Calling all pedantic obsessives who read the Samizdata.
I have had two e-mails from eagle-eyed blog readers with way too much time in their hands. Both asked me why I have been referring to Northern Alliance General Daoud Khan as General Daoud whilst calling other Generals by their surnames (i.e. General Dostam, General Musharraf, General Franks)?
Well, because everyone else has been calling him General Daoud.
But that got me thinking…why?
Then I realised the answer: the surname name Khan in that part of the world is rather like Smith in the English speaking world. There are two Generals called Khan in the Northern Alliance: The Tajik Daoud Khan from the Panshir Valley (who just captured Konduz) and the Herati Ismail Khan from Herat in the north-west of Afghanistan (who captured Herat from the Taliban a few weeks ago).
So now you know.
… don’t leave home without ‘em.
For many years, some elements within the US military have argued that due to the range of modern jet fighters and the advent of in-flight refueling, the era of the aircraft carrier is over. The resources for these vasty expensive assets would be better spent on the USAF. Similarly the US Marine Corps is a force without a mission. Why bother with seaborne forces when Rangers etc. can be flown to a target from land bases?
Well, as we can see, it was the USN F-18 and F-14’s that gained air superiority over Afghanistan, not the USAF… and it is the USMC, which is part of the Navy, that has been airlifted off aircraft carriers and helicopter carriers into a land locked central Asian theatre of operations. This was in fact the longest range combat helicopter insertion in military history.
Hopefully this will once and for all put paid to the idea that either large aircraft carriers or the US Marine Corps are a waste of resources. For strategic, operational and tactical flexibility, with the ability to respond to unexpected threats in unexpected places, the USMC and the aircraft carrier are the perfect tools.
…with advance apologies to a certain nameless Reuters reporter who occasionally posts his own articles to the Samizdata.
This little gem was pointed out to us by Mathew Drachenberg on the hilarious satirical U Thant.com site (recommended). As you might know, Reuters have been heavily criticised for refusing to call Al Qaeda ‘terrorists':
NEWSFLASH! 12:00PM 11/20/01
Reuters Journalists Die in Taliban Ambush
Reuters reports that “so-called murderers” may have “in the opinion of some Westerners, killed” individuals that “Reuters claims were journalists.” Witnesses say that the journalists had no warning of the impending irony before the terrorists shot them.
This Teheran Times story says that two of their nuclear scientists have been rearrested on suspicion of something or other to do with Afghanistan. Can the two stories be linked?
An article by Tunku Varadarajan, deputy editorial features editor of The Wall Street Journal, discusses this strange incident.
Yesterday, in a conversation with a highly placed diplomat from the region, I learned enough to be able to assert that all these reports are entirely correct. Pakistani air force helicopters and transport craft did, indeed, ferry out nearly 200 regular men and officers of the Pakistan army–including two brigadiers. A large number of ex-servicemen were also evacuated in this manner. According to the diplomat, “this could not have been done without the specific approval and connivance of the Bush administration.” The U.S. controls the skies over Kunduz, and it is unlikely that Pakistani craft would have flown into the zone without attracting U.S. attention.
So there does seem to be mounting evidence that not only is the whole incident now a certainty but that it was mounted by the Pakistani airforce.
Varadarajan also asks:
This affair raises intriguing, and worrying, questions. First: What were these Pakistani soldiers doing in Kunduz? And second, why did the U.S. choose to turn a blind eye to their rescue?
Frankly the answer to that seems pretty obvious to me. Let’s examine what we know so far.
The first report of this astonishing tale came prior to the fall of Konduz from forward combat elements of General Daoud’s Northern Alliance army, who were telling David Chater of SkyNews that there were aircraft flying in and out of Konduz at night. Chater is actually by far the best source we have so far as not only was he in Konduz hard on the heals of the lead elements of the Northern Alliance, but immediately started interviewing everyone who would stand still long enough for him to stick a microphone in their face. People in Konduz all confirmed the basic facts of the flights to him but everyone had wildly different ideas as to what it all meant. However the general consensus in Konduz was that the people being evacuated were the hardcore Al Qaeda fighters. Chater even interviewed the rather grumpy General Daoud Khan himself, who was none too pleased about what had happened. Daoud’s remarks that it is was the Pakistani Airforce were the first fairly authoritative comments we heard (live over the satellite). The fact ground fire from his forces had driven off the attempt to mount a fourth sortie indicates that if he was privy to what was happening (and it seems he probably was), he was sure as hell not going to cooperate regardless of what deal the USA and Pakistan had struck. It must be remembered that Daoud regards Pakistan as his sworn enemies. This is because without the machinations of the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service), the Taliban would have never taken over Afghanistan in the first place. Afghan warlords are not known for their forgiving nature.
