Fighting for bin Laden


Reported by Martin Smith & Stephen Grey

MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent: [voice-over] For six months, FRONTLINE has been investigating the secret war that made headlines with the killing of bin Laden. In December last year, I traveled across Afghanistan and up to the border of Pakistan together with FRONTLINE correspondent Stephen Grey.

Beyond this checkpoint, the campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda is led by U.S. intelligence. Here the CIA is funding, arming and running secret Afghan militia, who guard the border, gather intelligence, and launch kill raids against the militants.

DEXTER FILKINS, The New Yorker: They're called "Counter-Terrorism Pursuit Teams," and they are groups of Afghans very well paid, apparently pretty well trained, with guns, and they operate at the direction of the CIA. These are direct action, you know, "go to the ball" kind of groups. They're not standing around and guarding checkpoints, and you know, street corners. They're going after people.

MARTIN SMITH: Here in the province of Khost, the CIA unit is known as the Khost Protection Force, or KPF. They are based in Afghanistan, but their work is focused on Pakistan.

MILITIAMAN: [subtitles] The KPF guys don't like the camera.

MARTIN SMITH: Up at the border, we were stopped from filming them-

MILITIAMAN: [subtitles] They belong to a special force, so they don't like-

MARTIN SMITH: -but a former commander agreed to talk if his identity was protected.

MILITIAMAN: [subtitles] They belong to a special force. They support special forces.

FORMER CIA MILITIA COMMANDER: [subtitles] The KPF is a militia created to deny sanctuary to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Our area of operation is the border. We had to stop Taliban and al Qaeda crossing the border.

MARTIN SMITH: The Wikileaks war logs, released in 2010, contain references to the CIA's private army in Khost. They fire mortars at Taliban and al Qaeda targets in Pakistan. With the help of drones -"shadow coverage" -they ambush and kill insurgent fighters crossing the border.

FORMER CIA MILITIA COMMANDER: [subtitles] We killed Arabs and Chechens. And we saw them. We were able to identify their bodies.

MARTIN SMITH: Pakistan is supposed to be an ally in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, but U.S. soldiers fighting along the border complain that Pakistan's army supports the militants.

Maj. MICHAEL WALTZ, Former Special Adviser to the Vice President, 2007-2009: From my time on the border, we experienced on a regular basis Pakistani military complicity with the insurgency. It could be turning a blind eye as the insurgents launch rockets at our bases. It could be allowing passage, you know, kind of right under their noses. It could be even aiding and working with the insurgents to know what times to cross the border, telling them when our patrols or when the Afghan army patrols typically come. It was complicity on their part. And that piece, on an operational and a tactical standpoint, has to change in order for us to see success in Afghanistan.

MARTIN SMITH: Pakistan's army denies the accusations of complicity. They point to the sacrifices they have made in fighting militants across the tribal areas.

Maj. Gen. ATHAR ABBAS, Pakistan Chief Military Spokesman: This kind of insinuation or allegation is unjust. These are unfair allegations on Pakistan. Pakistan has done so much. We've lost over 3000 soldiers and officers in this war. We have cleared so many areas. So many al Qaeda leaders have been apprehended by our intelligence agencies. Of course, there was a sharing of intelligence with the other side, as well. So with these kind of performance and record, if still someone is not satisfied, then we are not to be blamed in this.

MARTIN SMITH: But FRONTLINE's investigation found that Taliban leaders still move freely around the country. My colleague, Stephen Grey, made contact with a Taliban commander currently sheltering in Pakistan. He arranged to meet him just outside the capital, Islamabad, not far from where Osama bin Laden was killed.

The commander told us how dependent the Taliban is on sanctuary in Pakistan to wage war across the border.

TALIBAN COMMANDER: [subtitles] Across the border, our life is now very difficult. But Pakistanis are helping us. Pakistan is our nation. These are our people. They help and support us. They are on our side. Our war is in Afghanistan and our operations are continuing, but it is not necessary to endanger our lives and live there. During winter, we come here. In the spring, we will go back and fight. Even now, our operations are ongoing. But in the summer, it will increase.

STEPHEN GREY, Correspondent: Is the border hard to cross?

