America’s War on Terrorism: Protecting Al Qaeda Fighters in the War Theater

Chapter 14
Protecting Al Qaeda Fighters in the War Theater

In late November 2001, the Northern Alliance, supported by US bombing raids, took the hill town of Kunduz in Northern Afghanistan. Eight thousand or more men “had been trapped inside the city in the last days of the siege, roughly half of whom were Pakistanis. Afghans, Uzbeks, Chechens, and various Arab merce-naries accounted for the rest.”(1)

Also among these fighters, were several senior Pakistani military and intelligence officers, who had been dispatched to the war theater by the Pakistani military.

The presence of high-ranking Pakistani military and intelli-gence advisers in the ranks of the Taliban/Al Qaeda forces was known and approved by Washington. Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI, which was indirectly involved in the 9/11 attacks, was overseeing the operation. (For details on the links of ISI to the CIA, see chapters 2, 4 and 10.)

In a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House, President Bush confirmed America’s resolve to going after the terrorists:

I said a long time ago, one of our objectives is to smoke them out and get them running and bring them to justice… I also said we’ll use whatever means necessary to achieve that objective-and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.(2)

Most of the foreign fighters, however, were never brought to justice, nor were they detained or interrogated. In fact, quite the opposite occurred. As confirmed by Seymour Hersh, they were flown to safety on the orders of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld:

The Administration ordered the US Central Command to set up a special air corridor to help insure the safety of the Pakistani rescue flights from Kunduz to the northwest corner of Pakistan…

[Pakistan President] Musharraf won American support for the airlift by warning that the humiliation of losing hundreds-and perhaps thousands-of Pakistani Army men and intelligence operatives would jeopardize his political survival. “Clearly, there is a great willingness to help Musharraf,” an American intelligence official told me [Seymour Hersh]. A CIA analyst said that it was his under-standing that the decision to permit the airlift was made by the White House and was indeed driven by a desire to protect the Pakistani leader. The airlift “made sense at the time,” the CIA analyst said. “Many of the people they spirited away were the Taliban leader-ship”-who Pakistan hoped could play a role in a postwar Afghan government. According to this person, “Musharraf wanted to have these people to put another card on the table” in future political negotiations. “We were supposed to have access to them,” he said, but “it didn’t happen,” and the rescued Taliban remain unavailable to American intelligence.

According to a former high-level American defense official, the air-lift was approved because of representations by the Pakistanis that “there were guys-intelligence agents and underground guys-who needed to get out.(3)

Out of some 8000 or more men, 3300 surrendered to the Northern Alliance, leaving between 4000 and 5000 men “unaccounted for”. Indeed, according to Indian intelligence sources (quoted by Seymour Hersh), at least 4000 men including two Pakistani Army generals had been evacuated. The operation was casually described as a big mistake, leading to “unintended consequences”. According to US officials:

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.(4)

An Indian Press report confirmed that those evacuated by the US were not the moderate elements of the Taliban, but rather “hard-core Taliban” and Al Qaeda fighters.(5)

“Terrorists” or “Intelligence Assets”?

The foreign and Pakistani Al Qaeda fighters were evacuated to North Pakistan as part of a military-intelligence operation led by officials of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in consultation with their CIA counterparts.

Many of these “foreign fighters” were subsequently incorpo-rated into the two main Kashmiri terrorist rebel groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of Mohammed). (See Chapter 2.) In other words, one of the main consequences of the US sponsored evacuation was to reinforce these Kashmiri terrorist organizations:

Even today [March 2002], over 70 per cent of those involved in terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir are not Kashmiri youths but ISI trained Pakistani nationals. There are also a few thousand such Jehadis in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir prepared to cross the [Line of Control] LOC. It is also a matter of time before hundreds from amongst those the Bush Administration so generously allowed to be airlifted and escape from Kunduz in Afghanistan join these ter-rorists in Jammu and Kashmir.(6)

A few months following the November 2001 “Getaway”, the Indian Parliament in Delhi was attacked by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. (See Chapter 2.)

Saving Al Qaeda Fighters, Kidnapping Civilians

Why were several thousand Al Qaeda fighters airlifted and flown to safety? Why were they not arrested and sent to the Pentagon’s con-centration camp in Guantanamo?

What is the relationship between the evacuation of “foreign fighters” on the one hand and the detention (on trumped up charges) and imprisonment of so-called “enemy combatants” at the Guantanamo concentration camp.

The plight of the Guantanamo “terrorist suspects” has come to light with the release of a number of prisoners from Camp Delta in Guantanamo, after several years of captivity.

While Defense Secretary Rumsfeld claims that the Guantanamo detainees, are “vicious killers”, the evidence suggests that most of those arrested and sent to Guantanamo were in fact civilians:

The Northern Alliance has received millions of dollars from the US Government, and motivated the arrest of thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan on the pretext they were terrorists, to help the US Government justify the “war on terror”. Some Guantanamo prisoners “were grabbed by Pakistani soldiers patrolling the Afghan border who collected bounties for prisoners.” Other prisoners were caught by Afghan warlords and sold for bounty offered by the US for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Many of the prisoners are described in classified intelligence reports as “farmers, taxi drivers, cobblers, and laborers”. (Testimony provided by the Lawyer of Sageer, see Appendix to this chapter by Leuren Moret.)