Ok, so where does that leave us? If Debka are correct about the presence of a significant ISI and Pakistani army presence trapped in the Konduz-Khanabad pocket (see previous article), the whole covert airlift starts to make sense.
It is clearly not in American interests to see Pakistan’s military ruler General Pervez Musharraf suffer any major political embarrassments: for better or for worse, the support or at least acquiescence of Pakistan is an absolute prerequisite for US military operations within Afghanistan. Thus the USA has no desire to see the Northern Alliance make major political hay at Pakistan’s expense by parading captured ISI people and maybe a few Pakistani army brigadiers in front of the world’s press. Pervez Musharraf took control of Pakistan in an army coup d’etat and thus it is upon the Pakistani army that his power depends. The last thing George W. Bush wants in Pakistan right now is for the Pakistani army to suffer a political humiliation. The only beneficiaries of that would be the Pro-Taliban Pakistani Islamic political parties
I am starting to suspect Al Qaeda did not get anyone airlifted out of the Konduz pocket and the only people who did get out were members of the Pakistani security services and armed forces. Of course I have no proof of that, but it is hard to see how anything else makes sense in view of what we know so far.
Debka are also carrying the story of ‘the great escape’ and have guestimated the sort of numbers of Al Qaeda who might have been in the Konduz area when the poop hit the fan and they decided it was time to get the hell out before Rashid Dostam and Daoud Khan of the Northern Alliance over ran the city. Whilst I often disagree with Debka‘s analysis on various issues, their guess in this matter seems as good as anyone else’s. However on their site above the article they show a picture of one of the larger Antonov transport jets. I simply do not believe that one of those could have been landed at Konduz on the dates in question. By all accounts (including remarks by Donald Rumsfeld during a briefing), the airstrip had been heavily bombed and given the close proximity of the Northern Alliance, clearly the late night landing would have been conducted with very minimal lighting.
If Debka are correct that there were actually Pakistani ISI personnel in Konduz, then they must have been frantic to get them out before they fell into the hands of Dostam or Daoud’s boys. Apart from the fact they would possibly die horribly, the prospect of members of the hated ISI being taken alive by the Northern Alliance would have been a severe political embarrassment for Pakistan.
However, mixed among these eager students, were several hundred Pakistani army officers and soldiers in civilian dress, as well as some 120 Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI service agents, representing Pakistan’s secret intelligence and logistical support for the Taliban.
After that batch is deducted, a total of 2,500 to 3,000 at most should have been found in the Konduz-Khanabad sector – Saudis, Gulf Arabs, Egyptians, Jordanians, Somalis, Yemenis, Chechens and Palestinians. Intelligence estimates before the Konduz siege put the Saudi extremist component fighting with al Qaeda at 500-700.
Well, if Debka are more or less right (and they are guessing like we all are) about the numbers, and if I am correct that it was a single Antonov An-26 doing these three sorties (and the aborted fourth sortie), then there are still a considerable number of Al Qaeda on the ground in Khanabad (near Konduz) who are probably not having a real good time at the moment.
An Antonov An-26 is usually rated for 40 passengers… assume in an emergency they pack in twice as many people (and from their point of view this was nothing if not an emergency!), and that Pakistan is going to get its own ISI people out first, that still leaves one hell of a lot of Al Qaeda boys well and truly up shit creek.
A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
– Edward R. Murrow
There is a great little observation on Instapundit noting the fact that militia is not automatically a dirty word to BigMedia(tm) anymore. A short but very interesting piece.
As several people actually have e-mailed the Samizdata to ask, “What’s an Antonov?”… the simple answer is a Russian made transport aircraft. The longer answer is that of the many types of Antonov, reports of the strange going on in Konduz have not specified what kind other than to say it was ‘a big Antonov aircraft’.
I take ‘big’ to mean it was multi-engined, which eliminates the smaller single-engined Antonov An-2 light transports. Likewise I think we can assume no pilot is crazy enough to try to land a large multi-engined jet on an unlit cratered dirt strip at night, so we can safely eliminate any of the large multi-engined Antonov jets.
