11/09/04 Mullah Omar Called Washington in 1998, New Documents Show Taliban Leader Initiated Call 2 Days After Cruise Missile Attack On Terrorist Camps
  National Security Archive Update, September 11, 2004

Documents Reveal 33 U.S. Attempts to Get Taliban to Expel Bin Laden – All Failed


Washington, September 11, 2004 – Mullah Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, initiated a phone call to Washington – his only known direct contact with U.S. officials – two days after President Clinton sent cruise missiles to destroy Osama bin Laden's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan in 1998, according to newly-obtained documents posted on the Web by the National Security Archive.

According to the documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Omar denied knowing of any “evidence that bin Laden had engaged in or planned any terrorist acts while on Afghan soil.” The U.S. State Department responded by providing evidence of bin Laden's terrorist activities in one of ultimately thirty-three contacts with the Taliban, thirty by the Clinton administration and three by the Bush administration before 9/11. All diplomatic attempts to get the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden ultimately failed.

In a January 2004 interview with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the 9/11 commission asked “why the State Department had so long pursued what seemed, and ultimately proved, to be a hopeless effort to persuade the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to deport bin Laden[?]” Armitage replied, “We do what the State Department does, we don't go out and fly bombers, we don't do things like that[;] … we do our part in these things.”

Highlights of the 16 documents posted today include:

* The only known direct conversation between Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and any U.S. official, on August 22, 1998, just two days after the U.S. sent cruise missiles into bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan in retaliation for the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

* An August 23, 1998 cable from the U.S. Department of State following the conversation with Mullah Omar that provided evidence linking bin Laden with the U.S. Embassy attacks in Africa and several other terrorist plots, including a plan to blow up U.S. airliners in the Pacific.

* Frequent contradictions in Taliban statements to U.S. diplomats. The Taliban claimed that 80 percent of their officials and a majority of Afghans oppose Osama bin Laden's presence, yet also claimed that the Taliban would be overthrown were they to extradite bin Laden, due to his popularity in Afghanistan and around the Muslim world. Mullah Omar called bin Laden “an enemy,” according to a Pakistani informant, while other Taliban officials tell the U.S. that Mullah Omar is the primary reason why bin Laden continued to be afforded sanctuary in Afghanistan.

* An October 1998 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad documenting statements made by the Taliban Foreign Minister, Maulawi Wakil Ahmed, that the Taliban “do not support terrorism,” and that bin Laden was moved to Kandahar “to keep a better watch on him.” In a November 1998 cable from the State Department, a low-level Taliban official assures the American ambassador that bin Laden is “now under full Taliban control and in no position to commit terrorist acts.” Taliban reassurances on terrorism also include claims that they “have always and will condemn terrorism, including hijacking,” according to a February 2000 State Department cable.

* A December 1998 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad demonstrating that bin Laden promoted further acts of terrorism against the U.S. In his first interview after the August 20, 1998 missile strikes, bin Laden reiterated his fatwa (religious ruling) urging Muslims to kill U.S., U.K., and Israeli citizens and “reserving the right to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD).”

* Despite several promises to the U.S. that they would keep bin Laden away from the media, the Taliban allowed him to be interviewed “so that he could renounce terrorism,” according to Taliban representative Syedur Rahman Haqqani. Instead, bin Laden strongly reiterated his commitment to terrorism against American citizens and once again claimed the right to use weapons of mass destruction against Western targets. Despite the fact that bin Laden “did not do what he promised,” the Taliban did not agree to expel him.

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