Battle of Qala-i-Jangi
|Battle of Qala-i-Jangi|
|Part of the War in Afghanistan (2001–present) and the Afghan Civil War|
Johnny Michael Spann‘s memorial at Qala-i-Jangi in 2007
|Not available||Estimated 300–500|
|Casualties and losses|
|A number of Afghans and 1 American killed||86 re-captured, the rest killed|
The Battle of Qala-i-Jangi (also incorrectly referred to as the “Battle of Mazar-i-Sharif“) was a prisoner-of-war camp uprising that took place between November 25 and December 1, 2001, in northern Afghanistan, following the armed intervention by United States-led coalition forces to try to overthrow the Taliban‘s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which it had accused of harboring al-Qaeda operatives.
Hundreds of men, including many non-Afghans, surrendered near Kunduz and were being held as enemy combatants at Qala-i-Jangi fortress by the Afghan Northern Alliance (United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan) forces for an interrogation by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) personnel interested in al-Qaeda suspects. The prisoners violently revolted and the ensuing fighting escalated into one of the bloodiest engagements of the conflict. It took seven days for Northern Alliance fighters, assisted by British and American special forces and air support, to quell the revolt.
All but 86 prisoners and a number of Northern Alliance fighters were killed. The only U.S. fatality was the CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann, the first American to be killed in combat during the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Among the surviving prisoners were two American citizens suspected of fighting with the Taliban:Yaser Esam Hamdi and John Walker Lindh.
|Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann|
Johnny Micheal Spann
|Born||March 1, 1969
|Died||November 25, 2001 (aged 32)
|Buried at||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch|| United States Marine Corps
Central Intelligence Agency
|Years of service||1991-2001|
|Unit||Special Activities Division|
|Battles/wars||War in Afghanistan|
Exceptional Service Medallion
Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann (March 1, 1969 – November 25, 2001) was a paramilitary operations officer in the Central Intelligence Agency‘s Special Activities Division. Spann was the first American killed in combat during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He died at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress in a Taliban prisoner uprising.
Johnny Micheal Spann was from the small town of Winfield, Alabama, the son of a real estate agent and his wife. Spann graduated in 1987 from Winfield City High School, where he played football. At 17, he earned his private pilot license and later became a certified rescue diver and parachutist.
In December 1991, while attending Auburn University, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve. After graduating from Auburn with a bachelor of science in criminal justice/law enforcement in 1992, Spann attended the Marines’Officer Candidates School at Quantico, Virginia. He had originally wanted to go into aviation, but became a field artillery officer and eventually served with the elite 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. He specialized in directing indirect fire and close air support. In 1997, served as second-in-command for a joint exercise expedition in Latin America and Africa called “UNITAS.”
He served six years with the United States Marine Corps, including tours in Okinawa, Japan and Camp Lejeune,North Carolina, eventually achieving the rank of Captain. Spann joined the CIA in June 1999 and went on to serve in the Special Operations Group of the CIA’s Special Activities Division.
Death at Qala-i-Jangi
Spann was killed during a riot at the Qala-i-Jangi compound near Mazari Sharif in northern Afghanistan according to CNN reporter Robert Young Pelton. Earlier that day, he and another SAD officer questioned John Walker Lindh, an American citizen, and other prisoners.
Some sources say that he fought with his AK-47 until it ran out of ammunition, then drew his pistol until it, too, emptied, then resorted to hand-to-hand combat before finally being overcome. In a news report by Time Magazine published shortly after the events reports, it is stated that Spann fought only with his pistol, killing three attackers before being overwhelmed by the more numerous prisoners. His colleague, “Dave,” an Uzbek-language specialist, opened fire with the AK-47.
Time Magazine reported shortly after the events:
According to members of a German television crew who were later trapped in the fort with Dave, Spann asked the prisoners who they were and why they joined the Taliban. They massed around him. ‘Why are you here?’ Spann asked one. ‘To kill you,’ came the reply as the man lunged at Spann’s neck. Spann drew his pistol and shot the man dead. Dave shot another, then grabbed an AK-47 from an Alliance guard and opened fire. According to eyewitness accounts given to the German team, the Taliban fighters launched themselves at Spann, scrabbling at his flesh with their hands, kicking and beating him. Spann killed seven more with his pistol before he disappeared under the crush.
