Toby Harnden is an awarded journalist, foreign correspondent and former bureau chief of the Sunday Times. His most recent book is First Casualty: The untold story of he CIA mission to avenge 911. After numerous interviews with key players and having visited Afganistan several times over the last decades, Toby documents the unconventional success story of CIA’s Team Alpha from their insertion into the Darya Suf Valley, coordination with Special Forces ODA 595, link-up and cooperation with Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum - leading to the fall of the Taliban at the end of 2001.
Toby brings his well-informed insights about some of these initial players: Including David Tyson, JR Seeger, Alex Hernandez and their ride on horseback North with Dostum to Mazar I Sharif, along with the first casualty, Johnny Michael Spann and the events at the Qala-I Jangi fort complex. We discuss the complexity and the accomplishment of how those few intrepid officers and operators transcended traditions, tribes, allegiances and history in an operation that holds clues to the future of Afghan resistance to the Taliban.
More about the author at: Tobyharnden.com
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Toby Harnden Live Drop
Interviewed Monday September 20th, 2021 • 45:25 minutes total
CIA, Taliban, Afghanistan, northern alliance, team alpha, afghans, paramilitaries, Afghan, Jawbreaker, Dostum, Soviets, Cofer Black, Qang I Jangi, Fazl, Pashtun, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Battle of Qang – Jangi, Turkmenistan,Pakistan, Iran, China, Special Operations, special forces, ODA, ODA 595, Darya Suf Valley, Panjshir, NCTC, Cofer Black, Hank Crumpton
Toby Harnden, Mark Valley
Toby Harnden 00:00
You also just have to look at the traditional rivals of the Pashtun. Nevermind the Taliban. So you're looking at Uzbeks to send people tags, Turkmens in, in the north, and they're never going to accept Pashutn rule nevermind Taliban rule. They might be short term deal, but these are these are enemies. And so it remains to be seen how it plays out but I think we're gonna see the same groups opposing the Taliban as we had in the 1990s.
Mark Valley 00:31
Toby Harnden is an award a journalist, foreign correspondent, former bureau chief of the Sunday Times his most recent book, his first casualty, The Untold Story of the CIA mission to avenge 911. After numerous interviews with key players and having visited Afghanistan several times over the last decades, Toby writes about unconventional success story of CIA's Team Alpha from their insertion into the Darya Suf Valley coordination with Special Forces ODA 595 link up in cooperation with Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum. He's quite a character leading to the fall of the Taliban at the end of 2001. Toby brings his well informed insights about some of these initial players including David Tyson, JR Seeger Alex Hernandez in the ride and horseback North with Dostum to Mazari - I Sharif, along with the first casualty, Michael Johnny Span and the events, the Qala I Jangi fort complex, we discussed the complexity and the accomplishment of how these few and intrepid officers and operators transcended traditions tribes allegiances in history, in an operation that holds clues to the future of Afghan resistance to the Taliban, begin transmission now. So let's talk about this. I mean, the timing of your book, first casualty, it's extraordinary. Obviously, you've been busy. I like to ask people this question. But maybe could you just describe from your point of view the reception that the book is getting, at the moment?
Toby Harnden 02:02
Pleasing. I mean, it's been in waves, because initially people are hearing about the book, and they haven't read it. Right. And Afghanistan was very much in the news. And so I was getting sort of a lot of people sort of talking about what went wrong and the evacuation and you know, whether they've been poor planning, which I think the answer was, yes. So there's all sorts of sort of about the politics of it, you know, then we went into 911 anniversary, because publication was, like four days before 911. But now we're getting into because people read it, and are reading it. And it's now there's much more of a focus and an interest in the characters, which are the core of these eight members of the CIA's Team Alpha. And Mike Spann obviously was sadly killed was one of those but David Tyson, who's the Uzbek speaking case officer, who was with my expanding the fort, people, people are now sort of latching on to wow, you know, this is a story about real people with real characters in a sort of a real narrative. So that's, you know, that's very pleasing.
Mark Valley 03:06
And I don't know how much you've been kind of covering or working with Afghanistan in the last 20 years. But is it a little challenging to try to define and stay in your particular scope of expertise? Or is it pretty broad? I mean, I imagine people are saying, oh, book about Afghanistan, what happened in those 20 years? Why did we fail?