TALIBAN COMMANDER: [subtitles] Crossing the border during the day is very difficult, especially on the Afghan side. But crossing at night is easy.

DEXTER FILKINS, The New Yorker: Frankly, we don't know on any given day what side the Pakistanis are on. There is overwhelming evidence that, you know, even as the Pakistani government takes, you know, between $1 billion and $2 billion a year from the United States government in aid, they also maintain links with the Taliban, and they support the Taliban. And they certainly support and maintain very extensive links with the Haqqani network, which is one of the most deadly insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan.

MARTIN SMITH: The Haqqani network is a major branch of the Taliban with close links to al Qaeda. Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the ISI, has a history of supporting them.

AMRULLAH SALEH, Head of Afghan Intelligence, 2004-10: Without their protection, without them tolerating the presence of these operatives to do planning, training and using Pakistan soil, they won't be able to do these operations. So ISI knows they are doing it. And ISI is happy they are doing it because through them, Pakistan promotes her policy in Afghanistan. And the policy is "Taliban are ours and they are to dominate Afghanistan."

MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] And "We're going to help those who help them."


MARTIN SMITH: By protecting them.


MARTIN SMITH: By not arresting them.


MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] For example, one militant alleged to be close to the ISI is a known leader in the Haqqani network. According to U.S. intelligence, Tajmir Jawad is responsible for several major attacks on targets in Kabul.

AMRULLAH SALEH: More than a dozen times after we found out this particular operation was carried out with blessings of Tajmir, we told ISI, "This guy is not hiding in mountains. He is either in Peshawar or he is in this specific building with this telephone number." They never arrested Tajmir because Tajmir is their man.

STEPHEN GREY, Correspondent: Both Americans and Afghan counterterrorism officials told us about one senior Taliban Haqqani leader. He's called Tajmir Jawad. And they say they have constantly told Pakistan's military agencies about this man, but still, he appears to be living freely.

Maj. Gen. ATHAR ABBAS, Pakistan Chief Military Spokesman: I'll have to check back with the intelligence agencies, what exactly is their information on that. But other than this, all other these things are up in the air. There are no specifics in that. One would like only to counter if a fact is given in detail on the- on these issues. But in the past, a lot of these leaders have been arrested, apprehended and have been acted against. So if this is a specific case, I would like to check up with the agency and then return back on that.

MARTIN SMITH: It's true that over the last 18 months, Pakistan has arrested some key Taliban leaders. And the Taliban now complain that the ISI is playing a double game with them. But after spending three months interviewing numerous Taliban commanders, Matt Waldman published a widely discussed paper on their ISI support.

MATT WALDMAN, Independent Researcher: From the interviews we conducted, I would say the Talibs felt that they needed the support of the ISI to conduct their campaign, and of course, a campaign which has had to escalate to meet the escalation from the coalition side.

The strong feeling amongst the Talibs is that the ISI has very heavy influence over their movement. And they believe that that exists at a local level and at a senior level in terms of the leadership. What they talk about is the ability of the ISI to penalize or to punish those who do not act in accordance with its wishes.

MARTIN SMITH: The Taliban commander we interviewed said that if Pakistan chose to, it could, quote, "arrest us all in an hour."

STEPHEN GREY: How does the Pakistan government put pressure on the Taliban?

TALIBAN COMMANDER: [subtitles] They put pressure on us. They sometimes arrest our people, saying we are extremist or al Qaeda. And occasionally, they even arrest our leaders.

MARTIN SMITH: At best, Pakistani pressure on the Taliban has been selective. The military has left the Haqqani network almost untouched in the tribal area of North Waziristan. U.S. military sources told FRONTLINE the Pakistanis are unwilling to take them on.

Lt. Gen. YASIN MALIK, Commander, 11 Corps: There are hundreds of groups operating in that area. You know, we have to mobilize resources, maybe cool down the other places, stabilize other places, and then sort of get the forces together and then go for it. So that is not an issue.

MARTIN SMITH: For more than five years, the United States has been pressing the Pakistanis to launch an offensive in North Waziristan. In the meantime, the CIA has taken matters into its own hands. Remotely piloted drones have fired more than 200 Hellfire missiles and bombs at targets in the tribal areas.

Officially, the CIA does not speak about the drone war. But an agent who once ran the campaign agreed to talk to FRONTLINE about the program.

