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Posted: 2/24/2002 9:09:15 AM EDT
Los Angeles Times: These Spies Called the Shots in Strikes Against Taliban [url]http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-000014259feb24.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dworld[/url] THE WORLD These Spies Called the Shots in Strikes Against Taliban Members of a clandestine network risked their lives to gather information for expatriate leaders and U.S. bombers. By ERIC SLATER TIMES STAFF WRITER February 24 2002 KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Shivering in the dark outside his uncle's mud house, Nazak punched a number into a $1,500 telephone, angled the phone's antenna south toward a communications satellite over the Indian Ocean, and pressed "OK." "Salaam aleikum," rumbled a voice on the other end. "Peace be with you." "Salaam aleikum," the skinny, fine-featured 22-year-old replied in the Afghan style. "I have some coordinates." "Go ahead," the voice said. Nazak gave readings from a global positioning system that indicated the exact locations of several buildings housing Taliban fighters, munitions and armor on the west end of Kandahar. He detailed the approximate dimensions of the barracks and storage sheds and of the open spaces between them. He drew a verbal picture of the surrounding neighborhood of mud-and-straw huts. The men said good night and hung up. It was Oct. 5. Forty-eight hours later, U.S. bombs rained down, leveling much of the compound on the first night of the war in Afghanistan. Four years of dangerous work was finally paying off for Nazak, one in a network of spies who were keeping tabs on the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces, waiting for a chance to oust them. But his success would add to his peril, triggering Taliban manhunts for the enemies within. Much of the military campaign in Afghanistan has been hidden from the outside world. U.S. briefings on operations remain bare bones. The war largely has been conducted by warplanes thousands of feet in the air and U.S. special operations forces working unseen on mountaintops and in caves. Nearly three months after the collapse of the Taliban, however, details are beginning to emerge. And the tale of how the Taliban forces were driven from their stronghold turns out to be a spy story as well as a war story. The Pentagon acknowledged soon after its air campaign began that it was using detailed information from the Afghan opposition to spot Taliban and Al Qaeda targets. Defense officials say the Afghans were supplied with satellite telephones and other sophisticated equipment, and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has said their help was crucial to the success of the U.S. bombing campaign. -- continued --
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 9:10:41 AM EDT
But until now, the spotters' story has not been told. Nowhere in Afghanistan was a more natural venue for spies than Kandahar, the seat of Taliban power and probably the most difficult of all Afghan cities for an outsider to penetrate. The spies were at work well before the United States attacked. Nazak and others took mental notes and drew maps on scraps of paper, hiding them in walls or wrapping them in oilcloths and burying them in hayfields. Waiting for their day to come, they provided details of key military installations in this dusty city of dead-end alleys, open sewers and war scars. They tracked the movements of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. They worked in a cell-type intelligence structure, so even today most operatives know virtually nothing about others who were performing similar tasks. Each spy was directed by a single person. And most could only guess what that person was doing with the information. Nazak was under the tutelage of his uncle Abdullah Khyal, who was so trusted by the Taliban that he commanded a regiment. Khyal and other higher-level spies were delivering the information in person to Afghan tribal chiefs living as expatriates in Pakistan. Those leaders included now-interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and beefy, tempestuous Gul Agha Shirzai, the powerful pre-Taliban governor of Kandahar province who has since regained his post. After the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the tribal leaders began passing much of the information on to the U.S. military, according to many sources here. "We gave the Americans everything they wanted," said one source close to Karzai, who continues to take calls from operatives in several provinces and spoke on condition of anonymity. "Our people were telling us what needed to be bombed, and certainly we told the Americans." An Uncle Took Nazak Under His Wing By the time of the first U.S. strikes, Nazak already was a bitter enemy of the Taliban, and a seasoned operative. Like many Afghans, he has only one name. Nazak is a nickname; his real name is Hamdullah, but he never uses it. The young man learned political history at home, from his best friend and uncle, Khyal, 33. Sitting on red and purple cushions in the low-slung collection of mud huts shared by 25 members of his extended family, Khyal taught that the Taliban forces were pretenders to a throne rightfully held by Mohammad Zaher Shah, whose 1973 ouster in a military coup started Afghanistan on its long downward spiral. Although the Taliban had largely halted the rapacious abuses of warlords, the regime had quickly become fanatical, wrongly invoking the Koran to ban music, shaving, kite-flying, even cheering at a soccer match, Khyal told Nazak. Women were forced to cover themselves with the burka, and the Taliban beat them if the garment flapped open. -- continued --
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 9:11:31 AM EDT