Toby Harnden 03:23
So you know, you definitely, definitely get a lot of that. I mean, I mean, fortunately, I am pretty conversant with Afghanistan over that period of 20 years, because I first went there in 2006. had been there many times since. But I was very, I went in very deep and the sort of 2009 2010 period because I wrote my second book, dead mannerism, which was about a British battle group in Helmand in 2009. And then now, I mean, I was I was in Afghanistan for six weeks, at the end of last year speaking with a ton of Afghans if I didn't speak to, I didn't do an interview with a Westerner. And I didn't see a single American or NATO troop in that in that period. And then of course, the book first currency is very much about the beginning about the first few weeks of the CIA led war then in 2001. So I actually do feel I have a pretty good visibility and experience and expertise in in that 20 years so I feel pretty comfortable in talking about the range of what's happened, although I do want to focus on I mean, politics. Politics increasingly kind of bores me in a way I mean, if you're talking about writing a scene in a book and it's who said what in the White House Situation Room Yeah, that interests me a lot less than you know, who was saying what, as they were getting onto the helicopter in K two base in October 2001 you know, sort of real people
Mark Valley 04:53
we definitely bring me right to that place. It was gripping. I mean, I'm reading on Twitter, where people are saying I couldn't put the book down. So I kind of Put it off a little bit thinking, Okay, I'm going to need, I'm gonna need a good stretch of time. You know, the word coming out is that it's hard to put down. So but I really enjoyed it. Thank you. Yeah, I mean, your book is pretty much the first boots and hooves on the on the ground. You mentioned this is kind of a broad question. What I really want to get at is sort of the differences in the roles of the CIA and Special Operations Forces. I mean, you said the CIA had been there a couple of years prior probably longer. David Tyson has studied all those languages. I think Jr. Seeger had been there. I'm not really sure.
Toby Harnden 05:31
Yeah. Well, he'd been in Islam about two. He wasn't actually in Afghanistan, as far as I know. But yeah, he was in Islam about working with the Mujahideen in the 1980s. But yeah, for his experience, while back,
Mark Valley 05:41
I guess what I wanted to know is like, the CIA had already been there. I mean, they brought in this Team Alpha, maybe you could describe like, who's actually on a CIA team like that, and how they integrated and adapt to work with the special operations teams.
Toby Harnden 05:59
Yeah, well, all that was fascinating. Because going into this, I didn't know exactly what the configuration was going to be. So. So what happened was in 2001, immediately after 911, somewhat surprisingly, maybe even shockingly, the Pentagon didn't have a plan for Afghanistan, you think they've got a plan for everything, including invading Canada and stuff, but they did not have a plan for invading Afghanistan and toppling the Taliban regime. CIA, because of going back to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, was obviously funding the Mujahideen, US was funding and the CIA was funneling the money to the Pakistani intelligence who was paying Roger Dean and the, and the US was providing them with Stinger missiles and all that.
Now, the US kind of left Afghanistan, including the CIA after 1989, when the Soviets pulled out because it was seen as a Soviet, you know, Cold War proxy battle. But throughout the 1990s, there was an A small cadre of people in the CIA that remained in contact with with Afghanistan. And then increasingly, as bin Laden and Al Qaeda were there, and the Taliban regime was hosting them. It became, you know, a big issue within CIA, particularly within the Counterterrorism Center. And they were, I mean, George Tenet famously talked about the system, blinking red before 911. We had the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998, the cole bombing in October 2000. And there was this real expectation that the US was going to get hit. So the CIA was desperate to get bin Laden. I mean, they argue that Clinton administration didn't let them and then the Bush administration wasn't really interested, but they were but on 911, they were they were ready, they were ready. And the Pentagon wasn't. So basically, Cofer Black, who was the CDC director, in CIA, pitched the plan to abortion, and bush went for it. And the idea was that these teams of CIA operatives would go into Afghanistan and be the Pathfinders for the Green Berets.
Now, the teams weren't already formed as a team alpha, there were eight, eight members, right? And the nucleus was for paramilitaries. But there are also two case officers. So we mentioned about already David Tyson that was back speaker based in Tashkent, and JR who was actually based in San Francisco, but had been in Islamabad and was a Dara speaker. There was also a medical physician's assistant called Mark Rausenberger, who was ex military but not not a paramilitary, although he subsequently transitioned to become a paramilitary in years later, and Justin Sapp, who was a green beret, who was the sort of eighth eighth man on team, and he was there too, as a sort of liaison with the green beret with the DA coming in, but also because the CIA didn't really have enough people, you know, didn't have enough paramilitaries to populate all these teams. And a lot of our teams had men serving Amazon seals and Delta Force in them because it just weren't enough CIA paramilitaries. But the idea was that that, you know, there was lots of kind of debate and jockeying in the CIA argument is that the Pentagon was dragging its feet, it wasn't in charge, and they were worried about search and rescue cover for teams going in. And so ideally, I think the CIA would have wanted, and it would have made more sense for Green Berets, and the CIA teams to go in. But in the end, Hank Crumpton, who was beneath Cofer Black NCTC is I mean, he said to time travel, like, we want you with us, but we're going in, so the CIA went in first.
Now, September 26, was a Jawbreaker team had gone into the Panjshir Valley, which was sort of the safe zone controlled by the northern lines. The Team Alpha was the first team into enemy territory behind Taliban lines. They landed on October the 17th, and the Green Berets of od a 595. Famously the four soldiers they came in three days later The way they were, I mean, they weren't they were brothers on the ground. I mean, they, they, they had a great relationship. They looked after each other, but they had kind of distinct missions, which was sort of complimentary. and intelligence on Al Qaeda and looking beyond the Taliban to the people who carried out 911 and him who were planning further attacks, and also the sort of the politics the sort of the tribal rivalries to Dostum's Alliance stroke rivalry with the Tajik warlord in the area at Mohamad Norwich could have easily gone pear shaped, but didn't, the CIA sort of dealt with it. So they had to have different roles on the ground, even though they were sort of CO located most of the time.