ROBERT GRENIER, Dir., CIA Counterterrorism Center, 2004-06: The calculus is really a very simple one. It's trying to kill people before they kill you. It's as simple as that. Now, it may have the knock-on and potentially intended effect, you hope, of discouraging further militancy. When people see others, you know, going up in a puff of smoke, you know, one hopes that that will induce people to go home and sit out the fight. This is very much a kill or be killed situation, and that's very much the dynamic that governs this.

MARTIN SMITH: The drone war was initially conceived to kill only the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban, but President Obama has dramatically widened the campaign. Under his administration, the CIA has launched nearly five times more strikes than it did under President Bush.

ROBERT GRENIER: There are many more fighters who are launching attacks across the line into Afghanistan. So in essence, you have a much larger and much broader target set in the tribal areas, and most specifically in North Waziristan. I think that's the reason why we're seeing such a broadening of the aperture for those sorts of attacks.

DEXTER FILKINS: You've had just an enormous upswing, particularly since President Obama took office, on the number of Predator strikes. It's just- the curve just goes straight up. And they have a lot of faith in those Predators. It's all driven by intelligence, so you have a massive network of intelligence gathering that's going on at the same time.

MARTIN SMITH: As the drone war escalated, the United States has had to develop a network of informers on both sides of the border.

AMRULLAH SALEH, Head of Afghan Intelligence 2004-10: Well, we had very close sharing of information with the Americans about targets. But drone operation is a very sensitive, secret U.S. operation. I don't know much about it.

MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] But your counterparts in the CIA were running these drones.


MARTIN SMITH: You gave them targets in the tribal areas.


MARTIN SMITH: This is human intelligence on the ground?


MARTIN SMITH: Inside the tribal areas.


[ Watch on line]

MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] The drone program is said to have killed more than 1,300 militants in the last four years. But Pakistanis protest the strikes are responsible for hundreds of civilian casualties, and others warn they risk creating a new and more dangerous generation of militants.

ROBERT GRENIER: It's not just a matter of numbers of militants who are operating in that area, it also affects the motivations of those militants. They now see themselves as part of the global jihad. They're not just focused on helping oppressed Muslims in Kashmir or trying to fight the NATO and the Americans in Afghanistan. They see themselves as part of a global struggle, and therefore are a much broader threat than they were previously. So in a sense, yes, we have helped to bring about the situation that we most fear.

MARTIN SMITH: On Sunday, U.S. special forces flew across the border to kill the leader of that global jihad. It will be some time before we know what effect Osama bin Laden's death will have on the movement he inspired and whether the Pakistani authorities knew all along that America's number one enemy was hiding in their midst.

ANNOUNCER: Next, Martin Smith speaks with author Steve Coll.

MARTIN SMITH: They found bin Laden living in a three-story house just an hour's drive north of the capital. Were you surprised?

STEPHEN COLL, Author, The Bin Ladens: No. I sort of always imagined him in a big walled compound. I hadn't quite visualized him being 1,000 yards from the Pakistan military academy, and the extent of proximity to the Pakistani state that-

MARTIN SMITH: What does that tell us?

STEPHEN COLL: Certainly, it presents circumstantial evidence that the Pakistani state had within it significant leaders, generals or others, who knew that he was there. I think the circumstantial evidence suggests as much that he was under Pakistani state control as that he was hiding.

MARTIN SMITH: Can you imagine a scenario whereby, given that he was 100 yards or so from this military academy, that the Pakistanis were not aware of his presence there?

STEPHEN COLL: It strains credulity that you could build a million-dollar home with heavy fortifications, 12 to 15-foot walls, and house within it the world's most wanted man in a city like Abbottabad, which is essentially a military cantonment town, and not have anyone in the military know that he was there. I would be surprised if prosecutors didn't pursue some of those questions, given that the circumstantial evidence begs these questions about who built this house and whose land was this and how did this-

MARTIN SMITH: Basically, accusing Pakistan of harboring bin Laden.

STEPHEN COLL: Well, individuals. You start with the evidence. That's a Justice Department response to this. I think the rest of the United States government will be reluctant to challenge the Pakistani state over what I presume will be its defense, that it didn't know anything about this and that it was shocked, shocked to discover that Osama bin Laden was living near its West Point.

