August 18, 2005 - The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan
told a top Taliban official in September 2000 that the U.S. "was
not out to destroy the Taliban," but the "UBL [Osama
bin Laden] issue is supremely important,"
according to declassified documents posted today by the National
Security Archive. The documents, obtained through the Freedom
of Information Act, show how years of U.S. diplomacy with the
Taliban, combined with pressure on Pakistan, and attempts to employ
Saudi cooperation still failed to compel the Taliban to expel
Harboring bin Laden, but hesitant to sever diplomatic ties with
the U.S. completely, the Taliban claimed there was insufficient
evidence to convict bin Laden of terrorism, going so far as to
say that Saddam
Hussein was behind the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings
in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
The newly declassified documents also show that State Department
officials rejected Taliban claims that the U.S. supported bin
Laden during the Soviet occupation. U.S. officials clarify that,
although Osama bin Laden may have fought with other U.S.-funded
anti-Soviet resistance groups in Afghanistan, "we
had never heard his name during that period and did not support
him at that time."
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1 - Islama 07510
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Pakistan: Ambassador Raises
bin Laden with Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed" October
6, 1998, Secret, 2 pp. [Excised]
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan William B. Milam discusses Afghanistan
and Osama bin Laden with Pakistan Foreign Secretary Shamshad
Ahmed. The Ambassador states that although there are a number
of "sticking points in our relationship [with the Taliban]
which we are willing to discuss, preeminently the status of
women and girls, there was one issue on which we had no flexibility.
This was the presence of Osama bin Laden and his organization
Ambassador Milam asks for Pakistan's help on the bin Laden
issue and stresses "that U.S. patience was growing thin"
and bin Laden's extradition was something the U.S. needed to
have "settled 'in a matter of days' rather than weeks or
2 - Islama 07841
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Usama bin Ladin: Coordinating
our Efforts and Sharpening our Message on bin Ladin," October
19, 1998, Secret, 7 pp. [Excised]
Coordinating with United Nations efforts in Afghanistan and
discussing ways to compel Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Taliban
to cooperate on the extradition of Osama bin Laden, the State
Department reiterates "that the U.S. reserves the right
to take military action concerning bin Ladin and will hold the
Taliban directly responsible for any terrorist activities bin
Ladin engages in."
The cable recognizes the need for increased pressure on the
Taliban for bin Laden, "before the U.S. strikes on Khost
- a wasting asset - become old news to the Taliban leadership,"
and also observes that Saudi Arabia needs to be "the cornerstone
of U.S. efforts to bring bin Ladin to justice."
3 - Islama 08369
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Usama bin Ladin: Taliban
Announce Cut-Off Date for Receipt of Evidence; GOP Official Says
Taliban Growing More Intransigent," November 10, 1998 Secret,
5 pp. [Excised]
According to two state department sources, including one Pakistan
government official, the Taliban continue to grow hardened and
more inflexible on the issue of extraditing Osama bin Laden.
Sources attribute the uncompromising Taliban position "to
press reports that the Saudi Interior Minister has exonerated
bin Ladin for involvement in the Khobar Towers and Riyadh bombings,
as well as Taliban frustrations that the U.S. had not provided
them any evidence" proving bin Laden's involvement in terrorist
activities. The Taliban also announced a cut-off date of November
20, 1998 for the submission of evidence against Osama bin Laden
to the Taliban's Supreme Court.
4 - State 220495
U.S. Department of State, Cable, "Osama bin Laden: Taliban
Spokesman Seeks New Proposal for Resolving bin Laden Problem,"
November 28, 1998, Secret, 10 pp. [Excised]
The Taliban Supreme Court announces there is insufficient evidence
to implicate Osama bin Laden in terrorist activities, but Wakil
Ahmed, a close aide to Taliban Supreme leader Mullah Omar, contacts
State Department officials, expressing that "Kandahar did
not believe that the bin Laden matter had been resolved by the
recent Taliban court ruling." Wakil mentions that video
evidence against bin Laden given to the Taliban by the U.S.
contained "nothing new" and was therefore not submitted
to the court.
In an extensive discussion with Alan W. Eastham Jr., Deputy
Chief of Mission to the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, Wakil observes
that "Saudi Arabia held the key to any resolution"
to the bin Laden issue, but the Taliban felt the Saudis were
unwilling to discuss bin Laden. He claims this is "unfortunate
because the Taliban had given the Saudis an authentic proposal
for resolving the bin Laden issue. . . . It was only Saudi pride
that stood in the way."
Wakil, claiming that "bin Laden had once been a trained
guerilla supported by the United States," is corrected
by Eastham, who clarifies that "while [bin Laden] may have
fought with a resistance group which had received U.S. support,
we had never heard his name during that period and did not support
him at that time."
While further questioning the culpability of bin Laden in the
August bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,
Wakil "observed that Saddam Hussein was the root cause
of all these problems."
5 - Islama 09222
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Usama bin Ladin: Charge
Reiterates U.S. Concern to Key Taliban Official, Who Sticks to
Well-Known Taliban Positions," December 19, 1998, Secret,
Wakil Ahmed, a close aide to Taliban Supreme leader Mullah
Omar communicates to Alan W. Eastham Jr., Deputy Chief of Mission
at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan that he has "personally
discussed U.S. concerns with 'Amir-Al-Mumineen' (Commander of
the Faithful) Mullah Omar," and the Taliban still consider
Osama bin Laden "innocent," adding, "It is unbelievable
that this small man did this to you."
Wakil further claims that the Taliban remain "deeply upset"
over the U.S. bombings of training camps in Khost and compares
the U.S. cruise missile attacks to a terrorist bombing. "The
U.S. said bin Ladin had killed innocent people, but had not
the U.S. killed innocent Afghans in Khost too? Was this not
a crime?" The cable quotes the Taliban official, "I
(Wakil said) consider you (the U.S.) as murderers of Afghans."
6 - Islama 05749
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Searching for the Taliban's
Hidden Message," September 19, 2000, Secret, 12 pp. [Excised]
A Taliban official whose name is excised from the cable surprises
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan William B. Milam by breaking from
the usual Taliban responses - even refraining from questioning
the validity of U.S. evidence linking Osama bin Laden to terrorism.
The Ambassador observes that the "tone and statements"
of the official remained "far less obstreperous than normal
Ambassador Milam clarifies for the Taliban official that "the
U.S. was not against the Taliban, per se, was not out to destroy
the Taliban," however that the "UBL issue is supremely
important and must be resolved so the other issues can be discussed
in a more amenable atmosphere. The one issue that cannot be
subordinated or diminished is bin Ladin. If the U.S. and the
Taliban could get past bin Ladin, 'we would have a different
kind of relationship.'"
The unnamed Taliban official in this document is probably Taliban
Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Jalil. Another declassified State
Department cable, Islamabad
05779, also dated September 19, 2000, reiterates
that a Taliban official who met with Ambassador Milam on September
19, 2000 requests "a follow-up meeting with U.S. officials
on or about September 30, probably in Frankfurt." A cable
dated November 9, 2000, State
215948, discusses meetings about bin Laden
held in Frankfurt, Germany on November 2-3 between senior U.S.
officials Alan Eastham and Edmund Hill and Taliban Deputy Foreign
Minister Abdul Jalil.