Washington, D.C., September 13, 2010 - Pakistani tribal areas where Osama bin Laden found refuge were momentarily open to the Pakistani Army when "the tribes were overawed by U.S. firepower" after 9/11, but quickly again became "no-go areas" where the Taliban could reorganize and plan their resurgence in Afghanistan, according to previously secret U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive and posted today at www.nsarchive.org.
The declassified documents describe the consequences of these events. According to U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann, the 2005 Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan was a direct product of the “four years that the Taliban has had to reorganize and think about their approach in a sanctuary beyond the reach of either government." This had exponentially increased casualties as the Taliban adopted insurgency tactics successful in Iraq, including suicide bombings and the use of IEDs. Ambassador Neumann warned Washington that if the sanctuary in Pakistan were not addressed it would "lead to the re-emergence of the same strategic threat to the United States that prompted our OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] intervention" in 2001.
As current U.S. strategy increasingly pursues policies to reconcile or “flip” the Taliban, the document collection released today reveals Washington’s refusal to negotiate with Taliban leadership directly after 9/11. On September 13, 2001, U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin “bluntly” told Pakistani President Musharraf that there was “absolutely no inclination in Washington to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban. The time for dialog was finished as of September 11.” Pakistan, as the Taliban’s primary sponsor, disagreed. Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) Chief Mahmoud told the ambassador “not to act in anger. Real victory will come in negotiations… If the Taliban are eliminated... Afghanistan will revert to warlordism.”
Regarding the apprehension of Osama bin Laden, the ISI Chief said it was "better for the Afghans to do it. We could avoid the fallout.” Mahmoud traveled to Afghanistan twice, on September 17, aboard an American plane, and again on September 24, 2001 to discuss the seriousness of the situation with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Ambassador Chamberlin said that the negotiations were pointless since Mullah Omar “had so far refused to meet even one U.S. demand.” Chamberlin told Mahmoud his meetings with Omar were fine, but they “could not delay military planning.”
Despite the hesitancy of the U.S. to negotiate in the wake of 9/11, documents published here today indicate there has been some success in reconciling low-level Taliban figures into the U.S.-supported Kabul regime. One program, PTS (Program for Strengthening Peace) had “six regional offices and reported that over 800 former fighters had joined the program as of December 2005.”
The new materials also illustrate the importance of the bilateral alliance to leaders in both Islamabad and Washington. One cable described seven demands delivered to Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) Director Mahmoud by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage two days after the attack, while another reported Pakistani President Musharraf’s acceptance of those requests “without conditions” the next day. However, the documents also reveal fundamental disagreements and distrust. While Pakistan denied that it was a safe haven for anti-American forces, a State Department Issue Paper for the Vice President claimed “some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistani cities, and may still enjoy support from the lower echelons of Pakistan’s ISI.”
Islamabad was concerned U.S. military activities in Afghanistan would produce a hostile regime in Kabul. Just weeks before the anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance took the capital city with U.S. assistance, in a signed memorandum Secretary of State Powell told President Bush, “Musharraf is pressing for a future government supportive of its interests and is concerned that the Northern Alliance will occupy Kabul.”
The document collection published here today is part of a larger project at the National Security Archive to document the ongoing war in Afghanistan by obtaining U.S. government materials through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Highlights of today's posting include:
- September 13, 2001 – U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage gives Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) Chief Mahmoud a list of seven demands:
- Stop al-Qaeda at the Border;
- Provide the U.S. with Blanket Landing Rights to Conduct Operations;
- Provide Territorial and Naval Access;
- Provide Intelligence;
- Publicly Condemn Terrorist Attacks;
- Cut off Recruits and Supplies to the Taliban;
- Break Diplomatic Relations with the Taliban and Help Us “Destroy Usama bin Ladin.”
- September 14, 2001 – Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf accepts U.S. demands “without conditions.”
- September 14 – November 16, 2001 – Pakistan asks the U.S. to clarify if its counterterrorism mission is against the Taliban or just al-Qaeda and repeatedly asks the U.S. not to let the Northern Alliance take over Kabul. Throughout the 1990s the Northern Alliance was supported by foreign states opposed to the Taliban, including India.
- September 17 – September 24, 2001 – Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) Chief Mahmoud flies to Afghanistan twice to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar and discuss U.S. demands, al-Qaeda, and the future of Afghanistan. It is unclear if anything comes of these talks. President Musharraf replaces Mahmoud as ISI Chief in October 2001 and Pakistan and the U.S. move forward with military action against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
- Both Pakistani and American officials have doubts whether Pakistan has enough control over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] to combat Taliban and al-Qaeda-allied forces active in the region. A Pakistani military official calls certain sections of FATA “no-go areas” for the Pakistani Army.