MARTIN SMITH: Why would some elements of the government want to protect Pakistan from closer examination here? Isn't it about time, some people will say, that the American State Department got a little tougher on Pakistan?

STEPHEN COLL: Well, certainly, some people would make that argument, but the United States also has other interests in Pakistan that might trump Justice in a case like this. Pakistan's own internal stability is constantly a question. And given the size of its nuclear arsenal and the amount of fissile material lying around the country, anything that risks destabilizing the country is going to raise questions inside the U.S. government. This has been the dilemma of U.S. policy towards Pakistan for a long time. And unfortunately, they have learned that they really are seen as too big to fail by the West, and so they can take risks-

MARTIN SMITH: That Pakistan is too big to fail?

STEPHEN COLL: Pakistan is too big to fail, and so they can take risks that another weak government might never take because they believe that between their nuclear deterrent and the sort of systemic risk they pose to the rest of the world, that they'll never be fully confronted over behavior that another weak state might be overthrown for.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up next on this special edition of FRONTLINE, a rare look at the men who say they will keep fighting for bin Laden.

Reported by Najibullah Quraishi

NARRATOR: Last year, Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi went behind Taliban lines to report for FRONTLINE. This winter, he was back in Kabul, working on another project for us. Meeting with a number of his sources, he heard talk about a potentially big story, the return to Afghanistan of al Qaeda.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI, Correspondent: When I was in Kabul, I heard that al Qaeda are back in force in Afghanistan. Then I thought this is going to be a big story or big news. I thought, let's find out is it true or not.

NARRATOR: One source with high-level connections said it might be possible for him to film with militants who he said were al Qaeda. The source arranged for Najibullah to meet up with a middleman, someone who said he had done business with them. This man agreed to arrange a meeting and take him into their territory.

[subtitles, telephone conversation]

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: How long will you be?

MIDDLEMAN: I'll be there in 20 to 30 minutes.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: OK, I'm here. Should I hide the camera in a sack?

MIDDLEMAN: Yes. Of course.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: It shouldn't be open?

MIDDLEMAN: No, put it inside the sack.

[ Twitter #FRONTLINE]

NARRATOR: The journey would be complicated. They were instructed to change taxis several times on the road in, then the long walk into the Hindu Kush mountains.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: According to the middle guy, we have to cross those mountains you can see on the camera here.

NARRATOR: At times, Najibullah would hand his camera to his companion.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: According to them, they say first four-and-a-half hours, then five hours. Now they say it's probably another three hours.

NARRATOR: They walked about six hours a day for several days.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: It's horrible. It's crazy. It's really hard to walk in the mountain like this.

NARRATOR: Finally, the middleman brought Najibullah to this valley. This was where he said the al Qaeda fighters would meet them.


NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: How long before they come?

MIDDLEMAN: They will come soon.


MIDDLEMAN: Yes, you can film.

NARRATOR: They waited.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Then the middleman said, "This is them. This is them." I was behind the camera. Then I saw the third one, the fourth one. And the first one with the glasses, black glasses, first he took his machine gun towards me. And then he come up from his motorbike and took me from behind the camera. And first, he blindfolded me. I thought maybe there is something wrong. Maybe we are in the hands of the wrong people.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] Search him!

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Or maybe-I thought maybe is something is wrong with the middleman.

[subtitles] I want this to be on camera. Is this on camera?

FIGHTER: [subtitles] Search the other pocket. Search him properly.

NARRATOR: Najibullah hadn't yet gotten permission to film.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I was really scared. Why are they doing like this?

NARRATOR: But surprisingly, the fighters did allow his companion, who they knew, to keep the camera on.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: And they took me on another long walk. I had no idea where they going to take me, until we reached an area, I heard they say, "Sit here." But soon he said another word, said, "We arrested him. He was filming."

FIGHTER: [subtitles] We arrested him. He was filming.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Then I thought maybe he's talking to somebody else. I heard something says, "Open his eyes."

NARRATOR: The fighters had brought Najibullah to meet their leader, this man, who wanted to be known only as Khan.



KHAN: Fine. And you?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Yes, I've come to meet Khan.

KHAN: Who are you?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Najibullah Quraishi.