Spann is memorialized with a star on the CIA Memorial Wall at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia that commemorates individuals who died in the line of duty. Spann was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion.
Because the Intelligence Star is considered the equivalent of the U.S. military’s Silver Star, Spann was approved for burial inArlington National Cemetery. Spann is buried in section 34 at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Alabama legislature named a section of Alabama Highway 129 the “Johnny Micheal Spann Highway” in his honor.
Spann was survived by his wife Shannon, also a CIA employee, and three children. His ex-wife Kathryn Ann Webb, mother of two of his children, died of cancer five weeks after Spann’s death
|Yaser Esam Hamdi|
Yasser Esam Hamdi kneels down during one of five prayer services performed by detainees in Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 4 April 2002.
|Born||26 September 1980
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Yaser Esam Hamdi (born September 26, 1980) is a former American citizen who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. The United States government claims that he was fighting with the Taliban against U.S. and Afghan Northern Allianceforces. He was declared an “illegal enemy combatant” by the Bush administration and detained for almost three years without charge. He was a US citizen, as he was born in Louisiana. On October 9, 2004, on the condition that he renounce his US citizenship and commit to travel prohibitions and other conditions, the government released him and deported him to Saudi Arabia, where he had grown up.
Hamdi was initially detained at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, along with eventually hundreds of other detainees. After officials learned that he was a US citizen, Hamdi was transferred to military jails in Virginia and South Carolina. He continued to be detained without trial or legal representation.
Critics of his imprisonment claimed his civil rights were violated and that he was denied due process of law under theU.S. Constitution. They said his imprisonment without formal charges and denial of legal representation was illegal.
On June 28, 2004, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the United States Supreme Court rejected the U.S. government’s attempts to detain Hamdi indefinitely without trial. It said he had the right as a US citizen to due process under habeas corpus: to confront his accusers and contest the grounds of detention in an impartial forum.
John Walker Lindh
|John Phillip Walker Lindh|
|Born||February 9, 1981
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|20 years federal imprisonment|
|Imprisoned in FCI, Terre Haute inTerre Haute, Indiana|
|Parents||Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh|
John Phillip Walker Lindh (born February 9, 1981) is an American citizen who was captured as an enemy combatantduring the United States’ 2001 invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001. He was captured and detained at Qala-i-Jangi fortress, used as a prison. He took part in the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi, a violent uprising of the Taliban prisoners, during which the CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann was killed, together with all but 86 of the estimated 300–500 prisoners. Brought to trial in United States federal court in February 2002, Lindh accepted a plea bargain; he pleaded guilty to two charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole.
A convert to Islam in California at age 16, Lindh went to Yemen in 1998 to study Arabic for 10 months. He later returned in 2000, then went to Afghanistan to aid the fighters. He received training at Al-Farouq, a training camp associated withal-Qaeda, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries. There, he attended a lecture byOsama bin Laden; he did not know about the planned September 11, 2001 attacks. After the attacks, he continued to stay and fight after he learned that the U.S. was allied with the Afghan Northern Alliance. Lindh had previously received training with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, an internationally designated terrorist organization based in Pakistan.
Lindh went by the name Sulayman al-Faris during his time in Afghanistan, but prefers the name Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi today. In early reports following his capture, when the press learned that he was a U.S. citizen, he was usually referred to by the news media as just “John Walker”
Youth, conversion and travels
Lindh was born in Washington, D.C. to Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh. He was baptized a Catholic, and grew up inSilver Spring, Maryland. When he was 10 years old, his family moved to San Anselmo, California. Lindh suffered from an intestinal disorder as a child. At age 14, his health improved. He enrolled at Redwood High School as a freshman. He then transferred to Tamiscal High School in the Tamalpais Union High School District, an alternative school offering self-directed, individualized study programs. While there, he studied world culture, including Islam and the Middle East.Lindh left the school and eventually earned an equivalent of a high school diploma by passing the California High School Proficiency Exam at age 16.
As an adolescent, Lindh participated in IRC chat rooms with the IRC nickname “Mujahid”. He became a devoted fan ofhip hop music, and engaged in extensive discussions on Usenet newsgroups, sometimes pretending to be an African-American rapper who would criticize others for “acting black”. Spike Lee‘s film Malcolm X impressed him deeply and sparked his interest in Islam.
