Sunday, February 23, 2003

I have already (see here - item 5) noted the extremely peculiar story of how the Americans allowed the evacuation from Afghanistan to Pakistan by Pakistani planes of thousands of trapped al-Qaeda fighters. Sy Hersh has been interviewed on this topic, and offers the following revelations:

  1. The American forces were ordered to provide a corridor of escape where there was to be no firing on air transport from that area of Afghanistan to Pakistan.

  2. The order to allow for the corridor came from at least as high as Donald Rumsfeld.

  3. The stated rationale for the order was to allow for the evacuation of Pakistani military intelligence (the ISI), including some generals, who were trapped with the al-Qaeda fighters.

  4. Musharraf personally requested that the evacuation be allowed to avoid the huge political problems he would have had from the Pakistani fundamentalists should a group of Pakistani military be captured by the Americans.

  5. The escape route was supposed to allow for only the evacuation of the Pakistani military, but the Americans lost control of the evacuation and the Pakistanis also managed to evacuate the trapped al-Qaeda members.

There are also some interesting comments on Pakistan's role in nuclear proliferation, and even another shot at the Saudis, but I will focus on questions about the evacuation story:

  1. It doesn't surprise me that there were ISI agents with the Afghan fighters. The ISI set up the Taliban using CIA-supplied money and arms, and the Taliban remained an ISI project until the end. The issue that remains unresolved is the current relationship between the ISI and the CIA. American propagandists would have it that this once close relationship has grown somewhat frosty due to the influence of Islamic fundamentalists within the ISI. Indeed, the idea that Musharraf was influenced by fear of these fundamentalists within the ISI forms the basis for the creation of the escape corridor. I have trouble with this. While there may be fundamentalists in the lower ranks of the ISI, intelligence agencies always end up being run by, and on behalf of the class interests of, the elites in a society. The Pakistani elites are not Islamic fundamentalists. U. S. Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage is connected to the CIA and is also very close to the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies. The head of the ISI was actually meeting in Washington during the week of September 11, 2001, and met with Armitage on the 12th and 13th. The ISI remains very close to the CIA and attempts to create the illusion of distance between them are disinformation. Their current big project together is the management of the poppy production in Afghanistan, an operation which must bring back nostalgic memories of their joint campaign to use drug addiction as a weapon against the Russian troops in Afghanistan.

  2. Given that there were ISI agents mixed in with the Afghans, why couldn't the Americans have detained everybody and quietly allowed the Pakistanis to leave? In other words, the main rationale for the escape corridor, to allow the Pakistanis to avoid the embarrassment of having their intelligence agents arrested by the Americans, doesn't make sense.

  3. Just how serious are the Americans about fighting al-Qaeda? After all, the fight against al-Qaeda was the sole justification for the attack on Afghanistan, and is forming one of the tenuous grounds for the attack to steal Iraq's oil. If the Americans managed to trap thousands of al-Qaeda members, all of them potential terrorists, could they not have found some way to detain them? Even extreme embarrassment to Musharraf would be worth it to keep these people out of circulation.

  4. The Americans had to have known that they would not be able to stop the evacuation of the al-Qaeda members. There was no way they could have 'lost control' of the evacuation, as they never had control to lose. In fact, Hersh's earlier article on the incident quotes a CIA analyst who says that they were supposed to have access to the Taliban leaders who were smuggled out, access which the CIA never in fact received. If they were supposed to get access, they had to have known that these people were going to be airlifted out.

  5. This was not the only incident where fleeing al-Qaeda members were trapped by the American military and mysteriously allowed to escape. Near Logar, an al-Qaeda convoy of at least 1,000 cars and trucks, which may have included Ayman al-Zawahiri, supposed second-in-command of al-Qaeda, was allowed to escape. There is no Pakistani intelligence excuse for this.

I feel that Hersh is one of the best reporters around, but he has to protect his continued access to his sources by putting a bit of spin on the reporting. Nothing stops us from reading between the lines. The excuse that Rumsfeld authorized the corridor at the request of Musharraf is very flimsy. If al-Qaeda members escaped, it can only be because that escape was thought by Rumsfeld to be in the interests of the cabal which runs the United States.