KHAN: You are welcome.


KHAN: You'll find him. Sit down.

NARRATOR: Khan was the man who had agreed to let Najibullah come here. He now gave his permission for him to begin filming. Khan said he is the regional commander for the mujahidin in this area. He is an Afghan of Arab descent whose al Qaeda connections go far back.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: He was in power in Russian time. He was a commander. First he was an ordinary soldier working with Osama bin Laden in one group. And they were together and they were fighting against the Russians in 1980s.

NARRATOR: Khan's men, about 20 in this one group, are a combination of local Afghan Arabs and foreign-born fighters. This fighter in Khan's group is an Uzbek who says he first came to Afghanistan in 2001, at a time when bin Laden was still in the country.

UZBEK: [subtitles] Mujahidin are here from all other countries. Muslim brothers are here from Bosnia, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Arab countries and all other countries.

NARRATOR: Today the question of al Qaeda in Afghanistan is being argued between the U.S. military, which downplays their numbers, and recent press reports of a growing presence in the country. For Najibullah, the combination of foreign fighters and Khan's long connection to bin Laden convinces him that Khan's men see themselves as fighting for al Qaeda.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: He or his guys didn't say that they are al Qaeda, but they are said, "We are following Osama bin Laden. We are his men."

NARRATOR: Khan told Najibullah his fighters control as much as 10,000 square kilometers in this part of north central Afghanistan, a claim impossible to check. But every day, Najibullah would join Khan's fighters on patrols through their territory. There were scenes he wasn't allowed to film as they gathered intelligence, collected tax payments from local villagers, sometimes purchased weapons, and apparently made preparations for resuming military operations this summer.

But on one patrol, when they entered this village, Najibullah was able to film what seemed to be an unusually large number of young boys. It turned out they were here to be schooled in the local madrassa, but their education apparently went beyond the Koran.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I was filming. Suddenly, one kid, one young child came with a machine gun from the madrassa, from inside the mosque.

NARRATOR: When Khan saw Najibullah was filming this scene, he took his videocamera away.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I had my still camera in my pocket and I managed to take some photographs of those children. They were teaching children to become a mujahid. Children age of 9 to 12, they're learning how to clean gun, how to fire, how to open and close. They should go to school. They should be educated. But instead, they're learning guns.

NARRATOR: Khan finally returned Najibullah's camera and had promised to give him an on-camera interview. Najibullah wanted to ask him about his men and their training, but Khan kept putting him off. He also wanted to know about the source of Khan's weapons.

Western intelligence has long claimed that Iran has been supplying weapons to the insurgents in Afghanistan, and Khan's fighters told Najibullah they were being supplied with Iranian weapons. They rode Iranian motorcycles and told Najibullah were armed with rocket-propelled grenades from Iran.


FIGHTER: See these markings here, and these. All the markings show it comes from Iran.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: So Iran helps the mujahidin?

FIGHTER: Yes, they help the mujahidin. They supply us. Whoever supports Islam helps the mujahidin.

NARRATOR: But U.S. Army experts who examined these images told FRONTLINE it was highly unlikely these particular weapons were manufactured in Iran. They appear to have been made in China and Bulgaria.

The fighters did take some security precautions. They parked their motorcycles at a distance from one another to help avoid detection from the air by coalition aircraft.


FIGHTER: There's two of them coming. Tell the mother******* to come in our direction.

FIGHTER: Hide the rockets!

NARRATOR: But overall, Najibullah said he was struck by how relaxed the fighters seemed about their security. They mixed freely with local villagers, who often fed them. And they took time for their version of sport.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: There was no issue about security. They were really relaxed. They were going everywhere freely in the mountains.

NARRATOR: They seemed to have strong local support. At this small village community center, a local shepherd stepped forward to tell his story.


SHEPHERD: They forcefully sold off my land.


SHEPHERD: One was Habib Rahman and the other was Muallen Salaam.

NARRATOR: He had many grievances against local Afghan government officials, who he said also stole his sheep.

SHEPHERD: [subtitles] Twenty of my sheep are still missing. I went to the district attorney general's office and to the police in Chimtal, but no one responded.

NARRATOR: Najibullah asked him if it was different under the mujahidin.


