistan. During his visit Afghan President Hamid Karzai consents to Washington’s decision to establish nine more permanent military bases in the country. The bases, to be manned by 2,200 troops, will be constructed in Helmand, Herat, Nimrouz, Balkh, Khost and Paktia. In the provinces of Khost and Paktia, there will be two bases. [News Insight, 3/5/2005] Observers note that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had little choice in the matter given that his government’s continuing existence is dependent upon the private security forces provided by the US. [Asia Times, 3/30/2005]
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