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Context of 'May 13, 2007: Taliban’s Top Military Commander Killed'

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Reclusive top Taliban leader Mullah Omar says the Taliban would like to resolve the Osama bin Laden issue, so there can be “an easing and then lifting of UN sanctions that are strangling and killing the people of [Afghanistan].” (Waterman 4/9/2004)

Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, has a secret meeting with Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, considered to be the second-most powerful figure in the Taliban. They meet in a five-star hotel in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Grenier suggests that if the Taliban want to avoid the wrath of the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, there are several things they can do:
bullet Turn bin Laden over to the US for prosecution.
bullet As CIA Director George Tenet will later put it, “administer justice themselves, in a way that clearly [takes] him off the table.”
bullet Stand aside and let the US find bin Laden on their own.
Osmani and his team relays the offers back to top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but Omar rejects them. On October 2, Grenier has a second meeting with Osmani in a Baluchistan villa. He makes the new proposal that Osmani should overthrow Omar and then use his new power to get rid of bin Laden. This too is rejected. There are no contemporary media accounts of these meetings, but Tenet will describe them in his 2007 book. (Tenet 2007, pp. 182-183) Curiously, Osmani will be captured by US forces in 2002 and then let go (see Late July 2002). He will be killed in late 2006 (see December 19, 2006).

The Guardian reports that many in Afghanistan intelligence say former top Taliban officials are living openly in villas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least four top leaders who had been caught have been simply released. Yet another leader, wanted by the US for harboring al-Qaeda operatives at his compound, is able to escape a very loose house arrest in mid-December. Two soldiers were checking on him once a day. One intelligence source claims to know the exact location of many, and says they could be rounded up within hours. A former Taliban minister now working with the Northern Alliance also claims: “Some are living in luxury in fine houses, they are not hiding in holes. They could be in jail by tonight if the political will existed.” The US claims it is working hard to find and catch these leaders. (Chivers 12/20/2001; Carroll 12/24/2001) However, it will later be revealed that the US is aware of these Taliban living in Pakistan but will not seriously press Pakistan about them until 2006 (see 2002-2006).

Mullah Obaidullah Akhund.
Mullah Obaidullah Akhund. [Source: Public domain]Seven former Taliban leaders surrender to the Northern Alliance near Kandahar, Afghanistan, but are released. Two are on a US list of twelve most wanted Taliban leaders: Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi. Akhund “is considered by American intelligence officials to have been one of the Taliban leaders closest to Mr. bin Laden.” The US military denies reports of their release, but officials of the new Afghan government confirm the account and are unrepentant about it. They claim they are following through on an announced policy to grant amnesty to any Taliban leaders who surrender. CNN reports, “Though US forces expressed interest in the men,… they accepted the Afghan decision to let them go, and have given no indication they are pursuing them…” This follows other accounts of Taliban leaders being released in December 2001 (see December 24, 2001). A senior Pakistani official will later note, “Unbelievably, not one [Taliban cabinet minister] was killed, arrested, or defected to opposition forces during the two-month-long, nonstop bombing.” It appears that the highest ranking Taliban leader to have been killed or captured is the deputy foreign minister, who was killed in a bombing raid. (Baker and Khan 12/17/2001; Glanz and Lipton 12/20/2001; Graham and Sipress 1/10/2002; CNN 1/10/2002) Mullah Obaidullah Akhund will later become one of the most important leaders of the continued Taliban resistance. In 2004, it will be reported that Pakistan is allowing him and other Taliban leaders to freely come and go through Pakistan (see August 18, 2005). (Burnett 7/11/2004)

US Special Forces apprehend Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a top general and one of the six most-wanted Taliban, in Kandahar. He is flown to a detention center north of Kabul for interrogation, but is released a few weeks later and escapes to Pakistan. Contradicting the statements of many soldiers in Kandahar, the Defense Intelligence Agency says it “has no knowledge that Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani was ever in US custody in Afghanistan.” (Scarborough 12/18/2002) Curiously, the CIA took part in secret talks with Osmani over the fate of bin Laden (see Mid-September-October 2, 2001). Osmani will be killed in an air strike at the end of 2006 (see December 19, 2006).