Serious beyond his years, Nazak quickly came to agree with his uncle. "We were so upset with what was going on in our country," he said. "It was so shameful, so embarrassing. I wanted to die if I could help save my country." One day, the Taliban would be overthrown, Khyal promised. And he and Nazak would help. Nazak was 18--and the Taliban had been in power two years--when he began roaming Kandahar with a purpose. In his wanderings he saw Taliban leaders gathering at night at Zabar Bridge, south of the city. Sometimes he used a borrowed Yamaha 125 motorcycle; other times he drove the family's aging yellow-and-white Toyota Corolla. He had to return home by the 9 p.m. curfew. In front of Mullah Omar's estate, he noted, stood an evenly spaced man-made forest of desert pines that could make vehicles virtually useless in any attack on the reclusive leader. Kandahar's main prison was separated into three sections: one for those who violated Taliban religious edicts, one for common criminals and the last for political prisoners. Nazak donned the black turban of the Taliban on his outings, and he grew the fullest beard he could--though it was notably sparse. The combination of the turban and his wispy black beard actually seemed to improve his disguise. He looked young and naive--the perfect true believer. Sometimes Khyal, wearing his own secretly despised beard and turban, joined Nazak on his spy missions. When Khyal was along, the two could go almost anywhere: inside Taliban munitions compounds, into a trench system near the airport. From the beginning, Khyal had sought to gain the trust of the Taliban despite his family's known support of the former king. And he had succeeded. The Taliban rewarded him with his own military command of several dozen troops. When Khyal strode into a Taliban training camp to spy, the soldiers saluted him. When Khyal was not working with Nazak, he was sometimes scouting camps and barracks with a 25-year-old farmer named Aimal or a soft-spoken 28-year-old named Faiz Mohammed, who defused land mines for a living. "We used to go see military regiments . . . to count the soldiers and see where they slept," said Mohammed. "We got the [coordinates] for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and many other places. Usually we went on motorcycles. Sometimes [Abdullah] Khyal rode on the back of mine; sometimes he rode his black Honda 70." Nazak, back in a tiny room at his home, drew maps from memory and wrote out lists. And every so often, his uncle tucked some of those papers into his baggy shalwar kameez pants and shirt and made the full-day drive to Quetta, Pakistan, to deliver intelligence to Shirzai, then the most powerful of the Pushtun tribal leaders. -- continuted --
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 9:12:19 AM EDT
Quetta, a frontier town that has long been a haven for spies, plotters, smugglers, arms dealers and vacationing warlords, was also a dangerous place. Khyal's comings and goings were almost certainly noted. But virtually every Kandahar resident has family living either in a refugee camp across the border or in Quetta, and travel between the two cities was allowed. Well-Connected Karzai Also Had Operatives Meanwhile, Karzai, who had fewer soldiers but more political connections than Shirzai, was receiving reports of his own in Quetta. Many of them were funneled through the long-bearded Abdul Ali, who before the Taliban seized power managed the Kandahar radio station, and now does so again. It was early evening in Kandahar on Sept. 11 when the first hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 11, crashed into the north tower of New York's World Trade Center. Kandahar radio continued to broadcast its usual lineup of Koranic verses and religious lectures as the other planes crashed. Like many Afghans, Nazak and Khyal learned of the attacks by listening to the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Pashto-language news service on an outlawed shortwave radio. Bin Laden was almost immediately identified as the prime suspect. Their time had come, Nazak and Khyal realized. There would be a war against the Taliban. And they would help. Four days later, Khyal dispatched his nephew to Quetta for an emergency meeting with Shirzai, who had spent seven years in Pakistan waiting to return to the Kandahar governor's mansion. Nazak expected to receive guns or grenades. Instead, Shirzai disappeared into another room and returned with an Iridium satellite phone, a device the size of a large walkie-talkie. He showed Nazak how to use the phone and gave him a number beginning with 873, the code for another telephone using the Indian Ocean satellite. Shirzai also gave him a black hand-held Global Positioning System device and a miniature camcorder. The devices were purchased in Dubai, people close to Shirzai say, with money from wealthy Afghan expatriates. Using a small screwdriver, Nazak removed the radio from the dashboard of his Toyota. He slid the phone, the GPS unit and the video camera through the opening and screwed the radio back into place. The next day, he slipped back into Afghanistan. Outside his house, in a neighborhood of low-slung mud huts on the south side of the city, Nazak went to work. First, he cut a two-inch hole in the grille of the car and mounted the camcorder behind it. He wrapped the GPS unit in a shawl and buried it in a field. He took the phone to another uncle's house in nearby Gurgan, a rural area where no neighbors could see a man making a call. -- continued --
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 9:14:00 AM EDT