Mark Valley 11:01
So it sounds like the CIA was establishing, you know, relationships with tribal leaders and so forth. But who, um, who handled the cash?
Toby Harnden 11:10
The CIA handled the cash. The Green Berets had some cash, but not nearly as much. But to see,
Mark Valley 11:18
they had 20s with the CIA at hundreds, right?
Toby Harnden 11:22
The CIA had Team Alpha had $3 million in non sequential $100 bills. So that was used to pay Dostum, Dostum got a million dollars, you know, when the CIA landed. And it was to grease the wheels, you know, to persuade Taliban units to switch sides. I mean, it did distort the local economy, because they only had $100 bills. So you want to apply for sheep? That was $100, which is the annual salary for solvability. Are there
Mark Valley 11:55
It's interesting. I mean, just to jump ahead a little bit, you know, you mentioned like Attila the Hun. And even I think even Genghis Kahn like before they, you know, attack somebody or battle, they say, let's make a deal. See if this is necessary, if you want to give up and give us all your livestock and your everything else. We don't have to fight. And it seems like that sort of a cultural standard pre-procedure before any battle. It's like, Well, can we can we make a deal here first? Yeah. And I was just wondering if I mean, ultimately, that kind of what happened, you know, in the recent months, as well, who was that a surprise to you?
Toby Harnden 12:27
Well, it was surprised to me, because in the in, on the one hand, you have Afghan warlords and Afghan fighters who were as brutal as anybody, you know. But on the other hand, it's you, you know, you perceptively point out if they can avoid that bloodshed, they will. I mean, we clearly saw it last month, when the Taliban, it was sort of a bloodless victory, and actually a CIA officer who was in, in Afghanistan in 2001, he sort of described to me and said, Well, part of its human nature, you know, if defeat is inevitable, that you're gonna die, that defeat or you can go home and try and, you know, get out or, you know, do a deal, but certainly, it's very much part of Afghan tradition to do a deal. And I mean, Dostum, those about warlord that Team Alpha was with him, and he was notorious for switching sides. And he'd fought for the Soviets, against the CIA backed Mujahideen in the 1980s. And, you know, I mean, think he, he always kept his own personal interests, but the interests of his Uzbek ethnic group, you know, you know, that's his consistency, really, like whatever's best for us.
But the problem is for the CIA to navigate the potential for treachery for double dealing, I mean, that was pretty difficult. And the centerpiece of the book really is the Battle of Qala-I Jangi, the prisoner uprising where Johnny Michael Span was killed. That resulted from a sort of an Afghan deal, a deal between Dostum and Aala Fazl, who's now back in government, the Taliban commander in northern Afghanistan at a time where they did a deal for a surrender. And it was done by it was all very murky, about whether the Arabs were going to be allowed to leave and or whether they were going to be handed off to the Americans and the Afghans were just going to be allowed to go home. And there was money involved to pass a million half million dollars. She said, right, Dawson got a half a million dollars per set, you know, for safe passage for some of the some of the al Qaeda guys. And the CIA never really knew what was absolutely what was going on. And their sort of view of it was, well, this is Afghanistan, it's their fight. You know, it's going to be an Afghan deal.
But the problem was the surrendering prisoners would search because it was sort of Afghan honor that you just give up and that's the deal. But that these were not Afghans, they were mostly Arabs, and it turned out was sort of a Trojan horse sort of operation. So although in this early period, there was considerable success with just, you know, hundreds of Americans on the ground rather than, you know, 100,000. Plus, you also see the seeds of that sort of complexity, and the things that will come back to haunt us over the subsequent 20 years. And certainly, these Afghan deals and you know, bloodless surrenders, and everything that was that was very much part of
Mark Valley 15:19
You have a line in the book from while the CIA officer David Tyson, I guess he was dealing with Dostum and was pretty blunt about it. He said, Listen, you will use us and we will use you to get to Mazar I Shariff, and then we'll see what happens.
Toby Harnden 15:32
Yeah. And also understood that, you know, he's like, yeah, fair enough. I mean, that's it. I can work with it. Yeah, I mean, it's soy sauce. You know, that was a sort of a hallmark of this period, that no alliances sort of enduring, or images based on self interest. And at that moment, the US had not wanted to help the Northern Alliance, overthrow the Taliban before 911. The US was certainly interested in getting to get into al Qaeda and starting to become interested in killing been long around that period. But it took 911 for the interests to align. And they weren't different. I mean, the US, they wanted to get rid of the Taliban, so to get al Qaeda, but the normalized didn't really care that much about al Qaeda. It was really the Taliban. So it was just you know, it was mutual self interest in those in those months. But then, as that kind of seen in the book, you know, it's sort of foretells, really those interests started to sort of diverged once Mazar e Sharif have been captured, and then then you're in a whole different sort of world.