SHEPHERD: I'm just a shepherd, but I haven't seen them harming people. And the people are happy with them.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Are you happy with them, too?

SHEPHERD: Yes, because they don't steal my sheep!

NARRATOR: The shepherd -he's the one under the green shawl -went off with Khan's fighters, taking his gun with him.

It had been several days now, and still Najibullah was having difficulty interviewing Khan's veteran fighters. Khan still wouldn't do the interview he had promised Najibullah, and he was restricting access to his men.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I was chasing some of his men, and they agreed to do an interview. And then when Khan heard, he said no. I was doing an interview with a Chechen guy. I was planning to do interview with Arab guys, and Khan said no.

[ Watch on line]

NARRATOR: But later, when a group of his fighters returned from the front lines with stories of action to tell, Khan finally relented and allowed the leader of the group to do an interview.

The fighter talked about a battle he said they had just fought against American forces in the Chimtal district.


FIGHTER: Yesterday, American forces came here and our mujahidin fought them for an hour-and-a-half. In the end, they were defeated. They had 11 heavily-tracked vehicles, with 12 to 16 of us fighting against them, and they were defeated. They ran away from Chimtal. They took some of their dead to their aircraft and left some behind.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: This fight, when was it and with whom?

FIGHTER: It was yesterday, and it was against the Americans.

NARRATOR: But FRONTLINE could find no corroborating information that such a battle had been fought with American forces in Chimtal in March of 2011, when this interview was filmed. Coalition forces said there had been no casualties near Chimtal since November 2010 and that this district was, quote, "one of the most peaceful in northern Afghanistan."


FIGHTER: When a drop of our blood is shed for the sake of Allah, all our sins are forgiven by Allah.

FIGHTERS: Allah is great! Allah is great!

NARRATOR: Behind the scenes, you can hear Khan leading the chants.

FIGHTERS: [subtitles] Long live the Islamic republic of Afghanistan!

NARRATOR: In fact, he was manipulating the entire interview.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Khan was behind the camera and checking all the questions and answers. And he were asking me, "Before you do the question, stop the camera. Ask your question. I need to know what you're going to ask." I said, "I'm going to ask how many people are here." And Khan told him, "Say between 3,000 to 4,000."

FIGHTER: [subtitles] God willing, the mujahidins' numbers have reached 11,000 to 12,000 and are increasing day by day.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: But that guy didn't hear Khan. He said 11,000 to 12,000.

NARRATOR: Khan had consistently claimed to Najibullah that he commanded 3,000 to 4000 fighters in this region of Afghanistan.

Coalition forces commander General David Petraeus has a very different number. He recently said he believes there are no more than 100 al Qaeda fighters in the entire country.

Najibullah reports he was permitted to film only three to four dozen of Khan's fighters during the 10 days he spent with them. But he says he saw many more men during his wide travels with Khan's patrols.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: They were in the hills and the mountains. I went four madrassas, and on these four madrassas, each madrassa, there was between 50 to 60. And also, when I went to their training camp, there was more than 100 men was training- karate. And also they were running on a hill with one body. And it's hard training. I saw that. And they are- out of that, I saw those people with uniform. And around maybe 400 people I saw off camera and- which I wasn't able to film.

NARRATOR: Khan said he is getting ready, preparing his men for a big offensive soon, in May, against coalition and Afghan forces. If Najibullah would stay two months longer, Khan said, he would personally take him to the front and reveal more about his operations.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: "I promise you," he said, "I promise you, in the front line, when I kill some people, and beside them I'll stand there. I say, `This is me. This is what I'm doing, who I am." He said, "I promise you I'll expose everything."

NARRATOR: While they waited, Khan attended to business. He was meeting with the local Taliban and had been asked to rule on a land dispute between villagers.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Khan has to be there. Without Khan, they cannot do anything. He has to say, "This is the final things." So that's why Khan was there.

NARRATOR: Khan's power seemed confirmed when he took a Taliban judge aside. Najibullah had overheard an earlier conversation between them.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: They were talking in front of me, but my camera was off. And Khan was looking to my camera, is it on or off? It was off.

