a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Saudi “humanitarian” among Al Qaeda detainees?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th January 2002

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

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“) 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“, and 11/21/2001, “72 virgins not enough, argue trapped Al Qaeda fighters” (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.

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Kunduz shopkeeper narrowly avoids insight

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th November 2001

From a vivid Times of London account of the fall of Kunduz:

Merwis Shakar, 25, a shopkeeper, said: “You would be beaten if you did not grow your beard or if you walked down the street with your head uncovered. The problem with the Taleban is they treated you like you were a woman.”

Pity a boy described in the same article:

At that moment seven Taleban emerged from their hiding place, firing a volley of shots and tossing a hand grenade. Panic swept through the crowd and several people were knocked to the ground in a stampede. The attackers were eventually subdued and led away with their elbows bound behind their backs with their black silk turbans, to join the other prisoners being held in subterranean cells at the Taleban’s former headquarters, a turquoise building with a rose garden south of the city.

The dungeons presented a nightmarish scene: inside one stinking, mud-walled cell, with a ceiling so low that its occupants needed to crouch, were a dozen or more men in deep despair.

In one corner was a shaven-headed boy small enough to stand upright. When asked his name he opened his mouth, but in his terror no words came out.

Many of the Taliban fighters (whether native or Pakistani), were probably kids like this, often straight from some madrassa, a sorry kind of Koran-thumping school that is the only taste of education for many in those parts. I don’t intend this note to condemn the war. It is right to destroy Al Qaeda and its Taliban co-conspirators, and thereby defend ourselves. But this child is almost certainly a victim, too. May he make it out alive, and may we not rue that day.

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U.N. to assist Al Qaeda in Kunduz?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th November 2001

From today’s Washington Post (Defectors Flee as Negotiations Resume):

“To avoid bloody battle inside Kunduz we will give them chance after chance to solve this through negotiation,” [Northern Alliance General Khan] Daoud said in an interview with Western reporters. He said alliance officials have contacted a U.N. representative and are discussing whether other countries might accept the foreign fighters as refugees. While the alliance wants to see the Taliban punished, he said, “we have no problem if another country accepts them.”

The story quotes a defector’s estimate of about 6,000 Afghan Taliban and about 10,000 “foreign militants” — another word for Al Qaeda forces. Another defector said:

“…we saw with our own eyes how the number of terrorists are increasing. We saw the bodies of 60 local Taliban killed by the foreign Taliban. They are not Taliban. They are foreign terrorists.

(emphasis added). By now our best allies in Kunduz may be the Al Qaeda troops themselves: they vow they’ll never surrender, and are shooting their Afghan “allies” on the (entirely justified) suspicion that they’re giving up. (As Bush promised, “we will turn them one against another.”)

Proposed game plan: (1) stepped-up bombing of Taliban positions in and around Kunduz; (2) read the riot act to Mr. Daoud et al: “no sheltering terrorists” goes for you, too, bub, if you get our drift (3) tell Kofi Annan he had better not lift a finger to save Al Qaeda terrorists in Kunduz, or he should expect massive angry demonstrations in New York City, encouraged by the White House; also, that we do not at all guarantee the safety of anyone escorting “foreign Taliban” out of Kunduz (4) leaflet the area with promises of cash rewards to Afghans who turn on foreigners inside Kunduz, and with specific instructions about how to help U.S. aircraft focus attacks on foreigners (5) ready overwhelming American ground forces to intervene in Kunduz, with the purpose of annihilating Al Qaeda forces there.

Update: Times of India: Three-day ultimatum to Taliban in Kunduz issued by the Northern Alliance.

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Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th November 2001

Forget Kabul: the really important story is happening at Kunduz, where a pack of Al Qaeda rats has been cornered. The trouble is, they may get out. From a Telegraph article (“Betray your comrades and you can live”, David Rennie):

Alliance commanders said they hoped that local Taliban would do their work for them and rise up against the thousands of Pakistanis, Arabs and other foreigners believed to be trapped inside Kunduz.

For the first time, commanders said that any foreign Taliban they captured would be handed over to the United Nations. […]

“But we will not permit the foreign Taliban to defect to our side. If they surrender, we will send them to the United Nations to show to all the world.” He said the opposition had made no attempt to contact the foreign Taliban and predicted a fight to the death.

He said:”They are very sinful. They will not submit. They will fight as long as they are alive.” The commander said the deal to betray the foreign Taliban, which would be in the tradition of Afghan double-dealing, could work in one of two ways.

“If the local Taliban want to attack the foreign Taliban inside Kunduz city, that would be easier. If the local Taliban want to defect to our side, then we will attack Kunduz.”

I don’t enjoy saying this, but a “happy end” in Kunduz is one in which the maximum number of Al Qaeda foreign legionnaires holed up there die: they are the pool from which future Mohammed Attas will be chosen. The trouble is, that’s really much more our problem than it is the Northern Alliance’s: they mainly want Kunduz, with as few casualties as possible. So they’re naturally more inclined to offer deals to achieve that goal.

Just in case the Al Qaeda types in Kunduz decide to take the Northerners up on this, it may be time for an e-mail campaign, high level pressure, and whatever else might work to convey to the United Nations: don’t you dare be a party to this. The UN has no business helping keep Al Qaeda terrorists alive. Ever since Bosnia, I have always expected the United Nations to play the most reprehensible role imaginable in a crisis, and I have rarely been disappointed. I haven’t seen reports yet that officials there are actively considering playing a role at Kunduz, but I doubt they will be able to resist the limelight.

(Monday evening) Maybe no need to worry: “U.S. rejects any deal for head of Taliban to flee Kandahar” (New York Times):

Mr. Rumsfeld said he also opposed any deal with forces holding out in Kunduz, where he said the fierceness of the fighting suggested they were not Afghans but members of Al Qaeda, the terrorist network run by Osama bin Laden, or people from other countries who have been supporting the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

“The idea of their getting out of the country and going off to make their mischief somewhere else is not a happy prospect,” he said. “So my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner.”

Good. If the Northern Alliance does decide to duck the fight, I feel confident any escapees will spend their last moments getting strafed and bombed by American aircraft. And no signs of U.N. involvement, either. Very, very good.

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