Mark Valley 16:32
You mentioned, the fort Qala-I Jangi At your I mean, your book describes that operation in detail. I mean, it's, it's, it's gut wrenching. It's just It's seems like something that I've just never seen before. Yeah, yeah. It was incredible. You went back there. You said there's been some landscaping that's been done for the place. And I have to say, you did describe the basement of the pink room. Do you remember how you district house? Yeah, yeah. Yeah, right. Describe the basement?
Toby Harnden 16:58
I can't remember the exact exact words
Mark Valley 17:00
You said 'dank and spectral.' I have not been able to get that out of my head.
Toby Harnden 17:06
So yes, I was there in November 20 2020. Yeah, last November. And it happened. So happened. I mean, I was it was it was pretty hard to get in there actually. Cuz some Pashtun General was commanding it, and it was all, you know, the usual Afghan thing. So it took me several weeks longer to get better than I'd anticipated. And actually, when I was there, I was there on November the 26th 2020, which was exactly to the day like 19 years, after being prisoners in them in my expand was killed on the first day, the uprising, which was November 25. And so yeah, I mean, that cellar basement, you know, it felt I mean, I didn't really believe in ghosts, but it felt like it was haunted. You know, I mean, a lot of people had died down there. It had been full of all these archives of prisoners, it'd been people who drowned people who've been there with wounds, the bean grenades exploded in there through sort of, because of divisions within the al Qaeda fighters. And it hadn't, you know, the, you know, all the bodies and body parts and stuff were gone. But there was still a lot of the detritus of war, you could see some of the marks from explosives on the walls. There were bits of graffiti from the, I don't think from during the uprising, but from before and afterwards, like American soldiers scrawled stuff on it. And, you know, there were bits of munitions and, you know, kind of mortar parts and parts of rifles all around. And there was a lot of mud down there. And I think Yeah, spectral was, it was really, it was really eerie down there.
Mark Valley 18:48
Yeah. It felt like the epicenter of your book somehow. I mean, if it if it was hearts of darkness that was going up to, you know, it was going up to Congo to that to that spot. Yes.
Toby Harnden 19:00
Right. It felt like a sort of like a ground zero kind of thing. of the war in those early weeks. And actually, I was at Ground Zero, although I'm not sure it's even called down Ground Zero anymore. But, you know, the sight of the World Trade Center this weekend, and when you go to these places, and you think so many people have died here, and so much has happened. And this was the center of something, and now it's sort of peaceful, right? It definitely gives, you know, you get these vibes from it.
Mark Valley 19:27
Yeah. Especially someone that with so much information to draw from about these events. It must be overwhelming sometimes. So I wanted to I can I noticed with Google Maps is that you can't quite get the same granularity. I don't know why they like didn't want to get to give you too much detail about this place right now. But I mean, there's something I didn't realize it but I always felt like the Northern Alliance had kind of moved south, you know, toward Kabul, but this was kind of a northern, like a northern movement.
Toby Harnden 19:55
Yeah, yeah. So I mean, the Northern Alliance was, you know, non Pashtun Uzbecks, Tajiks, Turkmens? And I mean, it was very controversial at the time that you know that northern alliance wanted to go to Kabul actually, Dostum wanting to go into the east and go after bin Laden. But even, you know, non Taliban Pashtuns, didn't want that to happen. And the Bush administration, as well was trying to keep the northern alliance. So they did go to Kabul, but they didn't go any further south. And they really were sort of they really weren't northern.
Mark Valley 20:29
I just wanted to throw one other thing in, you mentioned, outliers. I mean, there's some characters that showed up, obviously, an alliance of convenience, but there were Iranians there as well.
Toby Harnden 20:41
Yeah, absolutely. So when Team Alpha landed on October 17 2001, there was a little kind of powwow with the various sort of tribal leaders. And there was a god, there was a guy who was introduced, Dostum introduced, Jr, the chief CIA chief team, alpha to, you know, our Iranian friend, you know, he was a guy from Quds Force. And JR, took that message like, you know, listen, that's not really gonna work. You know, I mean, obviously, the Iranians are Shia, and they hated the Taliban, the Taliban had, you know, murdered a lot of his right Iranian diplomats in in Mazar I Sharif has no love lost. And there is this sense of, you know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But that was that was pushing it a bit too far. The Iranians were sort of always around. And then after Mike Span was killed, the Iranian guy was in Mazar I Sharif by that. And he sort of, you know, went up to the Team Alpha guys and sort of said, you know, offered us commiseration, sort of from one professional to another. So it was sort of, you know, yeah, the Iranians were there, you know, they were supplying the northern islands. I remember, it actually happened a little bit after the period of the book, like, a month or two afterwards. I remember my major telling me about how, you know, he was having to deal with the American supply chain, and it was slow and everything. And then in the meantime, the Iranians just flew in, a lot of uniforms for the Northern Alliance. So it's like this sort of power play. Everyone's trying to sort of get in there.