NARRATOR: In the conversation, Khan angrily told the Taliban judge he wanted to punish a mullah who had said local villagers didn't always need to pray on Fridays.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: He told the Taliban judge, "Please find this mullah for me. I want to beat him up in front of everybody. Why he ordering people to not pray?" The Taliban judge immediately sent two motorbikes, two armed guys to find that mullah. They went for a few hours and they came back. They said, "We couldn't find that mullah." He ordered the judge, "As soon as you see that mullah, beat him up in front of everybody."


KHAN: Cover the camera.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I'm not filming. Let's go talk there.

NARRATOR: Najibullah wasn't allowed to film the meetings between the Taliban and Khan, but he was able to interview some Taliban fighters about their relationship with Khan's men, who they referred to as al Qaeda.


TALIB FIGHTER: Yes, it's been more than two years since al Qaeda has come here. They are ready to fight the infidels and do jihad.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Are they together with you?

TALIB FIGHTER: Some are together with us, some are far from us. But we are connected. If we need men, we'll ask them. And if they do, then we'll help them.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Do they speak your language or their own language?

TALIB FIGHTER: Most of them speak in their own language. They have interpreters, but most can speak our language because they've spent time with us. Sometimes we or our elders understand their language, too.

NARRATOR: As the Taliban fighters waited around while the leaders talked, they sought inspiration by listening to MP3s of their favorite Afghan clerics.


CLERIC RECORDING: Did you know that the Americans have raped 30 of our chaste women? Death to America! Death to America! Death to the enemies of Islam! Don't be slaves of Obama, Sharon, or Tony Blair. Be a slave of God. God created you. If you die, it's freedom. If you become a martyr, it's freedom. If you survive, it's freedom. If you're successful, it's freedom. There is no failure on this path.

TALIB FIGHTER: When we hear this, our blood boils and we want to get martyred by the infidels or kick them out of our land.

CLERIC RECORDING: Our wives are raped. Our sisters are raped. And if we don't have any feelings about this, then what separates us from the non-believers?

NARRATOR: As days passed, the atmosphere around Khan's fighters became more threatening. Although seemingly in jest, Khan and his men would pretend to fire their weapons at Najibullah.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: [subtitles] Hey, don't shoot!

NARRATOR: Then one night, as he was filming a convoy, the men stopped for a moment and Khan started complaining about all the filming.

KHAN: [subtitles] You won't even let us have a **** in peace!

NARRATOR: And his deputy issued a direct threat to Najibullah.

DEPUTY: [subtitles] If this is good for the mujahidin, it's OK. If not, I'll come after you. If you work for the benefit of the mujahidin, you'll live. If not, I'll send suicide bombers after you to blow you to pieces.

NARRATOR: And there would be more danger to come.


FIGHTER: Please let him talk to the commander.

FIGHTER: Tell him to stop filming.

KHAN: This is the spy?

FIGHTER: Yes, this is the spy.

NARRATOR: The next day, Najibullah attempted to film a disturbing scene-


KHAN: Take him to the prison. Tie his hands, as well.

NARRATOR: -as Khan and his men grabbed a local man they accused of being a spy.

KHAN: Did you search his pockets?

FIGHTER: Yes, we did.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: On camera, you can hear this-Khan says, "Is he a spy?" They said, "Yes, he's a spy."

KHAN: Take him.

FIGHTER: Walk faster.

KHAN: Take him by the arm so he doesn't fall off the cliff.


FIGHTER: He's a spy. He's a spy.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Who is he spying for?

FIGHTER: The government.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: What will you do with him?

FIGHTER: We will kill him according to Sharia. We follow Sharia, whatever it says.

KHAN: Stop!

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: You can hear on the film, Khan was shouting on me to stop. When I stopped the camera, he called me to come back there. When I went there, I heard the shooting. It was-that guy was shot. And even Khan says, "You can leave the camera. You can go see the spy." But I can't see these kind of things. I cannot see somebody-someone dying in front of me. So that's why I didn't go there to see that guy. But I heard the shot. Then I was-I tried to speak with the guy who shoot that guy. I said, "Please interview with me."


NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Earlier, I saw you tying a guy's hands. Who was he and what did you do to him?

FIGHTER: He was a spy working for the infidels. He was having meetings and talking with them. We were passing by and caught him red-handed. We killed him. We killed this guy. We killed him and threw him in the valley.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: And on that interview, at the end of that interview, he warned me, "If you're a spy, I will- I'll behead you. Wherever you are, I'll go after you."

