October 4th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

10 Years of War: American Taliban captured

By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy

Editor's note: This is the second of a five-part series on the tenth anniversary of U.S. combat in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been a war zone for decades, and often, the events of one war overlap with those of another.

Such was the case in late November 2001 near the city of Mazar-e Sharif just south of Afghanistan's border with Uzbekistan. A fortress called Qala-i-Jangi on the outskirts of the city had been, at one time, headquarters of Gen. Rashid Dostum, a warlord who controlled much of the northern Afghanistan during the early 1990s. He honed his military skills fighting the Soviets on the side on the Afghans who would become the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

But the Taliban had pushed him out of Afghanistan and into exile in Turkey.

Now, with the U.S. military launching a war against the Taliban, he saw a chance to connect with a new, far more powerful ally. And CNN was there from the beginning.

"We were given the opportunity to hook up with Gen. Rashid Dostum and stay with him," said Phil Littleton, a videographer who has traveled the world covering conflicts.

While Littleton and crew were making their way to Uzbekistan to meet up with Dostum's people, the general had rounded up hundreds of Taliban fighters who surrendered, thinking they would be disarmed and sent home, which Littleton learned was Dostum's standard operating procedure.

But now, Dostum had a team of U.S. intelligence agents and special operations forces working with him, and they wanted to talk to the prisoners about al Qaeda.

So the prisoners "were moved quickly, without even being thoroughly searched," to join other prisoners at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress, according to a U.S. Army history of the war in Afghanistan. "The large number of enemy prisoners and their inexpert handling led to difficulties almost immediately. Most of the prisoners were concentrated in a portion of the ... fortress when U.S. intelligence officers started to interrogate them. During this process, some 600 of the 'detainees' disarmed the guards and took over the prison compound," the Army history reads.

"We go to Qala-i-Jangi, the fight was happening," Littleton said of his first day on the scene. "There were British, American, Aussie, all sorts of special forces running around. Mike Spann had just been killed that morning."

Johnny Micheal Spann was the CIA officer who was killed by the detainees at the beginning of the uprising.

He was the first American to die in combat in Operation Enduring Freedom. "I later found out that he'd been running around on his own," Littleton said. Spann was "interrogating them (Taliban prisoners) when they attacked him."

It's important to realize Qala-i-Jangi was always a fortress, not a prison. "Being an old fort, there were weapons all over the place, they just grabbed weapons. They got into a compound, and the firefight continued to happen."

The Taliban outnumbered Dostum's forces outside the fortress, but the special operations forces called in the kind of support an Afghan warlord could only hope for: the U.S. Air Force. "That evening, they called in an air strike which went on most of the evening. Fifteen-hundred pounders," Littleton said. "Kind of went on for a week."

Turns out it wasn't the Air Force's technological and high-explosive might that ended the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi. It was a couple of shovels and some cold water.

"One of the commanders had the mujahedeen dig an irrigation ditch to divert the water into the bunker. And it was kinda winter, there was snow around, and I remember him saying to me, 'they'll be out in the morning,' " Littleton recalls. "These guys had come walking out, freezing their asses. They surrendered, every one of them."

Not long after the surrender, Littleton got a scoop that to this day has never been matched.

Dostum's personal videographer tipped him off to the American Taliban. "He came running in, he had his little video camera there," Littleton said." I remember him showing me the picture going 'look, (expletive) American, (expletive) American' pointing to this guy sitting there. So we went down with the special forces guys to the hospital, and there was John Walker Lindh sitting there. He wasn't wounded; he was just very dirty, shell-shocked and bearded."

Littleton and his crew interviewed Lindh for about 15 minutes. "The first thing he asked us is if we had access to Internet. And then he asked some questions about Yemen."

A short time later, Lindh began a long journey through the U.S. judicial system. He's now serving 20 years at the Terre Haute Federal Corrections Institute in Indiana. "The last I saw, he was taken out on a stretcher by the special forces guys."

Not only did the battle of Qala-i-Jangi produce the first of what are now more the 1,400 American combat deaths, it was also the first time regular ground troops were sent to Afghanistan. Before this battle, the only American "boots on the ground" were special operations forces and CIA paramilitary fighters. But according to the U.S. Army history, "a small Quick Reaction Force (QRF) of infantry from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry, of the 10th Mountain Division operating out of Uzbekistan" was sent in. "The 1st Platoon helped secure the perimeter around the fortress to prevent enemy escapes and was available to provide any additional firepower that might be needed."

From that group of a hundred or so members of the 10th Mountain Division, the U.S. presence has grown to nearly 100,000 troops on the ground this year.

President Barack Obama wants most of them out of Afghanistan by 2014.

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soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Fabian Zajdel

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    June 2, 2013 at 1:38 am | Reply
  2. Ranger Rick

    830, Why are you waisting your energy on David. He sits on the sideline. He doesn't matter.

    October 6, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply
  3. LOLMUSLIM

    Muslims are only good at beating women, hiding behind children in gunfights and lighting their balls on fire when they try to bomb airliners.

