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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


February 23, 2003

US Secretly Aided Al Qaida Mass Escape From Afghanistan

Transcript: Jane Wallace Interviews Seymour Hersh (2/21/03 - NOW with Bill Moyers [PBS])

During a recent appearance on the PBS program NOW with Bill Moyers, veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh discussed the secret role of top US policy makers in creating a protected corridor out of Afghanistan that permitted 3-5,000 Taliban and Al Qaida to escape to Pakistan. Hersh said his sources were members of the top-secret Delta Force operating on the scene near the village Konduz, including a helicopter pilot ordered not to fly an assault mission into the narrow corridor.

Hersh originally published the story in The New Yorker magazine. During the NOW interview, he revealed information he learned since the story appeared in early 2002.

In late 2000, US troops had cornered at least 8,000 Taliban and Al Qaida forces in the village of Konduz, about 150 miles from the Pakistan border. Just as US forces were closing in for the kill, an order came down from on high creating a narrow corridor from Konduz to the Pakistan border. The orders instructed US troops not to fire upon anyone travelling through the corridor.

Over the three or four nights the corridor was in force, at least six but possibly as many as 12 Pakistani military planes ferried 3-5,000 people out of Afghanistan through the no-fire corridor. Those who escaped included Pakistani military and intelligence personnel, as well as members of the Taliban and Al Qaida. Hersh went on to say that he has learned "that maybe even some of Bin Laden's immediate family were flown out on the those evacuations. We allowed them to evacuate. We had an evacuation."

When asked why the US would permit such an evacuation, Hersh replied, "We did it because the ISI asked us to do so." The ISI is the intelligence service of Pakistan. The ISI has maintained close relations with the Taliban and were even training members Al Qaida. "Musharraf asked, as a favor, to protect his [political] position. If we suddenly seized, in in the field, a few dozen [Pakistani] military soldiers, including generals, and put them in jail, and punished them, he would be under tremendous pressure from the fundamentalists at home." Musharraf was already facing strong domestic opposition for his support of the US invasion of Afghanistan, and his continued rulership was frequently seen to be in jeopardy.

Because of the sensitivity of the operation, Hersh believes the orders originated with Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Both Rumsfeld himself and the DoD have denied any knowledge of such an operation. Hersh said he personally asked Runsfeld about it. "And he said, 'Gee, really?' He said, 'News to me.' Which is not a denial, it's sort of interesting."

"The initial plan was to take out the Pakistani military," said Hersh. "What happened is that they [the Pakistanis] took out al Qaeda with them. And we had no way of stopping it. We lost control. Once there planes began to go, the Pakistanis began – thousands of al Qaeda got out. And so – we weren't able to stop it and screen it. The intent wasn't to let al Qaeda out. It was to protect the Pakistani military."

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