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Saudi “humanitarian” among Al Qaeda detainees?

At the end of an otherwise dispiriting article (“Al-Qaida PoWs revolt in Pakistan”), the Guardian reports [1]:

Fifteen detainees from Mazar-i-Sharif have been turned over to the US Marines at a new jail at the American base at Kandahar. […]

One prisoner is believed to be Abdul Aziz, a Saudi Arabian official of the Wafa humanitarian organisation, a US official said. Wafa’s assets have been frozen by President George Bush’s administration for alleged terrorist links.

Getting at the money, and understanding how it flows, is as important as rounding up Al Qaeda, so Aziz’s capture, if it indeed happened, could be a big break.

Our good friends the Pakistanis

But the rest of the Guardian story above paints a picture of a pretty leaky bucket when Al Qaeda types get to Pakistan, or within reach of Pakistan forces. The incidents described by the Guardian appear to be due to incompetence by the Pakistanis, but I have to wonder. In a similar vein, Seymour Hersh alleges in the New Yorker (“The Getaway [2]“) that Pakistani forces got a lot of their friends out with them as the Kunduz noose tightened in November.

In interviews, however, American intelligence officials and high-ranking military officers said that Pakistanis were indeed flown to safety, in a series of nighttime airlifts that were approved by the Bush Administration. The Americans also said that what was supposed to be a limited evacuation apparently slipped out of control, and, as an unintended consequence, an unknown number of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters managed to join in the exodus. “Dirt got through the screen,” a senior intelligence official told me. Last week, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld did not respond to a request for comment. […]

Indian intelligence had concluded that eight thousand or more men were trapped inside the city in the last days of the siege, roughly half of whom were Pakistanis. (Afghans, Uzbeks, Chechens, and various Arab mercenaries accounted for the rest.) At least five flights were specifically “confirmed” by India’s informants, the RAW analyst told me, and many more were believed to have taken place.

In the Indian assessment, thirtythree hundred prisoners surrendered to a Northern Alliance tribal faction headed by General Abdul Rashid Dostum. A few hundred Taliban were also turned over to other tribal leaders. That left between four and five thousand men unaccounted for.

Hersh has published a number of “insider” stories about the true course of the war now, generally of the “it’s not going quite as well as they say it is” tenor; I don’t know what his batting average will turn out to be. But if this is even nearly true, we may have really blown it at Kunduz. Why could we not have insisted those flights head to Uzbekistan under US fighter escort? “Good guys” would have gotten a ticket to Islamabad (and some thorough debriefing and photographing for future reference), bad guys a ticket to “Club Fed” in the lovely Caribbean. What alternatives would they have had? (“No, I’ll stay in Kunduz rather than accept such humiliation.” “Fine.”) As for Musharraf, I would think in some ways he might be pleased to have corralled and controlled some of his nation’s own wild and woolly military types, under the guise of “debriefing” or whatever.

Although hindsight is always 20/20, I really don’t understand the U.S. reasoning here — again, assuming Hersh got the story more or less right. We need the Pakistanis… because? Because we want to catch Al Qaeda. Where were the Al Qaeda? …. In Kunduz. Leaving out those who wound up in Mazar-e-Sharif, we seem to have had hundreds, maybe thousands of birds in the hand, that we seem to have traded for nothing in the bush.

For some coverage at the time, see my posts of 11/24/2001, “B-52 that airport now [3]“, and 11/21/2001, “72 virgins not enough, argue trapped Al Qaeda fighters [4]” (to explain, that was an attempt to poke fun at would-be martyrs suddenly eager to escape). Obviously not so much for my deathless prose, but the news links still work.