Although his parents did not officially divorce until 1999, their marriage was in serious trouble throughout Lindh’s adolescence. His father often left their Marin residence for extended periods to live in San Francisco with a male lover, as he had acknowledged he was homosexual. Frank Lindh said he and Marilyn had been effectively separated since 1997.
In 1997, Lindh formally converted to Islam at the age of 16. He began regularly attending mosques in Mill Valley, and later, in nearby San Francisco. In 1998, Lindh traveled to Yemen and stayed for about 10 months to learn Arabic so that he could read the Qur’an in its original language. He returned to the United States in 1999, living with his family for about eight months.
Lindh returned to Yemen in February 2000, and left for Pakistan to study at a madrassa. While abroad, Lindh sent numerous emails to his family. In one, his father told him about the USS Cole bombing, to which Lindh replied that the American destroyer’s being in the Yemen harbor had been an act of war, and the bombing was justified. “This raised my concerns”, his father told Newsweek, “but my days of molding him were over.”
At the age of 20, Lindh decided to travel to Afghanistan to fight for the Afghan Taliban government forces against Northern Alliance fighters. His parents said that he was moved by stories of atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the Northern Alliance army against civilians. He traveled to Afghanistan in May 2001. Tony West, his lawyer, explained it as follows: “One of the first things he told Army interrogators when they questioned him on December 3 of last year was that after 9/11 happened, he wanted to leave the front lines but couldn’t for fear of his life. John never wanted to be in a position where he was opposing the United States (and never thought he would be), and in fact he never opposed any American military.”
Capture and interrogation
Lindh was captured on November 25, 2001, by Afghan Northern Alliance forces after his foreign fighters unit surrendered at Kunduz after retreating from Takar. He and other fighters were to be questioned by the CIA officers Johnny “Mike” Spann and Dave “Dawson” Tyson at General Dostum‘s military garrison, Qala-i-Jangi, near Mazār-e Sharīf.
After his detention, Lindh first said that he was Irish. While being interviewed by the CIA, he did not reveal that he was American. Spann asked Lindh, “Are you a member of the IRA?” He was asked this question because, when questioned by Spann, an Iraqi in the group identified Lindh as an English speaker. Lindh had been told to say he was “Irish” in order to avoid problems. Moments later, around 11 am, the makeshift prison was the scene of a violent Taliban uprising, which became known as the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi. Spann and hundreds of foreign fighters were killed; only 86 prisoners survived. According to other detainees interviewed by the journalist Robert Young Pelton for CNN, Lindh was fully aware of the planned uprising, yet remained silent and did not cooperate with the Americans.
Sometime during the initial uprising, Lindh was shot in the right upper thigh and found refuge in a basement, hiding with a group of Arab, Uzbek, and Pakistani detainees. On the second day, the Red Cross sent in workers to collect the dead. As soon as they entered, the workers were shot by the prisoners, who killed one. The Northern Alliance repeatedly bombarded the area with RPG and grenade attacks, and set alight fuel it poured in.Finally, on December 2, 2001, Northern Alliance forces diverted an irrigation stream into the middle of the camp to flush the remaining prisoners out of their underground shelters, drowning many in the process. Lindh and about 85 survivors from the original 300–500 were forced out of hiding. Northern Alliance soldiers bound Lindh’s elbows behind his back.
Shortly after his recapture, Lindh was noticed and interviewed by Pelton, who was working as an embedded journalist and stringer for CNN. Lindh initially gave his name as “Abd-al-Hamid” but later gave his birth name. Pelton brought a medic and food for Lindh and interviewed him about how he got there. While under the influence of morphine, Lindh said that he was a member of al-Ansar, a group of Arabic-speaking fighters financed by Osama bin Laden. Lindh said that the prison uprising was sparked by some of the prisoner guards smuggling grenades into the basement, “This is against what we had agreed upon with the Northern Alliance, and this is against Islam. It is a major sin to break a contract, especially in military situations”. A U.S. Army Special Forces operator, fresh from three weeks of combat, gave up his bed so that the wounded Lindh could sleep there. Pelton repeatedly asked Lindh if he wanted to call his parents or have the journalist do so, but Lindh declined. Pelton knew Lindh was receiving his first medical treatment since being shot in the leg more than a week prior and had been given morphine by a medic prior to Pelton’s interview. Lindh’s parents maintain that Pelton acquired footage that was prejudicial and manipulative, and that Pelton contributed to the poor image of their son by sharing the footage with the world community without context.