    October 5, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  4. ranger 830

    David I would love for you to patrol with us and see first had the peace and tolerence of Islam.Give me a break!!!!! Saudi is awhole different story.There is crime everywhere in Saudi!!!!Only it is perpetrated by the hipocritical wealthy elite!!!!
    Never met a wealthy arab who did not have a fully stocked liquor cabinet with top shelf alcohol.Against Islamic(sharia)law.Blonds they love blond ie european and american women.Oh and porn they love porn!!!!! You must have spent ten years with your head up your ass and your eyes closed!!!!! Nice try though!!!!! for a david your english is terrible!!!! Sure your name is David? I smell bullshit david yeah right!

    October 5, 2011 at 11:35 am | Reply
  5. David

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-15146327

    October 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  6. David

    THIS IS THE LAST THING MR. MULLEN COULD DO i.e. TO BLAME PAKISTAN FOR HIS OWN FAILED CAREER. AMERICANS CAN NEVER WIN THIS WAR BECAUSE THIS IS BASED ON A FALSE PROPAGANDA FROM THE DAY 1ST. AMERICAN LIED AND KILLED MILLIONS IN IRAQ. MR OBAMA HIMSELF SAID THAT CIA MERCENARY RAYMOND DAVIS WAS A DIPLOMAT AND SO ENJOYED DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY BUT LATER HE ACCEPTED THAT HE WAS A CIA OPERATOR AND KILLED TWO MEN IN LAHORE. TODAY MR RAYMOND DAVIS ALSO BEATEN A 50 YEARS OLD MAN IN COLORADO ON A PETTY PARKING SPACE DISPUTE. THIS IS THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIVING UTTERING LIES ON HIGHEST LEVEL ( EVEN BY PRESIDENT HIMSELF), KILLING THE INNOCENTS AND POOR AND LATER BLAMING OTHERS FOR THEIR OWN FAILURES. WHAT ABOUT MR ZAKRIA HE IS MADE IN INDIA AND SO HIS MIND THESE PEOPLE ARE ALREADY OBSESSED WITH HATRED TOWARDS PAKISTAN. PEOPLE LIKE HIM EARNING VERY GOOD DOLLARS THESE DAYS AS FEARING JOBLESSNESS BACK IN INDIA

    October 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Reply
    • Don't jump on the media bandwagon

      I would like to see your source of information regarding the "millions" of people the US has killed in Iraq. There was also no false propaganda regarding the Taliban and al qaeda operating in Afghanistan. That is a fact, trust me, I've seen it first hand. As for Raymond Davis, he was in a part of the world which doesn't appreciate the western way of life and are extremely hostile to those of us who do. He claims self defense. Whether that is the truth or not has yet to be revealed. If he killed them unjustly, he should meet the same fate.

      October 5, 2011 at 7:24 am | Reply
    • ranger 830

      David you are sorely misguided I was in Iraq and Afghanistan,the people there were treated much better by us than there own countrymen or government.If anyone killed millions it was sadam and the taliban not us.The last year I was in afghanistan more innocent muslim civilians were killed by ied,s planted by the taliban than by coalition forces.I can not remember exactly but it was something like 437 civilians killed by coalition forces on accident,and 1,457 killed in suicide and ied attacks.Remember these muslim holy warriors make a habit of hideing in public places,like private homes,schools and mosques.So in short if you are going to run your mouth know your shit,and you dont!!!!! RLTW BITCHES.

      October 5, 2011 at 11:23 am | Reply
      • sheela

        typical american arrogance...you were there in Iraq eh so for how many tours mr. ranger murderer man?...you go to Iraq, rape and murder people for a few years and claim to know and understand the whole society inside out?...americans have destroyed Iraq, yes Saddam was not a good man but your killings of 500,000 people, 10 times that permanently displaced, total and complete destruction of the country's infrastructure...all based on lies and deciept (weapons of mass destruction eh?) your country will pay for crimes, maybe not now but in the next 10-20 years for sure, we will not forget iraq, afghanistan, pakistan, libya any and all the muslim blood on your hands...go on try to achieve your "strategic" goals and protect "national" interests...we know and expect you to attack (in due time) pakistan and eqypt and are ready for you...remember we don't have money on our minds like you...eventually we will prevail in the name of truth and justice...

        October 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  7. David

    As a nation, India is geographically, culturally and politically trapped, isolated and encircled. Now that it has been cut off from rest of Asia, the Indians (unfortunately) have nowhere to go but into the ocean. A look at a map conveys the inevitability of this scenario. For India to survive, it has no choice but to have excellent relations with Pakistan. This is a matter of time. The question is whether Pakistan has a big heart to accommodate the very survival of India/Hindu race. Perhaps not this time around. Obviously India is eyeing some slivers of territory that would reduce this dependence but Pakistan’s nuclear carpet bombing capability has and will prevent this.

    Meanwhile, Pakistan “RISING” has established itself as part of a very dynamic regional paradigm amalgamating it geographically with Central Asia, Middle East and Europe. While also situated at the gateway to the Arabian Gulf, Pakistan also will gain access to the waters of the Caspian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Arabian Sea, China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. This positions Pakistan at the crossroads to peace and prosperity in the world and economic well being as well as military clout.hey

    October 4, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  8. David

    jihad means to resist or struggle against his or her inner self in a positive sense, like not doing bad things not taking alcohol and so on.i dont know what miss saba is talking about ?coz she is only a Hindu fanatic , islam is a peaceful religion i had experience while living ten years in middle east i see nothing bad over there not even a single crime in saudi in a whole year.what the hell she is talking about?

    October 4, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Reply

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