Mullah Dadullah Akhund.Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Associated Press]Afghan President Hamid Karzai travels to Islamabad, Pakistan, and meets with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Karzai hands Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Quetta, Pakistan, and urges Musharraf to have them arrested. The list includes the names of senior Taliban leaders Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, and Mullah Akhter Mohammed Usmani. All are believed to be in Quetta. The list is leaked to the press. The Pakistani government denounces Karzai and denies any Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. The US government declines to back the list, even though the US embassy in Kabul had helped make it. Journalist Ahmed Rashid will later explain: “The Americans were already deeply involved in Iraq and wanted no distractions such as a cat fight between the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. [The US] was unwilling to push the Pakistanis, and the Afghans were angry that the Americans had allowed Karzai’s credibility to suffer.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 246)

Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani’s appearance on Pakistani television, June 15, 2005. Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani’s appearance on Pakistani television, June 15, 2005. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, gives an interview on Pakistani television, and says Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban. (Reuters 6/18/2005) Several days later, US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will criticize Pakistan, pointing out that if a TV station could get in contact with a top Taliban leader, Pakistani intelligence should be able to find them too (see June 18, 2005).

US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad criticizes Pakistan’s failure to act against Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, recently gave an interview on Pakistani television in which he said Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban (see June 15, 2005). Khalilzad further points out that Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi frequently gives interviews from the Pakistani city of Quetta, and asks, “If a TV station can get in touch with them, how can the intelligence service of a country, which has nuclear bombs and a lot of security and military forces, not find them?” (Reuters 6/18/2005)

Knight Ridder reports, “Nearly four years after a US-led military intervention toppled them from power, the Taliban has re-emerged as a potent threat to stability in Afghanistan. Though it’s a far cry from the mass movement that overran most of the country in the 1990s, today’s Taliban is fighting a guerrilla war with new weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missiles, and equipment bought with cash sent through Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, according to Afghan and Western officials.… The Taliban is now a disparate assemblage of radical groups estimated to number several thousand, far fewer than when it was in power before November 2001. The fighters operate in small cells that occasionally come together for specific missions. They’re unable to hold territory or defeat coalition troops.… The Taliban insurgents have adopted some of the terrorist tactics that their Iraqi counterparts have used to stoke popular anger at the Iraqi government and the US military. They’ve stalled reconstruction and fomented sectarian tensions in a country that remains mired in poverty and corruption, illegal drugs and ethnic and political hatred.” Most of the original top leaders were never captured. Some who were briefly held and then released, such as former Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund (see Early January 2002), are part of the resurgence. Forty-four US soldiers have been killed in the last six months. Afghan and Western officials claim that the Taliban continues to be supported by Pakistan’s ISI. Pakistan “seeks a weak government in [Afghanistan] that it can influence.” It is claimed that the Taliban are allowed to maintain training camps and arms depots just across the border from Pakistan. (Landay 8/18/2005)

In 2003, Afghan President Hamid Karzai presented Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with a list of Taliban leaders living openly in Pakistan, but Musharraf took no action in response (see April 22, 2003). In February 2006, Karzai and Musharraf meet again, in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Karzai again gives Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, is also at the meeting, and will later say, “It was a target list—locations, training camps, telephone numbers, and everything.” Musharraf responds by giving Karzai a report of the Indian government funding rebels in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan through Afghanistan. Western intelligence officials say India is funding these rebels, but not through Afghanistan. Musharraf again takes no action against the Taliban leaders living in his country. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2006; Rashid 2008, pp. 286)

In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, NATO supreme commander General James L. Jones testifies that the Taliban headquarters is in Quetta, Pakistan. The Taliban presence there has been widely known in intelligence circles since at least 2003 (see April 22, 2003), but this marks the first time a major US figure publicly acknowledges the fact. However, the US still is not pressuring Pakistan very much over the issue. For instance, President Bush did not even bring up the issue when he hosted a dinner recently for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. (Rashid 10/12/2006)

Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani.Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani. [Source: Reuters]Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a high ranking Taliban leader, is reportedly killed in Afghanistan by a US air strike. Osmani is easily the highest-ranking Taliban leader to have killed or captured since 9/11. He was in charge of Taliban operations in six provinces in Afghanistan. A Taliban official confirms his death a few days later. According to news reports, British and US forces tracked him by his satellite phone signal and bombed his vehicle once he was in an unpopulated area. (Smith 12/24/2006; CBC News 12/27/2006) Osmani was captured in 2002 but then apparently accidentally released a short time later (see Late July 2002).