Mark Valley 22:11
Like everybody's investing. Yeah. So there was some competition going on in a team Jawbreaker. I mean, there's a book by Gary Bernsen. I read that a while back. Yeah. And it seemed like they were the front kind of the front runner of attention to things kind of shifted to Task Force Dagger. Can you talk about that?
Toby Harnden 22:25
Yeah, absolutely. So it's, it's interesting. So yeah, so Gary Schoen, was, at the time, 59 years old, he was like a lieutenant general equivalent, and SIS three, Senior Intelligence Service level three. So very senior guy was about to retire like a storied agency career, and he was sort of call back call back into service and he was with the jawbreaker team, in the Panjshir Valley on September 26. So and Gary Shoen's book was called First In. And after a few weeks, he was succeeded by Gary Bernsen, who was more junior, but you know, still a big hitter, and he did a book called Jawbreaker. And that was both of those were about that team, which kind of expanded and split, but they were based in the Panjshir Valley, which was Northern Alliance control, and the CIA, including David Tyson was one of them had been flying enough to the Panjshir valley from Darya Suf Valley. Tajikistan usually put the previous couple of years and also the Tajiks, have been assassinated on September the ninth and the Tajiks on the Fahim cart weren't really moving. I mean, there was a lot of friction between the US military and the CIA, and attaching to the Panjshir Valley because they seem they just want in money, they want us to buy everything, in contrast to Team Alpha was in Taliban controlled territory, sort of behind the lines, and they always lost them a lot of rivalries and tensions between the Tags and the Uzbeks.
But Dostum wanted to fight. He wanted to get his men on horseback and take the fight to the Taliban. And that was great for the CIA. And that was great for Team Alpha. And so what you have was developed would be the sort of Team Alpha sort of identified with determine that was Beck's Jawbreaker, you know, identified with Rahim, Khan and attacks, and there was, you know, there's only finite resources. There's only so much airpower. There's only, you know, so many supplies. And so Team Alpha and Jawbreaker. You know, I mean, there were a few strongly worded kind of exchanges, but you know, everyone's on the same side, but there's a kind of, I mean, I think a largely healthy competition where, you know, jawbreakers saying, we need this and try to say, No, we we're moving, we're fighting, we need the airstrikes, and we need the supplies, and ultimately, CIA headquarters, Hank Crumpton, who I mentioned before, he kind of sided with him after like, for the time being, the focus is going to be on Dostum and Team Alpha because, you know, they're doing the fighting and when You need to take Mazar I Sharif and then once that's fallen then we can move on Kabul you know so there was an interesting interplay between JR Seeger on Team Alpha and Gary Schroen on jawbreaker
Mark Valley 25:13
An interesting comparison that you compare das chimp to George Patton because that events are just seemed like, you know, Bastogne everybody's kind of hankering like how are we going to get this done and people are disagreeing and Patton's like: we are going to have two divisions there in 48 hours.
Toby Harnden 25:25
So that was JR, who said he listened to Dostum talking to his troops. And I don't know whether he was speaking he might he might have been speaking in diary because some of the some of the troops would have been tagged and JR was a Dara speaker. But anyway, he or maybe Dostum translated for JR afterwards. Or maybe it was pretty clear the way he was talking from his sort of delivery. But he gave Dostum gave us sort of like blood curdling sort of speech. Which was, you know, reminded JR. of, you know, the pattern speech at the start of the movie
Mark Valley 26:03
grease the wheels of our tank tracks and feed our horses or something?
Toby Harnden 26:06
Yeah, yeah, that's right. Yeah, exactly. And I mean, the movie version of the pan speech was sort of cleaned up from the I think the original version, but I mean, I think the word parallels I mean, dust. I mean, I met Dostum, I interviewed him last year. And I mean, he, you know, I mean, I was gonna say, doesn't take prisoners? Well, he does. But you know, sometimes the prisoners don't fare too well. I mean, this, this is a guy who has blood on his hands, and a bit like, I feel like that that Marine Corps sort of motto, you know, no, no better friend, no worst enemy. He's that he's that type of character?