After capture, Lindh was given basic first aid and questioned for a week at Mazār-e Sharīf. He was taken to Camp Rhino on December 7, 2001, the bullet still within his thigh. When Lindh arrived at Camp Rhino, he was stripped and restrained on a stretcher, blindfolded and placed in a metal shipping container, which was procedure for dealing with a potentially dangerous detainee associated with a terrorist organization. While bound to the stretcher, he was photographed by some American military personnel.At Camp Rhino, he was given oxycodone/paracetamol for pain and Valium.
On December 8 and 9, he was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He was held at Camp Rhino until he was transferred to the USS Peleliu on December 14, 2001 with other wounded detainees, where his wound was operated on and he received further care. He was interrogated before the operation on December 14. While on the Peleliu, he signed confession documents while he was held by the United States Marine Corps. On December 31, 2001, Lindh was transferred to the USS Bataan, where he was held until January 22, 2002. He was flown back to the United States to face criminal charges. On January 16, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that Lindh would be tried in the United States.
In 2002, President George H. W. Bush referred to Lindh as “some misguided Marin County hot-tubber”. The comment provoked a minor furor and prompted a retraction of the statement by Bush. Lindh’s attorney told the press that his client had asked for a lawyer repeatedly before being interviewed by the FBI but he did not get one, and that “highly coercive” prison conditions forced Lindh to waive his right to remain silent. Although the FBI asked Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Department ethics advisor, whether Lindh could be questioned without a lawyer present, they did not follow her advice to avoid that scenario.
On February 5, 2002, Lindh was indicted by a federal grand jury on ten charges:
- Conspiracy to murder US citizens or US nationals
- Two counts of providing material support and resources to terrorist organizations
- One count of supplying services to the Taliban
- Conspiracy to contribute services to Al Qaeda
- Contributing services to Al Qaeda
- Conspiracy to supply services to the Taliban
- Using and carrying firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence
If convicted of these charges, Lindh could have received up to three life sentences and 90 additional years in prison. On February 13, 2002, he pleaded not guilty to all 10 charges. The court scheduled an evidence suppression hearing, at which Lindh would have been able to testify about the details of the torture to which he claimed he was subjected. The government faced the problem that a key piece of evidence – Lindh’s confession – might be excluded from evidence as having been forced under duress (i.e. torture).
Michael Chertoff, then-head of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, then directed the prosecutors to offer Lindh a plea bargain: Lindh could plead guilty to two charges: — supplying services to the Taliban ( , , 31 C.F.R. 545.204, and 31 C.F.R. 545.206a) and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony ( ). He would have to consent to a gag order that would prevent him from making any public statements on the matter for the duration of his 20-year sentence, and he would have to drop any claims that he had been mistreated or tortured by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and aboard two military ships during December 2001 and January 2002. In return, all other charges would be dropped. The gag order was said to be at the request of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Lindh accepted this offer. On July 15, 2002, he entered his plea of guilty to the two remaining charges. The judge asked Lindh to say, in his own words, what he was admitting to: “I plead guilty. I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to December. In the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades. I did so knowingly and willingly knowing that it was illegal.” Lindh said that he “went to Afghanistan with the intention of fighting against terrorism and oppression,” fighting for the suffering of ordinary people at the hands of the Northern Alliance. On October 4, 2002, Judge T.S. Ellis, III formally imposed the sentence: 20 years without possibility of parole.
The government invoked the Son of Sam law and informed Lindh that any and all profits made from book deals or any movies about Lindh’s experience would be automatically transferred to the federal government. Lindh, his family, his relatives, his associates and his friends will be unable to profit financially from his crimes and/or experiences. Lindh’s attorney, James Brosnahan, said Lindh would be eligible for release in 17 years, with good behavior. This is because, although there is no parole under federal law, his sentence could be reduced by 15 percent, or three years, for good behavior. Lindh agreed to cooperate “fully, truthfully and completely” with both military intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the terrorism investigation.