My guess is that the aircraft in question will turn out to be an Antonov An-26. The Pakistani Airforce operates a single An-26 and it would be perfect for a rough strip landing under less than optimal conditions. My money is on that particular one being the specific aircraft involved in ‘The Great Escape’.
What little was reported in the US on the Antonovs was there were some aircraft sent by Pakistan to get out some Chechans and Pakistani nationals “working for the Taliban.” The impression was a bunch of unfortunate clerks caught in a bad situation and fearing for their lives petioned their government to save them from maurading liberators.
It was only mentioned briefly with no follow-up and no real details. Certainly no mention that it was a rescue airlift of combatants.
Personally, I’ve got to believe that the only way anything could have made the run four times was the US allowed it. This is supported by the fact the final flight was forced away by Northern Alliance ground troops – who obviously weren’t privy to the arrangement – and still managed to escape without fighter contact.
Theories abound on why we let them escape. A couple of my favorites are:
1) it was a political bone for our hard-pressed ally, Pakistan.
2) it will be a pretext to move on to phase two when the mainstream press suddenly discovers that, ” a large number of Al Qaeda and Taliban warriors who made a daring escape in the final hours before the fall of Konduz have been located in ____ (fill in the blank)”
It could be that Bush is very aware of the evil snakes still lurking in the political garden at home and sees this as a way to end run their upcoming machinations. Instead of widening the war, he will be simply following up on his promise to get “all those who aid and abet the terrorists.” On another personal note, there are a number of notables in both the House and the Senate that, given their to zeal to discredit Bush and the Republician Party, could reasonably be described with those words.
Only time and independent news reporters will tell.
The e-mails keep on rolling in. It seems everyone in bloggerland has an opionion on the ‘great escape’. One such view can be found at Fevered Rants (now that is a great name for a blog).
Thanks to those of you who pointed out to me that there was an article about this in the NY Times (free sign-up required) and that it was mentioned in Canada on CBC early on monday morning.
According to David Rennie in today’s Daily Telegraph, Northern Alliance General Daoud Khan is claiming the Antonov belonged to the Pakistani Airforce and the flights were done with US complicity…and he does not seem too happy about that. Mahmud Shah, a Northern Alliance soldier is quoted:
We had decided to kill all of them, and we are not happy with America for letting the plane come in
Well I’m with you on that one, Mahmud.
Perhaps allowing General Musharraf to send in his airforce to rescue some Pakistani citizens from coming to a sticky end was a way of throwing Pakistan a bone for their continuing support and access to their airspace. It will be interesting to hear the truth when it eventually comes out.
Judging from the number of e-mails I have received with theories of what the the hell might have happened, the story of the audacious escape by Al Qaeda terrorists from Konduz via covert airlift was interesting to many who read this blog. Yet what I really find fascinating is that the US media never did pick up on this story. I would be curious to hear from any Samizdata readers in America if this sorry tale was reported anywhere in the USA.
Now call me naive if you will, but I was under the impression the whole reason for the US involvement in Afghanistan was to apprehend or (preferably) kill as many members of Al Qaeda as humanly possible.
So how in the hell is the escape of three Antonov transport aircraft full of Al Qaeda fighters from Konduz not a major story? David Chater of SkyNews claimed in a new report that I saw at about 14:15 GMT today that the facts were corroborated by source after source within now liberated Konduz, so it really does seem to be a legitimate story. David Williams also mentions this incident in passing today in the Daily Mail. He reports speculation in Konduz that the aircraft were sent by Pakistan to evacuate trapped Pakistani Al Qaeda or Taliban supporters as part of some secret deal (with the US? With the Northern Alliance?). This seems to be just one of several conspiracy theories circulating on the mysterious Konduz airlift during the last days before the Northern Alliance took the city.
Granted, it is not the end of the world and hopefully the US military will catch up with these ‘gentlemen’ again sooner or later, but it is certainly not a trivial incident: so why the deafening silence? CNN have reporter Satinder Bindra in Konduz as well, yet all we get in his reports are soggy ‘human interest’ pieces like “I saw three dead Taliban on the streets today…” (cue video of dead Taliban soldiers covered in flies) and “A Pakistani is taken off in a truck, accused of being a Taliban supporter”…(cue video of terrified bearded Pakistani man being heaved into a truck by grim faced Tajik Northern Alliance soldiers). In short, clueless MTV style photo-journalism rather than serious reporting.
What on earth is going on here? How very curious indeed.