NARRATOR: Najibullah had had enough. The next day, he left.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Khan was offering me to be there for another two months. Then I thought, "If I stay for another two months, I won't be alive." What I told to Khan, I said, "OK, I'll come back in two months' time, but let me go now." So that's how I managed to come back from there. But in reality, I won't go back. There's no way. And I'll not go again.

NARRATOR: FRONTLINE screened this story for several al Qaeda experts, including Peter Bergen, national security analyst for CNN and author of The Longest War about al Qaeda. Last week, before bin Laden was killed, Martin Smith sat down with him to explore what Najibullah Quraishi reported during his encounter with Khan's fighters in Afghanistan.

MARTIN SMITH: So what do we make of this? What can this tell us about al Qaeda? These guys don't seem to be fighting a global jihad here.

PETER BERGEN: No. I mean, it looks like they're fighting a local insurgency. I mean, they probably want to kill some European or American soldiers, if they can. They'd probably be happy with killing some Afghan policemen.

MARTIN SMITH: So it's like a local franchise of-

PETER BERGEN: Yeah, I think-

MARTIN SMITH: -of al Qaeda.

PETER BERGEN: Yeah. I mean, you know, there's all sorts of- you know, it's like being in the Mafia. Some people are made guys, some are sort of- you know, there's a very relatively small number of people who are actually really members of al Qaeda.

MARTIN SMITH: What does it mean to be a member of al Qaeda?

PETER BERGEN: Well, in my view, a real member of al Qaeda is somebody who's sworn a sort of religious oath of allegiance to bin Laden, not to- you don't swear an oath of allegiance to al Qaeda, you swear a personal oath of allegiance to bin Laden.

It's not an easy thing to become a member of al Qaeda. There are tens of thousands of insurgents in the Afghan-Pakistan region. There are probably, you know, if you're being generous, 400 or 500 members of al Qaeda.

MARTIN SMITH: Why would guys like these in this film be sworn to, or say that they are followers of bin Laden, as opposed to joining the Taliban, or simply being a local militia with their own local interests?

PETER BERGEN: Yeah. I guess, you know, being a follower of bin Laden maybe makes you a bigger guy and identifies you with a larger global movement and- yeah, bin Laden is admired by a lot of jihadis because he stuck it to the West.

We've had multiple accounts of people who've joined jihadist groups, and you know, they talk about their love for bin Laden. You know, often, when they make suicide videotapes before they go to what they think is their, you know, 72 virgins, they will mention that, you know, their hero is Osama bin Laden.

MARTIN SMITH: And now we have a series of popular uprisings throughout the Middle East. What does it mean for al Qaeda, this "Arab spring"?

PETER BERGEN: I mean, I think it's about the worst news they've ever had. I mean, here is- their stated goal has always been the overthrow of these authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, yet none of their people are involved in these movements, or very few. None of their ideas are being invoked by the protesters.

And whatever happens - and we don't know what will happen in many of these countries because it's still ongoing - it's very unlikely that al Qaeda's goal of a Taliban-style theocracy around the Middle East is going to happen.

MARTIN SMITH: Did al Qaeda's leadership make a mistake in 9/11?

PETER BERGEN: I think al Qaeda made a huge mistake on 9/11. I mean, they thought by attacking the United States, America would pull out of the Middle East and their goal of Taliban-style theocracies around the region would be- would then suddenly happen.

I met with bin Laden in 1997. He said, "Look, we're going to attack the United States because we think it's weak. It's like the former Soviet Union. We remember the pullout from Vietnam, the pullout from Mogadishu in 1993."

You know, I've interviewed people who talked to bin Laden directly in the summer of 2000, saying, "Look, stop it with this anti-American stuff because you're interfering with our goal of just regime change in Libya and Egypt and all these other places." But he just ignored them.

Tactically, 9/11 was a brilliant success. It was the most-watched media event in history. But from a strategic point of view, al Qaeda's goals are no closer, and actually further away today than they were 10 years ago.

MARTIN SMITH: But here we are.

PETER BERGEN: Here we are.


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Posted May 3, 2011

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