Mark Valley 26:39
I don't know if you mentioned that container incident. I mean, Was there any proof that Dostum was involved in that? Or was it's just
Toby Harnden 26:47
so yes. So it was a bit that that whole story is a bit of a rabbit hole, you know, right. So I didn't want to, you know, go down it sort of too deeply. But I it's certainly in there. And I asked him about it. And I was shocked, because I expect so basically, the container allegation was that after Qala I Jangi. So in late November, there were loads of 1000s of prisoners being moved from containers in the east, who've been moved west to share began, which was there was a prison there. And it was Dostum's stronghold. And the allegation was that a lot of prisoners were either suffocated and contained in shipping containers, which, by the way, is a common mode of keeping and transporting prisoners in Afghanistan. I mean, container has been very much associated with atrocities over the years, you know, people baking to death in the sun, or containers being dropped in rivers and people drowning, all sorts of sort of bad stuff. But the allegation was that Dostum had because he was angered by college, and he had killed the numbers. I mean, in Afghanistan numbers are have a sort of a life of their own, you know, hundreds or 1000s and different numbers have been buried, bandied around and, you know, people found some bodies in the desert. Well, this was Afghanistan. 2001. There's lots of bodies all over the desert. But anyway, so but this allegation sort of persisted, and human rights groups would talk about, you know, dashed alele bodies in the desert. And so I asked them about it, and I expect him to sort of just deny everything. But he saw he said, Well, you know, it wasn't so basically wasn't as bad as people say, but yeah, there was one of my commanders and, you know, to his brother's been killed by Taliban, and he was emotional, young man, and he was sort of very upset. And, yeah, so we did shoot up a container. And did Kip did kill a few prisoners. And so you know, I mean, I mean, he sort of downplayed it. And he certainly said there were no Americans involved. And there's been never been any credible evidence that Americans were involved. But I think some, you know, Dostum admitted that one of his men and even you could kind of debate how much he would have known or whatever, or maybe he was just sort of downplaying it. But he did say that, you know, one of his commanders had had killed some prisoners in that period. But I mean, you don't want to be callous about this. But this is Afghanistan. There was death everywhere in that period, not least from the Taliban.
Mark Valley 29:10
You mentioned Fazl before you said he's he's got a job in the new the new regime or government. I'm not really sure. But I was just wondering, Dostum is he's in Uzbekistan right now. Does he have any aspirations going forward? Or is he kind of retired?
Toby Harnden 29:27
I don't think someone like Dostum ever retires you know, it's like you retire when you go to the grave. He's in US Pakistan. We know that there's been resistance from a small number of tags in the pantry Valley. I'm not actually sure exactly what the status of that is right now.
Mark Valley 29:43
But he's recently they've been crushed. That's today's news.
Toby Harnden 29:47
I mean, I mean, they're pretty beleaguered. I do think there will be an Afghan resistance at some point because I mean, that's the flip side in a way of the bloodless victory. I mean, it just majority of Afghans didn't vote. For the Taliban, and don't support them even a majority of pashtoon, that that will be sort of questionable. And you know, and the other minorities added together amount to a majority of Afghans. So I'm sure there will be a resistance and an opposition to the Taliban. And I, I know that Dostum is talking about that he sees himself as a sort of historic leader of those backs and and the Afghans in the north. Also mauler Fazal, who was the Taliban commander, and he also commanded al Qaeda troops in northern Afghanistan in 2001. He is back in the new Taliban government with his deputy minister for defense, the same position he had in 2001. And I think, I mean, he is a sworn enemy of Dostum, and he's accused of genocide by not just by the CIA, but you know, human rights groups, massacres of Hazara Shia. I mean, he's a really evil, evil character. And I think Dostum would really like to kind of rejoin the fight against fossil. So I mean, I do feel that what's happening at the moment, is not is not the end of the story with all this. I mean, it's not the final chapter. Yeah. Do you
Mark Valley 31:11
suggest any particular region tribes or groups that are going to kind of maybe start or join this kind of uprising? Or would it be something civil, like out of Kabul after having seen, you know, a different environment of human rights and so forth? Well,
Toby Harnden 31:25
you I mean, in a way, the situation we have now is sort of uncannily similar to what we had before 911, you know, where you have a holdout group, possibly, maybe not now in the Panjshir Valley, but the Taliban at least normally controls the rest of the country. Now country's very different, it's the populations have nearly doubled in the last 20 years, obviously, we have a generation of Afghans how to measure of modernity and much more sort of freedom than they had under the sort of medieval regime of the Taliban. And so I do think the Taliban is going to have a hell of a job governing this place. You know, it's fractured and ethnically broken up but i think i think the will be in the will be kind of like us sort of civil disobedience and opposition from women and population more generally, in Kabul urban areas, but you also just have to look at the traditional rivals of the Pashtun to nevermind the Taliban, so you're looking at Uzbeks, same people, Tajiks, Turkmens in in the north and they're never going to accept Pashtun rule nevermind Taliban rule they might be short term deal but these are these are enemies and so it remains to be seen how it plays out but I think we're gonna see the same groups opposing the Taliban as we had in the 1990s
Mark Valley 32:44
Afghanistan is bordered by five countries but if you look at the exit the Khyber Pass, if at the very end of it, no the Hindu Kush. At the very end of it, it's China. So Afghanistan does actually have a small border with China or no, yeah,
Toby Harnden 32:57
so it's six countries. So if you start at the top, if you start at the top left, you know, you've got Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, which is where the Americans came in, flew in from in 2001, and then Tajikistan, where, you know, which the Americans were also using as a staging post in the pre 911 period to fly into the Panjshir Valley and obviously there's an affinity between the ethnic tags of Afghanistan and the tags of Tajikistan but then when you go just beyond to the to the northeast of Afghanistan there's this little finger that juts into China and there's this little border with China and then below that you have Pakistan which goes all the way to the east and route to the bottom of Afghanistan in the south and then over in the West you've got Iran you know, so it's a pretty complicated sort of you can see why there's been conflict and difficulties in this country
Mark Valley 33:49
Yeah, that's that's a lot of neighbors.
