CIA Led Way With Cash Handouts
Now in the helicopter, he had to worry through the 2 1/2-hour overflight into Afghanistan. A CIA man in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, was in regular radio contact with the Northern Alliance and had radioed that the team was heading in. But the radio link was not secure, and though the territory they were flying over was supposed to be controlled by the Northern Alliance, any Taliban or al Qaeda soldier with a Stinger missile or a Z-23 antiaircraft gun on a hilltop could have shot the Mi-17 out of the air.
Jawbreaker touched down in a landing field about 70 miles north of Kabul, in the heart of Northern Alliance territory, at about 3 p.m. local time. The team comprised 10 men -- Gary, a senior deputy, a young Directorate of Operations case officer who had four years in Pakistan and spoke excellent Farsi and Dari, an experienced field communications officer who had worked in tough places, a former Navy SEAL, another paramilitary operative, a longtime agency medic, two pilots and a helicopter mechanic. The men spanned nearly 30 years in age and were of different shapes and sizes. They wore camping clothes and baseball caps.
Two Northern Alliance officers and about 10 others greeted them. They loaded the gear on a big truck and drove about a mile to a guesthouse in a tiny village. The village had been cordoned off with a checkpoint at each end. The Alliance officers were nervous and wanted the team out of sight.
By about 6 p.m., they had their secure communications up. Gary sent a classified cable asking for some additional supplies. In the exuberance of the safe arrival and mindful of Black's request for bin Laden's head, he added a line to the cable requesting some heavy-duty cardboard boxes, dry ice and, if possible, some pikes.
Gary's first meeting that evening was with engineer Muhammed Arif Sawari, who headed the Alliance's intelligence and security service. Arif recognized Gary from the previous December, when, as deputy division chief, he had met in Paris with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader assassinated on the eve of the Sept. 11 attacks. Arif seemed to relax when he recognized him.
Gary placed a bundle of cash on the table: $500,000 in 10 stacks of $100 bills. He believed it would be more impressive than the usual $200,000, the best way to say: We're here, we're serious, here's money, we know you need it.
"What we want you to do is use it," he said. "Buy food, weapons, whatever you need to build your forces up." It was also for intelligence operations and to pay sources and agents. There was more money available -- much more. Gary would soon ask CIA headquarters for and receive $10 million in cash.
The Northern Alliance welcomes you, Arif said.
The plan, Gary said, was to prepare the way for the U.S. military forces. "We don't know how they're coming or how many, but we're looking at Special Forces, you know, small units, guys coming in to do operations and help you and help your army and coordinate between your forces and the U.S. forces that are going to come and attack the Taliban army. We need to coordinate this."
Great, Arif said.
The next day, Sept. 27, about noon local time in the Panjshir Valley, Gary sat down with Gen. Mohammed Fahim, commander of the Northern Alliance forces, and Abdullah, the Alliance foreign minister. He put $1 million on the table, explaining that they could use it as they saw fit. Fahim said he had about 10,000 fighters, though many were poorly equipped.
Mohammed Fahim, left, commander of the Norther Alliance, welcomed CIA assistance but wondered when U.S. attacks were "really going to start." (Brennan Linsley - AP)
"The president is interested in our mission," Gary said. "He wants you to know the U.S. forces are coming and we want your cooperation and he's taking a personal interest in this." He had secure communications set up with Washington, and, exaggerating, he said, "Everything that I write back home [the president] sees. So this is important." Without exaggerating, he added, "This is the world stage."
"We welcome you guys," Fahim said. "We'll do whatever we can." But he had questions. "When does the war start? When do you guys come? When is the U.S. really going to start to attack?"
"I don't know," Gary said. "But it will be soon. We have to be ready. Forces have to be deployed. We have to get things together. You're going to be impressed. You have never seen anything like what we're going to deliver onto the enemy."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company