CIA Confirms American Killed in Afghan Prison Uprising

BY Admin  November 28, 2001 at 1:00 PM EDT

The CIA officer is the first confirmed American casualty inside Afghanistan since the U.S.-led strikes there began Oct. 7.

Addressing CIA employees this morning, Director George Tenet called officer Johnny “Mike” Spann an American hero and told his colleagues they should work to continue his mission.

“And so we will continue our battle against evil with renewed strength and spirit,” Tenet said, according to a CIA statement.

The agency has provided no details on the circumstances surrounding the death.

The 32-year-old Spann, from Winfield, Alabama, joined the CIA in June 1999 after serving in the Marine Corps. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Four other Americans have been killed in operations connected to the U.S.-led operation against the Taliban, but all died in accidents outside the country.

An end to the uprising

Northern Alliance forces meanwhile say they have put an end to the bloody uprising at the Qalai Janghi fortress near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif after three days of ground assaults aided by U.S. airstrikes.

Alliance officials today allowed reporters into the ancient fortress, which they say is now fully under their control. A journalist with the Associated Press reported the scene at the mud-walled fort “was one of almost complete destruction,” with some walls demolished and windows shattered.

The battle erupted Sunday when hundreds of captured non-Afghan Taliban fighters, including Pakistanis, Chechens and others captured in the Alliance conquest of the northern city of Kunduz, seized the fort and attacked their guards.

The U.S. launched multiple airstrikes against the prison to help quell the rebellion. During one of those strikes a stray bomb seriously wounded five American soldiers.

It is still unclear exactly how many Taliban and alliance soldiers died in the uprising, but reports from the region say there were hundreds of casualties. A Northern Alliance commander told Reuters probably all 600 prisoners were killed in the fighting, as well as more than 40 alliance fighters. But The New York Times reported alliance sources told them an estimated 400 prisoners were killed.

Reporters in the prison said they saw at least 50 Taliban dead strewn across a field in the southern part of the fort.

U.S. officials did not specify a casualty count, but said they regretted the loss of life.

“We are sorry that so many people did die in Mazar-e-Sharif,” Kenton Keith, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Taliban told reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan. Keith said the U.S. bombing of the fortress was “not a massacre … not a reprisal.”

Officials at the International Committee of the Red Cross said they were in talks with the Northern Alliance over how to remove bodies from the fortress. ICRC spokesman Bernard Barrett told Reuters the agency had been asked to help transport the dead, but said the ICRC did not know how many were dead or what nationality they were.

The human rights group Amnesty International yesterday called on the alliance, as well as the U.S. and Britain, to conduct an inquiry into the prison’s operation and the “proportionality” of the response to the rebellion.