Saturday, March 13, 2004

Unasked Question Dept: Secret flights from Konduz

Rummy, you got some 'splainin to do...

"HERSH: Okay, the cream of the crop of Al Qaeda caught in a town called Konduz which is near ... it's one little village and it's a couple hundred kilometers, 150 miles from the border of Pakistan. And I learned this story frankly-- through very, very clandestine operatives we have in the Delta Force and other very...

We were operating very heavily with a small number of men, three, 400 really in the first days of the war. And suddenly one night when they had everybody cornered in Konduz-- the special forces people were told there was a corridor that they could not fly in. There was a corridor sealed off to-- the United States military sealed off a corridor. And it was nobody could shoot anybody in this little lane that went from Konduz into Pakistan. And that's how I learned about it. I learned about it from a military guy who wanted to fly helicopters and kill people and couldn't do it that day.

JANE WALLACE: So, we had the enemy surrounded, the special forces guys are helping surround this enemy.

SY HERSH: They're whacking everybody they can whack that looks like a bad guy.

JANE WALLACE: And suddenly they're told to back off--

SY HERSH: From a certain area--

JANE WALLACE: -- and let planes fly out to Pakistan.

SY HERSH: There was about a three or four nights in which I can tell you maybe six, eight, 10, maybe 12 more-- or more heavily weighted-- Pakistani military planes flew out with an estimated-- no less than 2,500 maybe 3,000, maybe mmore. I've heard as many as four or 5,000. They were not only-- Al Qaeda but they were also-- you see the Pakistani ISI was-- the military advised us to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. There were dozens of senior Pakistani military officers including two generals who flew out.

And I also learned after I wrote this story 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.

JANE WALLACE: How high up was that evacuation authorized?

SY HERSH: I am here to tell you it was authorized — Donald Rumsfeld who — we'll talk about what he said later — it had to be authorized at the White House. But certainly at the Secretary of Defense level.

JANE WALLACE: The Department of Defense said to us that they were not involved and that they don't have any knowledge of that operation.

SY HERSH: That's what Rumsfeld said when they asked him but it. And he said, "Gee, really?" He said, "News to me." Which is not a denial, it's sort of interesting. You know,

JANE WALLACE: What did we do that? Why we would put our special forces guys on the ground, surround the enemy, and then-- fly him out?

...The initial plan was to take out the Pakistani military. What happened is that they 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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