- Pakistan denies anti-American forces are active within its territory, while the U.S. is certain “some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistani cities, and may still enjoy support from the lower echelons of Pakistan’s ISI.”
Document 1 - Islamabad 01462
A protected source tells U.S. officials in Islamabad "the Taliban are "here to stay,"" and despite U.S. objections, Pakistan "will always support the Taliban." It cannot alter this position for fear of “rebellion across the Northwest Frontier Provinces, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and indeed on both sides of the Pashtun-dominated Pak-Afghan border.” In talks held in January 2000 between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Taliban “President” Mullah Rabbani, “terrorism was brought up, but the talks were cordial and friendly, and that is what the Taliban remember. No one can dictate to the Taliban, [the source] declared; Musharraf understands this and would not seek to insist in changes that the Taliban cannot and will not deliver.” The informant also claims the “Taliban are growing, changing and moderating, and will continue to do so,” asserting they “have installed a strong system in Afghanistan” and “have support throughout the country.” The U.S. Embassy’s commentary on the validity of these claims are still classified and therefore withheld in this partially declassified version of the document.
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Turkmenistan and Pakistan Predict War, Even While "Working for Peace," In Afghanistan, and Continue to Support Taliban " March 13, 2000, Confidential, 10 pp. [Excised]
Document 2 – State 109130
U.S. Department of State, Cable, "The Secretary’s Lunch With Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar," June 22, 2001, Confidential, 8 pp. [Excised]
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has lunch on June 19, 2001 with Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar to discuss Afghanistan, U.S. sanctions and Pakistan-China relations. Secretary Powell encourages the Foreign Minister to explain Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan as “the United States and Pakistan have different perspectives about the Taliban.” Minister Sattar describes the Pakistan-Taliban "relationship as ‘reasonable, but not problem free,’ and listed points of contention such as: smuggling of goods through Afghanistan to Pakistan, Afghan refugee/migrant flows into Pakistan, and Pakistani fugitives in Afghanistan.”
Document 3 - Islamabad 04780
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Staffdel Focuses on Afghanistan at MFA," August 30, 2001, Sensitive But Unclassified, 8 pp. [Excised]
Less than two weeks before 9/11, U.S. congressional staff members meet with Pakistani officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad. Pakistani representatives tell the Americans “we don’t support, but inter-act with the Taliban,” explicitly denying “the ISI or any part of the GOP [Government of Pakistan] arms or otherwise assists the Taliban militarily. Rather, despite its misgivings, the GOP as a conscientious member of the UN is committed to support the UNSCR sanctions against the Taliban.” The Pakistani delegation find “many Taliban policies against woman personally distasteful,” but believe that such policies should not be taken out of context as “they reflect more a medieval Afghan mentality prevalent in Afghan society than mainstream Islam.” In response to American inquiries regarding what the U.S. should do in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials recommend engagement. “Change comes slowly; it is Taliban obscurantism, not Pashtun tribalism, that drives the war. ‘Doing business with people promotes change; corrupt the Taliban’ with aid and a reborn economy.”
Document 4 - Islamabad 05087
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Musharraf [EXCISED]" September 13, 2001, Secret - Noforn, 7 pp. [Excised]
Two days after the 9/11 attacks, newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin “bluntly” tells Pakistani President Musharraf “that the September 11 attacks had changed the fundamentals of the [Afghanistan – Pakistan] debate. There was absolutely no inclination in Washington to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban. The time for dialog was finished as of September 11.” Effectively declaring the Taliban a U.S. enemy (along with al-Qaeda), Ambassador Chamberlain informs President Musharraf “that the Taliban are harboring the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks. President Bush was, in fact, referring to the Taliban in his speech promising to go after those who harbored terrorists.”