Toby Harnden 33:51
right. And they're all you know, they're all trying to fill a vacuum you know, America's lacks as a power vacuum and they're all trying to fill it
Mark Valley 33:57
I did have there's other one interesting thing I looked at when I first saw the pictures in these pages, I thought, wow, why are these guys this Team Alpha right? Um, because you know, I've done a little bit of, I'm not really crazy outdoorsman, but I've done you know, some hiking and backpacking and and I thought, why are these guys that the one thing you don't want to wear is jeans because they get wet, they don't dry and I thought, why these guys are wearing jeans?
Toby Harnden 34:24
Yeah, so there's been a lot of like, amusement about the picture, not least from the Team Alpha, guys, because there were lots of jokes about you know, like a bunch of dads going on a fishing trip. You know, it's people, you know, meeting up for a hike, after drinking their sort homebrew beer, all this type of stuff. And if you look at them, they do look kind of ordinary, and they kind of look a little bit goofy with some of their gear. So it speaks to a few things mean later on the word elite warriors in this team for them will paramilitaries all eight of them had a military background. I mean, the one who had the least military experience was David Tyson who done two short stints in the army in the 80s. And of course, you know, one of the ironies of what happened is that he was the one who was put who had this situation where he was in extremists knew how to kill or be killed, and he ended up killing, you know, dozens of al Qaeda getting out, and he was the last person out of as he would put in there.
But you know, Tyson and Seager were case officers, and then it was, there was a medic. And so it wasn't like SEAL Team Six going to get bin Laden in 2011, with night vision and helmets and an a plan that they kind of executed 100 times before and if something went wrong, so these guys so they couldn't take in any military kit, like nothing. So Justin Sapp who's still serving Colonel was a green beret captain, you know, didn't even take his ID card, no military kit, because, you know, if they were captured, and you know, they wanted to be sort of anonymous, and all that they didn't, I mean, this is astonishing, they did not take in helmets or body armor, because they were the philosophy was where, you know, we're living with and fighting alongside the Afghans. And so if we come in, like, sort of Spaceman, you know, all protected, then the message to them is sort of our lives matter than yours and mathematic more than yours. And that's not going to be right. So no body armor, no helmets, and they and also, this was an emperor eyes mission. The core of the team was these four paramilitaries, but the others, a lot of them barely knew each other.
Before we got into Afghanistan, it was sort of it was cobbled together, you know, for this mission. And it was also, I mean, the CIA wasn't expecting to have to do this. And so they didn't have like an equipment store where they just went in, it was like, No, here's the, here's a government credit card, go to Rei and get some camping gear. And so that that's what they did. And so that's how they ended up looking like this. David Tyson in particular was in Tashkent. And so he was added to the team at the end. And he just had whatever he could get rom Tashkent. So he had these boots, which were sort of like leisure boots, kind of, you know, they weren't even proper combat boots. And he wore them throughout for you know, more than 40 days. And they're now in the CIA museum. Well, and his son describes them as dad's lucky boots. And they do look like kind of dad boots,
Mark Valley 37:18
and those boots were dank and spectral.
Toby Harnden 37:22
Might be pretty dank and smelly.
Mark Valley 37:24
But the jeans the jeans, though, I have to admit that I did talk to somebody who's you know, from Texas and works down and they said, you know, it's just a more comfortable ride if you're wearing jeans because the rest of your legs if their jeans are tighter also kind of absorb the bump a little bit.
Toby Harnden 37:38
Yeah, Mike Spann wore jeans throughout he died, you know, he was wearing a pair of jeans when he died. And, and the Afghans noticed that because they would call jeans cowboys. So when they were talking about recovering my expands body fat here, commodify here, who's one of the Afghan commanders who, who actually was recently evacuated by, amongst others, some of the Team Alpha people, you know, at sort of 20 years old, he said, you know, to David's as David was wearing Cowboys.
Mark Valley 38:09
there's actually a Mike's there was actually I was looking at the Google Maps and just below the Ford is a is an encampment or a base named after Mike's band, you know about that?
Toby Harnden 38:19
Yeah. So Camp Mike Spann, it was handed over to the Afghans eventually. And presumably, the Taliban either occupies it or has trashed it. But it's funny, these names. And of course, we had a lot of memorials of Bagram that were sort of left behind or had to be destroyed. And it sort of hits fun. It takes me back to Iraq. I remember talking to a soldier in Iraq in about 2000, probably 2004 or five. And he was like, I don't want to get killed. I'm not going to get killed here. Because I don't want I don't want some damn chow hall to be named after me. And he's right. I'm this young guy. I've just been like, No way is that happening to me. And of course, the other thing about it is and I'm sure it happened in you know, in Vietnam, and, and it certainly happened in Iraq, and Afghanistan is, these things are not forever. So you sort of have, you know, I mean, I feel it now with can Mike span, you know, it's sort of it was a tribute to him. But you know, ultimately, you know, the Taliban got it. So it's kind of a, it's sort of adds a little, another little tinge of sadness to the whole thing.