"OK, we will see you soon, God willing," Khyal said. "Don't worry." "See you soon, God willing," Shirzai replied. "Be careful." Without telling any relatives, Nazak and Khyal packed all the family's documents, currency, jewelry and other valuables into a ragged leather briefcase. The next morning, Khyal sent Nazak to pick up the Toyota from a relative's house. Khyal then went out, perhaps to pass on instructions or warnings to other operatives. As he walked along Shikar Pur Darwaza street, dodging rickshaws and mule carts, a pickup truck roared up and slammed on its brakes. Several Taliban policemen leaped from the back, aiming their rifles at Khyal and declaring him under arrest for spying. When Nazak returned with the car and walked through the wooden gate into the courtyard of his home, police were waiting for him too. They already had gone through the briefcase. Among the valuables he and Khyal had packed were papers containing handwritten GPS coordinates, sketches of Taliban buildings and the phone number with the telltale 873 prefix indicating a satellite phone. The beatings began almost as soon as they got to the jail. Working two at a time with truncheons or cables, Nazak says, police beat the bottoms of his feet until the skin was gone. They ordered him to confess to treason and to reveal where the satellite phone was. When he refused, they poured salt on his feet. The next night, guards moved to his back; the night after, to his head, using the cable to avoid crushing his skull. From his lightless cell, Nazak listened to the bombing and tried to guess what was being hit--the ammunition depot on the eastern edge of the city, the airport eight miles past that, the barracks for Taliban Regiment No. 2. Beatings usually followed bombings, with the proximity of the explosions dictating the severity of the blows. "They told me, 'You and your uncle are spies for America,' " Nazak said. " 'You are bringing this bombing.' " "We are Taliban," Nazak would say. Around Dec. 1, after more than two weeks of daily beatings, Khyal, a husband and father of three, died of the torture. He never talked. The Taliban hung his body in Martyrs' Square in Kandahar, leaving it dangling for three days to teach the citizenry a lesson. Part of the time, his body was wrapped in a banner that read: "Abdullah, son of Habibullah, inhabitant of Salehan, who had a satellite telephone and was giving information to the Americans, and was killing Muslims through the Americans." Nazak's beatings continued. He knew nothing about the death of his uncle. He was growing weak, but so was the Taliban. He could tell. -- continued --
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 9:15:04 AM EDT
Several of the spies fled the city after learning of Khyal's death. Ali took his satellite phone and headed north, linking up with Karzai. So did another member of his cell, named Hamdullah. Faiz Mohammed and Aimal, who worked for Khyal, made their way east and joined the troops of their tribal leader, Shirzai. The number of phone calls then dropped precipitously, both camps say. But the spies had already done their job. The Taliban was collapsing. "They kept saying, 'We won't leave you alive when we go,' " Nazak recalled. The Taliban forces fled Dec. 7 without carrying out their threat, after a fierce battle between Shirzai's troops and mostly Al Qaeda fighters at the Kandahar airport. Two days later, soldiers and family members carried Nazak from his cell. He asked about his uncle. They told him that Abdullah Khyal was all right, that he should sleep. The next day the family took Nazak to his uncle's grave. "He never told them a thing," Nazak said proudly. "The satellite phone was still at my uncle's house. We buried the GPS in the dirt. The video camera was still underneath the hood of our car. My uncle didn't tell them anything." Nazak still walks gingerly, his feet perhaps permanently damaged. His eyesight, which deteriorated badly from the beatings, has largely returned, though his hearing has not. The break in his aquiline nose is still visible. He seems to forget the names of friends. Shirzai rewarded Nazak with the command of 15 soldiers. Most are several years his senior. He takes them to the family home and shows them pictures of his uncle: the ones before the Taliban, when Khyal sported only a mustache; the ones with him in the middle of a flock of doves in Herat; the one, snapped by a cousin and printed in Pakistan, of a crowd watching Khyal's body hanging in the square and twisting in the dusty wind. "The Taliban are gone," Nazak said. "My uncle is very happy." * Few details of the war in Afghanistan emerged as it was being fought. This is one in an occasional series chronicling untold stories from the conflict. Times staff writer Esther Schrader in Washington contributed to this report. If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives. For information about reprinting this article, go to www.lats.com/rights.
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 10:08:15 AM EDT
Wow, what heroes! Quick, give the boy everything he desires! Eric The(VeryImpressed)Hun[>]:)]
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 1:50:28 PM EDT
Tha's a brave kid
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 2:52:16 PM EDT
A true patriot! They did for their country what would hope to do for mine in time of need. Thank you for the post.
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 6:19:54 PM EDT
Originally Posted By MDS: A true patriot! They did for their country what would hope to do for mine in time of need. Thank you for the post.
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The kid had balls, I wonder how many of us would have the same determination and sacrifices. We are so spoiled and take things for granted that here in the USA that only 25% of the eligible population actually vote.
Link Posted: 2/24/2002 6:37:49 PM EDT
The heart of a man belongs to God, if he only realizes it. These men know the highest truth...."It was for freedoms sake that Christ set us free!" Fight the "Axis of Control"
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