Mullah Bakht Mohammed.Mullah Bakht Mohammed. [Source: Al-Jazeera]Britain spends more than £1.5 million (approximately $2.4 million) in Afghanistan in a scheme to bribe members of the Taliban to stop fighting and abandon their ranks. Yet the operation fails to persuade any significant Taliban members to defect, attracts mostly lower-level foot soldiers, and results in no decrease in fighting in Helmand Province. “It hasn’t had the results we’d hoped,” admits a senior British Foreign Office official, “though not for want of effort on our part.” The money is allocated in January and May through intelligence agencies and the UN-backed peace strengthening commission after the killings of two top Taliban commanders and ruling shura members, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani and Mullah Dadullah Akhund (see December 19, 2006 and May 13, 2007). The funds are disbursed with the intention of capitalizing on a dip in Taliban morale and anticipated defections referred to as the “Dadullah effect.” The money is used to “spread this message” and pay for housing and transport for any Taliban who decide to defect. The Sunday Times reports that efforts to use Dadullah’s death to warn others were likely undermined by the Afghan government’s release of five Taliban prisoners, including Mullah Dadullah’s brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, in return for a kidnapped Italian journalist. Mullah Bakht Mohammed is now believed to be commanding Taliban operations in Helmand. The Sunday Times report does not mention if or how the bribe money is accounted for, or if any of the money is diverted to Taliban structures. (Lamb 7/22/2007)

In early March 2007, the Pakistani government announces that a top Taliban official has been captured. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban’s former defense minister, was supposedly captured on February 26, 2007, the same day that Vice President Cheney visited Pakistan, which the Associated Press says “has been under growing international pressure to crack down on Taliban militants believed to seek sanctuary on its soil.” If so, he would be the most senior Taliban leader ever captured since 9/11. However, the Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick claims that one of its reporters interviewed him in Quetta, Pakistan on February 28, just two days after his supposed capture. SonntagsBlick writes, “The world press reported: top-Taliban imprisoned. At the same time he was sitting with a SonntagsBlick reporter having coffee.” (Associated Press 3/2/2007; Associated Press 3/11/2007) He was also reportedly captured by the Northern Alliance in early 2002 and then released with US approval (see Early January 2002).

Mullah Dadullah Akhund.Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Reuters]Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the Taliban’s top military commander, is killed in Afghanistan. The Telegraph claims that, “Since the Taliban’s ousting in late 2001, Dadullah emerged as probably the militant group’s most prominent and feared commander.” He often appeared in videos and media interviews. (Daily Telegraph 5/14/2007) He is only the second high-ranking Taliban leader captured or killed since 9/11 (see December 19, 2006). ABC News claims that 36 hours before he was killed, Dadullah said in a videotaped interview that he was training US and British citizens to carry out suicide missions in their home countries. US officials claim to have tracked him from this interview in Quetta, Pakistan, back to a Taliban hiding base in Afghanistan, then carried out a helicopter assault against his base. (Ross and Isham 5/14/2007) The Taliban immediately announce that his younger brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, will be his replacement as the chief military strategist (see June 5, 2007). (CBC News 5/14/2007)

A high-ranking Taliban leader says that Osama bin Laden is alive and well. Mullah Bakht Mohammed (a.k.a. Mansoor Dadullah) says in an interview with Al Jazeera: “Sheikh Osama bin Laden is alive and active. He’s carrying out his duties. The latest proof that he is alive is that he sent me a letter of condolences after the martyrdom of my brother.” Bakht’s brother, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, was the Taliban’s top military commander, but was killed in May 2007 (see May 13, 2007), and Bakht immediately took his place. (Al Jazeera 6/5/2007) In December 2007, the Taliban will announce that Bakht has been replaced as military commander due to insubordination. He will continue fighting for the Taliban however, and will be injured and captured by Pakistani forces near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in February 2008. (Pennington 2/11/2008)


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