Document 5 – State 158711
U.S. Department of State, Cable, "Deputy Secretary Armitage’s Meeting with General Mahmud: Actions and Support Expected of Pakistan in Fight Against Terrorism," September 14, 2001, Secret, 5 pp. [Excised]
On September 13, 2001 Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage meets with Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) Chief Mahmoud Ahmed (which can also be spelled Mehmood Ahmad, Mahmud or Mahmoud) in one of a series of well-known communications between Armitage and the ISI Chief in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Secretary Armitage tells General Mahmoud the U.S. is looking for full cooperation and partnership from Pakistan, understanding that the decision whether or not to fully comply with U.S. demands would be “a difficult choice for Pakistan.” Armitage carefully presents General Mahmoud with the following specific requests for immediate action and asks that he present them to President Musharraf for approval:
- “Stop al-Qaida operatives at your border, intercept arms shipments through Pakistan and end all logistical support for bin Ladin;”
- “Provide the U.S. with blanket overflight and landing rights to conduct all necessary military and intelligence operations;”
- “Provide as needed territorial access to U.S. and allied military intelligence, and other personnel to conduct all necessary operations against the perpetrators of terrorism or those that harbor them, including use of Pakistan’s naval ports, airbases and strategic locations on borders;”
- “Provide the U.S. immediately with intelligence, [EXCISED]”
- “Continue to publicly condemn the terrorist acts of September11 and any other terrorist acts against the U.S. or its friends and allies [EXCISED]”
- “Cut off all shipments of fuel to the Taliban and any other items and recruits, including volunteers en route to Afghanistan that can be used in a military offensive capacity or to abet the terrorist threat;”
- “Should the evidence strongly implicate Usama bin Ladin and the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan and should Afghanistan and the Taliban continue to harbor him and this network, Pakistan will break diplomatic relations with the Taliban government, end support for the Taliban and assist us in the formentioned ways to destroy Usama bin Ladin.”
Document 6 - Islamabad 05123
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Musharraf Accepts The Seven Points" September 14, 2001, Secret, 4 pp. [Excised]
After extensive meetings with ranking Pakistani military commanders, on September 14, 2001 President Pervez Musharraf accepts the seven actions requested by the U.S. for immediate action in response to 9/11. President Musharraf “said he accepted the points without conditions and that his military leadership concurred,” but there would be “a variety of security and technical issues that need to be addressed.” He emphasized that “these were not conditions … but points that required clarification.” Musharraf also asks the U.S. to clarify if its mission is to “strike UBL and his supporters or the Taliban as well,” and advises that the U.S. should be prepared for what comes next. “Following any military action, there should be a prompt economic recovery effort. “You are there to kill terrorists, not make enemies” he said. “Islamabad wants a friendly government in Kabul.”
Document 7 – State 161279
U.S. Department of State, Cable, "Deputy Secretary Armitage-Mamoud Phone Call – September 18, 2001," September 18, 2001, Confidential, 2 pp.
Traveling aboard a U.S. government aircraft, Pakistani Intelligence ISI Director Mahmoud Ahmed arrives in Afghanistan on September 17, 2001 to meet Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and discuss 9/11, U.S. demands and the future of al-Qaeda. Mahmoud informs Mullah Omar and other Taliban officials that the U.S. has three conditions:
- “They must hand over UBL [Usama bin Ladin] to the International Court of Justice, or extradite him,”
- “They must hand over or extradite the 13 top lieutenants/associates of UBL…”
- “They must close all terrorist training camps.”
According to Mahmoud, the Taliban’s response “was not negative on all these points.” “The Islamic leaders of Afghanistan are now engaged in ’deep Introspection’ about their decisions.”
Document 8 - Islamabad 05123
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Mahmud Plans 2nd Mission to Afghanistan" September 24, 2001, Secret, 3 pp.
ISI Director Mahmoud Ahmed returns to Afghanistan to make a last-minute plea to the Taliban. General Mahmoud tells U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin “his mission was taking place in parallel with U.S. Pakistani military planning” and that in his estimation, “a negotiated solution would be preferable to military action.” “’I implore you,’ Mahmud told the Ambassador, ’not to act in anger. Real victory will come in negotiations.’ ’Omar himself,’ he said, ‘is frightened. That much was clear in his last meeting.’” The ISI Director tells the Ambassador America’s strategic objectives of getting Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda would best be accomplished by coercing the Taliban to do it themselves. “It is better for the Afghans to do it. We could avoid the fallout. If the Taliban are eliminated ... Afghanistan will revert to warlordism.” Nevertheless General Mahmoud promises full Pakistani support for U.S. activities, including military action. “We will not flinch from a military effort.” “Pakistan,” he said, “stands behind you.” Ambassador Chamberlin insists that while Washington “appreciated his objectives,“ to negotiate to get bin Laden, Mullah Omar “had so far refused to meet even one U.S. demand.” She tells Mahmoud his trip “could not delay military planning.”