Mark Valley 39:35
The one thing your book really brings out is, I mean, these guys were, you know, they were patriots they serve some it served in the military, there was their career, you know, CIA guys, but they were, they were forced with a problem that we probably hadn't seen since maybe Laos, you know, with with, you know, the relationship between Air America and you know, CIA agents, working with indigenous forces, and then you topple that with All the different tribes and then, you know, they're on horseback and then there's, you know, hundreds and hundreds of POW with different allegiances. And you have CIA, you have special operations. And it's just mind boggling. The scope and complexity of the problems that, you know, officers like Mike Spann had had to deal with. And, you know, your book really kind of brings it brings that out.
Toby Harnden 40:23
thank you. Yes, yeah. I mean, thank you. I mean, you see, you know, they, this was a successful period, they defeat the topple the Taliban government almost as quickly as the Afghan Ghani government sort of toppled last month, but success was not guaranteed. And so this was all about improvisation, adaptability. And, you know, one of the things I sort of loved about getting to know these, these guys, they certainly very high caliber people and sort of, you know, all sort of Type A personalities and linguistic expertise, highly intelligent, you know, military expertise, but they're also real people. And ordinary people ordinary in the best sense of the word.
David Tyson, I've got to know extremely well, you know, he speaks seven or eight languages. I mean, he was an expert on Turkmen shrines, you know, he did a dictionary, he wrote a dictionary on, you know, Turkman language, and he speaks was back like a native, so he's not your average person. But when you meet him, you see him You wouldn't give him you know, a second glance on the street is extremely humble, and more than willing, and I feel like it added an extra dimension to look to talk about his own sort of human frailties. And, you know, he was extraordinarily brave. But when my son was killed, and he had to, he had to kill all these Al Qaeda guys, or be killed himself, but he was like, I didn't have a choice. You know, it was just, it was instinctive. I didn't, I didn't even have a split second to decide. I just the training kicked in, you know, muscle memory kicked in. And then he was like, two days later, you know, he said, I was so scared, my rifle was not, you know, I was, he was that knocking. And it was, it was my rifle knocking at a tank, because my hands were shaking, shaking so much. And so he was able to talk me through the sort of feelings and emotions and the psychology he had, as a sort of ordinary human being, as well as you know, CIA officer. And I sort of felt that in a way these men were, they were extraordinary. And they were in an extraordinary situation. But there was also something ordinary about them, something of every man about them, which I thought was something I really, really tried to capture.
Mark Valley 42:36
They're also a really observational bunch too, aren't they? I mean, even David Tyson, was talking about his own experience, and, you know, how it took him a moment to realize, Oh, wait, we're actually being attacked, you know, like these kind of honest and, observations and admissions...
Toby Harnden 42:51
Well, what a fact what I found was, and I found this in sort of other projects is, is people in the memory so different, like some people have a great memory for dialogue, you know, other people can't, can't ever remember what was said. But they can remember distances, directions, the details of military hardware, how you know, how many shots were fired. And so that was how it was with this. That's why it was great than the six surviving members of Team Alpha, you kind of triangulate and like Justin Sapp, who was the green beret had a great, a great memory for dialogue and humor. And the anecdote JR. was fantastic, sort of on the history and their tribal mechanics, and David Tyson on this sort of psychology when you put it all together. And then also the diaries, you know, David Tyson kept a diary, which he wasn't supposed to do, but he did. And thank God he did. And then I got to lessons learned sort of document from Special Operations Command, so that useful bits of documentation that can help, but it's a great feeling to sort of put it all together. And each different document or each different person gives you something else. And you can build up a very kind of textured picture, which is hard to get, if you just say, no ghosting someone's memoir for them, where it's just going to be one person's kind of memory.
Mark Valley 44:13
I mean, I really appreciate the way you've consolidated, you've crafted a real compelling and seamless story and I really enjoyed it.
Toby Harnden 44:18
Thank you. Thank you.
Mark Valley 44:19
Congrats for the reception book. Thanks for being on the live drop.
Toby Harnden 44:21
I enjoyed it. And I appreciate the interest and yeah, thank you.
Mark Valley 44:34
So that's the drop of Toby Harnden in his first his book first casualty, it's available now it's quickly becoming required reading his reviews continue to come in, check out Toby harnden.com for more information and the show notes as well. I just want to mention I'm putting together another season of 25 episodes of live dropped each episode is it's about five to 10 hours of work depending on preparation research length of show I To keep the transmission clean of advertisements and sales pitches, and basically I'm just demand standing in front of a microphone asking to be funded. So just check out the show notes for ways to contribute. There's a Live Drop Patreon with exclusive content for subscribers, and a one-time-pad PayPal if you like what you're hearing. Thank you for everyone. Keep listening…