In January 2003, Lindh was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary, Victorville, a high-security facility northeast of Los Angeles. On March 3, 2003, Lindh was tackled by inmateRichard Dale Morrison. He assaulted Lindh at prayer, causing bruises on his forehead. On July 2, 2003, Morrison was charged with a misdemeanor count of assault.
Lindh was held in Federal Supermax ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado for a short time. He is currently serving his sentence, with a projected release date of May 23, 2019, at the Federal Correctional Institution at Terre Haute, Indiana in the Communication Management Unit.
In April 2007, citing the reduced sentence for the Australian prisoner David Matthew Hicks, Lindh’s attorneys made a public plea for a Presidential commutation to lower his 20-year sentence. In January 2009, the Lindh family’s petition for clemency was denied by President Bush in one of his final acts in office. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, all “special administrative measures” in place against Lindh expired on March 20, 2009, as part of a gradual easing of restrictions on him.
In 2010, Lindh and the Syrian-American prisoner Enaam Arnaout sued to lift restrictions on group prayer by Muslim inmates in the Communication Management Unit. On January 11, 2013, a federal judge ruled in their favor, saying that the government had shown no compelling interest in restricting the religious speech of the inmates by prohibiting them from praying together.
In late November 2001, with their military situation in northern Afghanistan becoming critical, many Taliban field commanders agreed to surrender to the Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of the ethnic-Uzbek dominated National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, outside the besieged city of Kunduz.
Abdul Rashid Dostum
Abdul Rashid Dostum in 2002
|Native name||عبدالرشید دوستم|
|Born||1954 (age 59–60)
|Allegiance||Islamic Republic of Afghanistan|
|Years of service||1978 –|
|Battles/wars||Soviet war in Afghanistan
Civil war in Afghanistan
War in Afghanistan (2001-present)
Hundreds ofAl Ansar “guest” foreign fighters (mostly from Pakistan and Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East) also surrendered their weapons, including a large group that had arrived in a convoy one day earlier to a place 100 km away of the agreed capitulation site, close to Mazar-i-Sharif.Dostum described the Taliban surrender as a “great victory” for the Alliance, a bloodless success that would allow the future reconciliation of citizens of Afghanistan. Thousands of prisoners were transported to the Sheberghan Prison (it was alleged that many of them died due to mistreatment during and after the transport).
Meanhwile, as the U.S. forces wanted to question the captured foreign fighters about possible links with the al-Qaeda international jihadist network, the Afghans decided to transfer such prisoners to Qala-i-Jangi (“the war fortress” in Persian), a 19th-century fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif that Dostum had previously used as his headquarters and ammunition depot. On November 24, between 300 to 500 foreign suspects were transported on flatbed trucks to the fortress, now turned into a prison. The prisoners had not been searched, and some had concealed weapons during the surrender. On the day of the surrender, two prisoners committed suicide with grenades and killed one of Dostum’s commanders and some others in two separate incidents at the makeshift prison. Despite the deaths, the National Islamic Movement militia did not reinforce security at the prison.John Kerry‘s report for the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations later alleged it was a pre-planned “Trojan Horse” style operation, a gambit that would allow a die-hard force of foreign fighters to take over a strategically important fortified position at Qala-i-Jangi and capture a massive munitions stockpile.
On November 25, two CIA officers, Johnny “Mike” Spann from the highly secretive Special Activities Division, and Dave “Dawson” Tyson, an Uzbek speaker and region expert, arrived at Qala-i-Jangi to carry out prisoner interrogations in the fort’s courtyard. The CIA officers questioned selected prisoners, especially one Sulayman al-Faris who was an American citizen born as John Walker Lindh (at the time, they noticed only that Lindh was a European-looking prisoner and different from the others, so he was singled out for an interrogation). Approximately two hours after the interviews began, a number of prisoners, some of them with concealed grenades, suddenly rose up and attacked their captors, who were outnumbered about four to one. Attacking in a suicidal manner, revolting prisoners overran and killed Spann and several Afghan guards; they also appeared to be often much better trained than their Northern Alliance captors, many of whom got shocked and frightened by their enemies’ display of skill and fanaticism. The prisoners managed to take over the southern half of the fortress, including the armory and ammunition depot, seizing a large store of small arms, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortars and ammunition.
