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Update: The Taliban File Part IV

Pre-9/11 U.S. Attempts to Drive Bin Laden Out of Afghanistan
Repeatedly Unsuccessful, Documents Show

Taliban Official Blames Saddam Hussein for U.S. Embassy Bombings
U.S. Provided Aid to Soviet-Era Mujahadeen, Did Not Directly Fund Bin Laden

The September 11th Sourcebooks

Update to National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 134

Edited by Barbara Elias

Posted August 18, 2005

For more information contact:
Barbara Elias: 202 994-7045 / belias@gwu.edu

Washington, 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 bin Laden.

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."

The Documents

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Document 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 in Afghanistan."

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 months."

Document 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."

Document 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.

Document 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."

Document 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, 5 pp.

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."

Document 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 Taliban rhetoric."

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.

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