Document 9 – Memorandum for the President
U.S. Department of State, Memorandum, From Secretary of State Colin Powell to U.S. President George W. Bush, "Your Meeting with Pakistani President Musharraf," November 5, 2001, Secret, 2 pp. [Excised]
Signed by Secretary of State Colin Powell to President Bush, this memo highlights critical changes in U.S.-Pakistan relations since 9/11, including higher levels of cooperation not only on counterterrorism policy, but also on nuclear non-proliferation, the protection of Pakistani nuclear assets, and economic development. Powell notes that President Musharraf’s decision to ally with the U.S. comes “at considerable political risk,” as he has “abandoned the Taliban, frozen terrorist assets [and] quelled anti-Western protests without unwarranted force, [Excised].” Regarding Afghanistan, the Secretary tells the President that Pakistan will want to protect its interests and maintain influence in Kabul. “Musharraf is pressing for a future government supportive of its interests and is concerned that the Northern Alliance will occupy Kabul.”
Document 10 - Islamabad 06322
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Scene-Setter for the Visit of Senators Levin and Warner," November 16, 2001, Secret, 7 pp. [Excised]
Preparing U.S. Senators Levin and Warner for upcoming meetings in Pakistan, the Department of State reports “Pakistan’s cooperation in the military campaign against al-Qaida terrorists and the Taliban that supported them has been unstinting.” According to the Department, Musharraf “has held firm” against the opposition, including quelling protests, putting “five of Pakistan’s most important Islamist leaders under house arrest,” and making “key personnel changes among senior military officers to firm up support for the war on terrorism.” (This includes ISI Director Mahmoud Ahmed who was replaced by General Ehsan ul Haq in October 2001.) The congressional visit is important to Pakistan as the lifting of U.S. congressionally-mandated sanctions removed “the most important bilateral irritant,” opening the way for an impressive assistance package. “Bilateral aid has jumped from about $75 million multi-year to a planned program valued at well over $1 billion.” Pakistan nevertheless remains concerned about the costs of supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, as it copes with regional political instability and remains wary of the Northern Alliance. “In recent days, the GOP [Government of Pakistan] has emphasized that the Northern Alliance should leave Kabul a “demilitarized” city, in the control of the United Nations or the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference].”
Document 11 - Islamabad 06522
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "’New Think’: Our Long-Term Interests in Pakistan," November 30, 2001, Secret, 12 pp. [Excised]
Understanding the United States cannot pursue its counterterrorism agenda in Afghanistan without Pakistani support, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad encourages Washington to continue to supply extensive aid packages to help America secure its long-term regional interests. Suspicions about America are rampant in Pakistan as the embassy notes, “the message to us has been clear: ‘we helped you in Afghanistan twenty years ago, and then America walked away and deserted us.’ This mistrust runs high. Revisionism or not, this is what the man on the street -- and particularly the younger generation -- appears to believe.” Nevertheless “it is in our U.S. interest to demonstrate to the Pakistani people that we are a long-term partner,” in order to convince them to support a government in Islamabad that is pro-American. According to the memo the best way to accomplish this ambitious agenda is “though judicious use of our most effective foreign policy tool: foreign aid.”
Document 12 - Islamabad 09489
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "S/P Ambassador Haass’ Call on [Excised]," November 13, 2002, Secret, 8 pp. [Excised]
Richard Haass, Director of Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State meets with an unnamed Pakistani military official on October 31, 2002 to discuss U.S.-Pakistan cooperation a year after 9/11. Topics debated include the evolving situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan-India relations. The military official tells Ambassador Haass “Pakistan’s Army is totally committed to our shared goal of eliminating terrorism … but has a different view of the best means to achieve it.” He claims there are “no al-Qaeda safe havens In Pakistan and complained that operations based on bad information had produced negligible results and alienated the NWFP’s Pashtuns.” “Al-Qaeda’s presence in the [tribal] area was limited to transit; it controlled no [territory].” Ambassador Haass warns the official not to underestimate the challenge and reiterates the U.S. belief “that al-Qaeda and Taliban had been pushed out of Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s core was in Pakistan today … [The al-Qaeda terrorist] threat was as large as it had been on September 10.”
The Pakistani source tells Ambassador Haass the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are experiencing “conflict between the maliks (tribal leaders) and mullahs (religious leaders).” “The Mullahs were al-Qaeda sympathizers, but even they could not shelter al-Qaeda for more than a day or two… If al-Qaeda moved into Pakistan… the NWFP’s people would report them. Al-Shibh had been caught based upon information provided by locals.” U.S. operations in Afghanistan have allowed Islamabad to infiltrate certain hostile sections of FATA previously classified “No-Go Areas” for the Pakistani Army. During the Tora Bora Operation, “tribes were overawed by U.S. firepower across the border and had allowed the Pakistan Army to operate freely.” But the Pakistani Army “showed no reservations, taken risks, and ignored the sensitivities of the local people.” Now “that window [of freely operating in the region is] closed.”