With Spann missing in the chaos, Tyson escaped to the northern and more secure part of the fortress, where he was trapped with a television crew from the GermanARD network. He borrowed their satellite phone, and called the U.S. embassy in Uzbekistan, requesting reinforcements. Tyson specifically requested no air support, due to the proximity of allied Afghan forces. The Afghans also brought reinforcements: their personnel and a T-55 tank entered the compound and started firing into the prisoner-controlled area. Several other television crews arrived on the scene of the battle, ensuring it got wide media coverage; the successive stages of the fighting were filmed extensively, providing rare footage of special forces units in combat. At 2 pm, a mixed special ops team, formed with nine U.S. Army Special Forces and six British Special Boat Service operators, arrived and joined the Afghans firing at the prisoners from the northern part of the fort. From 4 pm until nightfall, they directed two U.S. fighter-bomber aircraft for nine airstrikes against the entrenched prisoners, who continued to put up a fierce resistance. Despite Tyson’s requests, 500-pound precision-guided bombs were dropped on the armory, which was serving as a firebase for the prisoners. He and the German journalists were rescued when a relief action by four U.S. troops enabled them to escape. http://www.digplanet.com
The next day, the allied Afghan militia set up a command-and-control post near the northern gate to direct their tank and mortar fire. By mid-morning they were joined by U.S./British forces divided into three teams: a close air support team designated CAS-1 that went inside the fortress along the bottom of the northeast tower to direct bombing strikes into the southern courtyard, a second close air support team designated CAS-2 that positioned itself near the main gate of the fortress, and a Quick Reaction Force consisting of four more Special Forces troops, a U.S. Navy surgeon, and eight soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. At 11 pm, a GBU-32guided bomb, weighing 2,000 pounds (957 kg), was dropped, directed by the Air Force Special Tactics combat controller on the CAS-1 team who called in the JDAMstrike. The pilot mistakenly punched in the wrong coordinates, hitting the combat controller’s position. The bomb’s explosion killed at least four (some sources say 30) allied militiamen on the northeast tower above the CAS-1 team, flipped over a friendly tank, and injured all members of the CAS-1 team, including five U.S. and two British operators. That night two AC-130 Spectre gunships (callsigns GRIM 11 and GRIM 14) circled over the fortress, firing at the prisoners. The main ammunition depot was hit, creating a massive explosion which continued to burn throughout the night. One prisoner managed to escape from the fort, only to be captured and lynched by the local population.
By the morning of November 27, prisoner resistance had slackened. The allied forces mounted a systematic assault supported by tanks and other armored vehicles, and defeated a counterattack by the prisoners. By the end of the day, they had recaptured most of the fort, at that point facing only sporadic gunfire and some suicide grenade attacks. The Americans recovered Spann’s body, which the prisoners had booby trapped with a grenade. Afghan fighters looted the bodies of prisoners, extracting gold teeth, and finished off at least two who were found to be still alive.
At that point, the Coalition forces assumed all of the prisoners are dead. In reality, however, well over 100 surviving prisoners had retreated to the basement dungeon of a central building, where they hid and were discovered only when they killed the body collectors who attempted to enter it. The fighting resumed. Northern Alliance fighters fired and threw in explosives into the basement, and even poured oil in and lit it on fire, but nevertheless the resistance continued. On November 28, General Dostum arrived and personally tried to persuade the last prisoners to surrender, to no effect. The next day, Dostum ordered the dungeon flooded with frigid irrigation water.This tactic worked and the last half-dead holdouts finally surrendered on December 1. Of the estimated 300–500 prisoners brought to the fortress, only 86 emerged still alive (some of whom later died of their wounds) from the flooded dungeon (where more than 60 of them have died), including John Walker Lindh. Some survivors later claimed they did not take participate in the battle. One also told The Observer reporter Luke Harding that some wanted to surrender earlier, but a group of seven Arabs took control and did not let them.