Whereas Al Qaeda fighters and their senior Pakistani advisers were “saved” on the orders of Donald Rumsfeld, innocent civil-ians, who had no relationship whatsoever to the war theater, were routinely categorized as “enemy combatants”, kidnapped, interrogated, tortured and sent to Guantanamo. Compare, in this regard, Seymour Hersh’s account in the “Getaway” with the testimonies pertaining to the deportation of innocent civilians to Guantanamo. (See Appendix to this chapter.)

This leads us to the following question. Did the Bush administration need to “recruit detainees” amidst the civilian population and pass them off as “terrorists” with a view to justifying its commitment to the “war on terrorism”? In other words, are these detentions part of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign?

Did they need to boost up the numbers “to fill the gap” resulting from the several thousand Al Qaeda fighters, who had been secretly evacuated, on the orders of Donald Rumsfeld and flown to safety?

Were these “terrorists” needed in the Kashmiri Islamic militant groups in the context of an ISI-CIA covert operation?

At least 660 people from 42 countries, were sent to the Camp Delta concentration camp in Guantanamo. While US officials continue to claim that they are “enemy combatants” arrested in Afghanistan, a large number of those detained had never set foot in Afghanistan until they were taken there by US forces. They were kidnapped as part of a Pentagon Special-access program (SAP) in several foreign countries including Pakistan, Bosnia and The Gambia on the West Coast of Africa, and taken to the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, before being transported to Guantanamo.

Moreover, two years later, in October 2003, the Bush adminis-tration decided to expand the facilities of the Guantanamo camp. Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), the British subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton was granted a multimillion dollar contract to expand the facilities of the Guantanamo concentration camp including the construction of prisoner cells, guard barracks and interrogation rooms. The objective was to bring “detainee capacity to 1,000″.(7)

Several children were held at Guantanamo, aged between 13 and 15 years old. Indeed, according to Pentagon officials,”the boys were brought to Guantanamo Bay because they were considered a threat and they had ‘high value’ intelligence that US authorities wanted”.(8) According to Britain’s Muslim News,”out of the window has gone any regard for the norms of international law and order…with Muslims liable to be kidnapped in any part of the world to be transported to Guantanamo Bay and face summary justice”.(9)

Going after Al Qaeda in Northern Pakistan

Also in October 2003, the Pentagon decided to boost its counter-terrorism operations in Northern Pakistan with the support of the Pakistani military. These operations were launched in the tribal areas of northern Pakistan, following the visit to Islamabad of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca.

The operation was aired live on network TV in the months leading up to the November 2004 US presidential elections. The targets were bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, who were said to be hiding in these border regions of Northern Pakistan.

Both the Pentagon and the media described the strategy of “going after” bin Laden as a “hammer and anvil” approach,”with Pakistani troops moving into semiautonomous tribal areas on their side of the border, and Afghans and American forces sweeping the forbidding terrain on the other”.(10)

In March 2004, Britain’s Sunday Express, quoting “a US intelligence source” reported that:

Bin Laden and about 50 supporters had been boxed in among the Toba Kakar mountainous north of the Pakistani city of Quetta and were being watched by satellite… Pakistan then sent several thou-sand extra troops to the tribal area of South Waziristan, just to the North.(11)

In a bitter irony, it was to this Northern region of Pakistan that an estimated 4,000 Al Qaeda fighters had been airlifted in the first place, back in November 2001, on the explicit orders of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And these Al Qaeda units were also being sup-plied by Pakistan’s ISI.(12)

In other words, the same units of Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI-which coordinated the November 2001 evacuation of foreign fighters on behalf of the US-were also involved in the “hammer and anvil” search for Al Qaeda in northern Pakistan, with the support of Pakistani regular forces and US Special Forces.

From a military standpoint, it does not make sense. Evacuate the enemy to a safe-haven, and then two years later (in the months leading up to the 2004 presidential elections), “go after them” in the tribal hills of Northern Pakistan.

Why did they not arrest these Al Qaeda fighters in November 2001?

Was it incompetence or poor military planning? Or was a covert operation to safeguard and sustain “Enemy Number One”? Because without this “outside enemy” personified by Osama bin Laden, Musab Al-Zarqawi and Ayman al-Zawahri, there would be no justification for the “war on terrorism”.

The terrorists are there, we put them there. And then “we go after them” and show the World in a vast media disinformation campaign that we are committed to weeding out the terrorists.

The timing of this operation in Northern Pakistan was crucial. “The war on terrorism” had become the cornerstone of Bush’s 2004 presidential election campaign. The Bush campaign needed more than the rhetoric of the “war on terrorism”. It needed a “real” war on terrorism, within the chosen theater of the tribal areas of Northern Pakistan, broadcast on network TV in the US and around the World.


  1. Seymour M. Hersh, “The Getaway”, The New Yorker, 21 January 2002.
  2. The White House, November 26, 2001.
  3. Seymour Hersh, op cit.
  4. Quoted in Hersh, op cit.
  5. The Times of India, 24 January 2002.
  6. Business Line, 4 March 2002.
  7. Vanity Fair, January 2004.
  8. The Washington Post, 23 August 2003.
  9. Muslim News, 11 March 2004. http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/index/ press.php?pr177
  10. The Record, Kitchener, 13 March 2004.
  11. Quoted in The South China Morning Post, 7 March 2004.
  12. United Press International, 1 November 2001.

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