Document 13 - Islamabad 00919
U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, "Impressions of Waziristan," January 25, 2005, Confidential, 4 pp. [Excised]
Providing a comprehensive summary of political conditions on the ground in Waziristan, Department of State officials conclude that Pakistan “faces a daunting military and political challenge in trying to drive foreign fighters from North and South Waziristan and an even greater challenge in integrating these isolated areas into Pakistan.” According to U.S. officials, Pakistani authorities, “on the ground were clearly committed to this challenge and willing to use all resources provided to ensure that it occurs. They were making unprecedented efforts in a difficult and unyielding environment and using an approach that appears to be slowly yielding results.” Efforts to locate foreign fighters and to move towards integrating the restive tribal areas into Pakistani mainstream political society have proven to be extraordinarily difficult, however. The transference of power from maliks (tribal leaders) to mullahs (religious leaders) has not only opened up these regions to foreign extremists, but has also made it increasingly difficult for Islamabad to co-opt or cooperate with regional authorities.
Note that Islamabad itself was once a crucial source for this trend toward religious parties, to the detriment of tribal authorities, as it funneled enormous amounts of money and influence in the 1980s into religious parties operating and recruiting from tribal areas for the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan. At the present, Pakistan may be trying to do the opposite by using favors to bolster traditional tribal authorities and to take influence away from political religious figures. As the cable notes, “over the long term GOP [Government of Pakistan] officials were convinced that development assistance was the only way to retain the loyalty of the maliks and ensure maliks’ authority in the tribes.”
U.S. Department of State, Issue Paper for Vice President of the United States (VPOTUS), “Counterterrorism Activities (Neo-Taliban),” December 9, 2005, Secret, 4 pp. [Excised]
Refuting the claims made by Pakistani officials in several of the above-referenced documents that there is no terrorist safehaven in Pakistan, this Issue Paper observes “some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistani cities, and may still enjoy support from the lower echelons of Pakistan’s ISI.” But the “insurgency is not monolithic.” Various insurgent groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) members, Haqqani and Jaish-i-Muslimeen have “varying agendas, and lack internal cohesion.”
The paper describes Kabul’s strategy for combating the insurgency as focusing “first on military action, second on the Taliban reconciliation process and third, improving relations and security cooperation with Pakistan.” The document also discusses non-military means of combating the Taliban as the State Department concludes “the Afghan Government’s program to reconcile lower and mid-level Taliban fighters has been moderately effective, but not yet realized its potential.” Some successes include the following:
The Program for Strengthening Peace (PTS) “which reconciles former Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) members founded six regional offices and reported that over 800 former fighters had joined the program, as of 2005.”
“The Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program has processed over 63,000 former combatants.”
“The Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) process began to work in June , focusing on vetting paramilitary candidates to ensure they had no ties to illegal armed groups (IAGs). The DIAG disqualified a number of candidates [Excised.]”
However, the Taliban are showing signs of resiliency, having adopted increasingly lethal tactics including suicide bombing, the use of IEDs, and assassination campaigns against tribal elders, religious leaders allied with the administration and local government officials.
Document 15 - Kabul 000746
U.S. Embassy (Kabul), Cable, "Policy on Track, But Violence Will Rise," February 21, 2006, Secret, 5 pp. [Excised]
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann notes that violence in Afghanistan is on the rise. The Taliban are adopting lethal guerilla tactics, the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) is infiltrating south into restive provinces such as Helmand and the increased frequency and depth of military, political and counter-narcotic operations should be expected to produce casualties. Nevertheless, according to the Ambassador, this increase in “violence does not indicate a failing policy; on the contrary we need to persevere in what we are doing.” Large unit force-on-force engagements devastated the Taliban in previous years, but “the Taliban now seems to understand the propaganda value of the [suicide] bomb and will use it to maximum advantage.”
Ambassador Neumann defends the importance of “our work with the GOA [Government of Afghanistan] to extend and deepen its reach nationwide.” “The Taliban need not be intellectual giants to understand that their long-term strategy depends on keeping the government weak in the provinces.” There are no indications that the Taliban are gaining popular support or recruits; nevertheless the insurgency is getting stronger largely due to the “four years that the Taliban has had to reorganize and think about their approach in a sanctuary beyond the reach of either [Kabul or Islamabad].” If this sanctuary is “left unaddressed, it will also lead to the re-emergence of the same strategic threat to the United States that prompted our OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] intervention over 4 years ago.” The Ambassador does see “more pressure – and intent – from Pakistan against the Taliban … but there are concerns about Pakistani capabilities.”