SBS, Special Forces and CIA in Afghanistan (2001)http://www.digplanet.com
Of the 86 prisoners who survived the battle, one was found to be John Walker Lindh, an Irish American convert to Islam who had moved to Afghanistan to help the Taliban battle the Northern Alliance prior to the September 11 attacks. Shortly after the battle, an embedded journalist working for CNN, Robert Young Pelton, managed to identify the badly injured and hypothermic Lindh as an American. Lindh was then separated from other prisoners and his life was saved by an American special forces medic. Lindh was later repatriated to the United States to face charges of treason. In 2002, he was found guilty of aiding and supporting the enemy and sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole.
In early 2002, at least 50 other surviving prisoners were transferred to Camp X-Ray at the newly constructed Guantanamo Bay detention camp at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They were mostly Arabs, including 21 Saudis and nine Yemenis,but there were also Pakistanis and others, such as Russian national Rasul Kudayev (from Kabardino-Balkaria), who had allegedly joined the Afghanistan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and Abdul Jabar, an Uzbek member of the IMU. In 2004, after three years of detention without trial (at first at Camp X-Ray, until his identity was discovered), the U.S. citizen Yaser Esam Hamdi won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, which affirmed the right of U.S. citizens to habeas corpus and trial; he was released from United States custody without charges and was deported to his native Saudi Arabia.
For his actions during the battle, Major Mark E. Mitchell, a U.S. Army Special Forces officer, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the first such decoration to be awarded since the Vietnam War. Additionally, U.S. Navy corpsman Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass was awarded the Navy Cross to for his actions while attached to the British Special Boat Service.
Johnny “Mike” Spann, the only U.S. fatality, was recognized as the first American killed in combat during the U.S. 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. For his “extraordinary heroism” in fighting off the prisoners long enough to allow his colleagues to escape, Spann was posthumously awarded the CIA’s Intelligence Star; because the Intelligence Star is considered analogous to the Silver Star, the Department of Defense allowed him to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At Spann’s memorial at the cemetery, officials said that, after being attacked, Spann “fought with his AK-47 until it ran out of ammunition, then drew his pistol and emptied it, before turning to hand to hand combat which saw him shot.”Mike Spann’s family visited the fortress after his death. Afghan doctors who were present on site at the time of the riot told the Spann family they “thought Mike might run and retreat, but he held his position and fought using his AK rifle until out of ammo, and then drew and began firing his pistol,” and that only reason that they and several others were able to live was “because Mike stood his position and fought off the prisoners while enabling them the time to run to safety.”
Due to the high number of prisoner casualties, and the use of massive firepower against them, the Northern Alliance and the foreign coalition forces were accused of breaking the Geneva Conventions by using disproportionate means. American soldiers found a number of the dead with their arms tied behind their back.Abdulaziz al-Oshan, one of the detainees, later summarized the incident and told American authorities at Guantanamo Bay: “They called it an uprising and it’s not; it’s some kind of massacre.” Amnesty International called for an independent inquiry, but the U.S. and British governments rejected this, arguing that the fierce and well-armed resistance of the uprising fully justified the use of air-power and heavy weapons against the revolting prisoners.
The Afghan forces were criticized for mismanagement of the prisoners, which is believed to have enabled the uprising. The captives were not properly searched and some carried grenades into the prison. Dostum later admitted this had been a mistake. Also, as Qala-i-Jangi had been previously a Taliban base, many of the prisoners had been there before and knew its layout. Dostum had planned to hold the men at a nearby airfield, but the U.S. was using it to ferry in supplies. By questioning the prisoners in a group, rather than separately, protected by few guards, the interrogators put themselves at risk with men known to be dangerous.George Tenet, director of the CIA, dismissed the accusations of mismanagement and praised his agents as “heroes”; in Bush at War, the journalist Bob Woodward described Spann as a hero whose actions saved the lives of many.
Representation in other media
- In the documentary The House of War, Robert Young Pelton and film maker Paul Yule provided a detailed account of these events. Interviews and footage from CNN, ARD, and elsewhere (Dodge Billingsley and recovered interrogation footage) show Mike Spann and Dave Tyson moments before the uprising. Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places one-hour special “Inside Afghanistan” details his time with the U.S. Special Forces team (ODA 595) that fought with Dostum’s troops.
- Doug Stanton‘s non-fiction book Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan opens with an account of the battle.
- Frederick Forsyth‘s novel The Afghan includes a partly fictional but detailed account of the battle and its context.