One common claim for 9/11 foreknowledge is that America's war on Afghanistan was planned months before the attacks. This is often supported with quotes from mainstream news stories: here's a collection that include the most frequently referenced pieces.
It appears to be a lengthy and solid list. But spend just a little time looking into this and you realise that things aren't entirely as they seem.
Plans? What plans?
The claim here is that America was primed, ready to attack Afghanistan some time before the 9/11 attacks occurred. But is that was the case, then why did they wait until October 7th to initiate air attacks? And those then continued for some time, with the Northern Alliance left to do the bulk of the ground work, and conventional troops not arriving until November. What was it about this seemingly very basic plan that required months of work?
It's not just us asking this question. Here's Peter Bergen in the April 2004 New York Times, framing questions for the US Government and Condi Rice:
Here's a noted commentator who appears to believe that American actions showed a lack of planning rather than a suspicious degree of foreknowledge.
There's confirmation from elsewhere that it took some time before the final Afghan plans were ready. Here's what General Tommy Franks said about planning in his February 2002 statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee:
According to this it took from September 12th until maybe the 21st before Franks was ready to brief the President on the first plans, and combat operations and the recommendation on the "military course of action" wouldn't be approved until October 1st.
Bob Woodward's "State of Denial" takes this further, saying the military were unprepared and the campaign strategy was created by the CIA:
Again, there's talk of an unprepared military. The CIA have a plan, but it's a patchwork, relies heavily on the Northern Alliance, and even here isn't ready to go for some time, presumably at least in part because the US must move its air power to the region and identify targets to be struck.
There are good reasons to question the idea that America was well prepared for war with Afghanistan, then, but of course none of this makes the other stories go away. So what were they talking about?
The 9/11 Commission reports
The stories that, for instance, there was a Presidential directive authorising a "war on al Qaeda" ready to be signed just days before 9/11, are often presented as though they're revealing a very dark secret. But in reality this has been public knowledge for years, and was discussed extensively in the 9/11 Commission report. We've snipped sections that seem relevant here, but too much information has been left out for you to get a full picture here. If you've not already done so, please read Chapter 6 of the 9/11 Commission report first to understand the complete background.
The 9/11 Commission Report tells us that there was a draft Presidential directive containing a strategy to deal with al Qaeda and the Taliban, then. But this is something that had been brewing for a long time, fuelled by al Qaeda's attacks on US embassies and the Cole, with the threat of more to come. It's hardly surprising that some effort to combat this was being prepared.
The directive seems to recommend a very long term plan, though, something that would take years. The direct actions were in the main covert, and there was little in the way of military planning, certainly not in terms of supporting an invasion.
Still, with America thinking about taking action about al Qaeda and the Taliban throughout 2001, could this have contributed to the various "foreknowledge" stories? Let's take a look.
Here's the (apparently) full India Reacts story, as quoted at What Really Happened:
Much is made of "plans" for "limited military action", but given that they are "limited", as a "last option" following "tough new sanction" and with the aim to "push Taliban lines back to the 1998 position 50 km away from Mazar-e-Sharief", the story hardly seems an accurate prediction of what was to come. It seems, in fact, much more like a basic view of the American proposals, that they'll try tactics like sanctions first, resort to military action later if necessary, but even then this will not be an attempt to overthrow the Taliban in one action.
The account of Niaz Naik is, in our experience, quoted more commonly than any others in connection with Afghan pre-planning. Here's the BBC's article on this topic, from September 18th:
The emphasis is generally placed on Naik's prediction that military action would take place "by the middle of October" at the latest. American attacks from the air started on October 7th, so that seems to be a hit. But what about the rest?
Naik doesn't explicitly describe a full-blown invasion, talking instead of a specific aim to "kill or capture both Bin Laden and the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar". He talks also of a wider objective to "topple the Taleban regime" but doesn't spell out if this is to happen at the same time, and also incorrectly suggested the new government may be lead by "former Afghan King Zahir Shah". This isn't such a good prediction.
Naik tells us that the attack would be launched from bases in Tajikstan, but this also proved inaccurate. Even on November 3rd, almost a month after the attack, Tajikistan were only talking about possibly allowing one base to be used in the operation, according to this Agence France Presse report:
Naik additionally said he was told that "Uzbekistan would also participate in the operation", a better prediction as the country did allow US planes to use its bases (with some claimed restrictions) and reportedly had some troops stationed there.
But the suggestion that "17,000 Russian troops were on standby" was presumably supposed to indicate that they might be involved, something that didn't happen. And Naik failed to mention the most obvious idea, that the US would support the Northern Alliance to help them carry out ground attack roles.
We could make excuses for these problems with Naik's story, perhaps theorise that he was fed false information in the knowledge that this would get back to the Taliban, but that's just guesswork. The reality is Naik's account isn't particularly accurate, a problem if it's supposed to indicate any kind of detailed foreknowledge.
Lack of confirmation
Can anyone else confirm Naik's conversations? It seems not. Here's a later Guardian story:
As you'll see, Naik's account here is relatively sparse. No details about Russian troops, specific support from particular countries, or a particular date for the action. Instead Naik concentrates on the particular aim, apparently to get bin Laden - "won't miss him this time". Again, no mention of an all-out invasion.
There's also no confirmation from anyone of Naik's earlier account. And interestingly, while Simons specifically says military action was one of the options "down the road", what he most questions (as we have above) are the "details, I don't know where they came from."
As was reported above, Simons later added a comment about the "carpet of gold/ carpet of bombs" remark: "It’s possible that a mischievous American participant, after several drinks, may have thought it smart to evoke gold carpets and carpet bombs. Even Americans can’t resist the temptation to be mischievous." But again, how does this relate to foreknowledge of a future attack? Even if Simons said exactly that, surely it implies a negotiation, that there's still hope? Which certainly wouldn't work if you then said, "but we'll be attacking Afghanistan in the autumn anyway, and here's detailed information on the countries that will be helping us and what we hope to achieve."
Naik's most-quoted version of this story isn't fully confirmed by anyone, then. Even he doesn't repeat the same details everywhere.
Can we entirely trust Naik's account of events? A Salon article suggests reasons why Naik might have told the story he did.
The same article reports suggestions that Naik has proved unreliable before:
We know, then, that Washington policy had been moving through 2001 towards taking a more active role against the Taliban and al Qaeda. We know there was talk of military action at some point, though not imminently, or in the context of a full invasion. It's not unreasonable to believe that the retired US officials who met with Naik were aware of this, and so conveyed that message to him.
Naik's later account of the meeting included many extra details, however it's hard to believe that retired officials would know specific attack plans, or want to pass them on to him. As there's also no confirmation of those details from anyone else, and we know some of them proved inaccurate, the simplest explanation is that already provided by respected commentators like Ahmed Rashid: Naik exaggerated what he heard for honourable reasons, in that he could see support for the Taliban was hurting Pakistan and wanted others to understand that.
It's worth noting that even some of those within the truth movement treat the "carpet of bombs" quote sceptically. Jared Israel said "the "carpet of bombs" quote is *not* highly documented. Like a lot of the urban legend-type material cluttering the discussion of 9-11, it is not documented at all. (At least not in the English language.) It has just been repeated a lot." Read more here.
Naik's report of a US warning "Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs" has been claimed by many to relate to a plan to build a gas pipeline through the country. However, even Naik said the issue never arose:
Naik was found dead in August 2009. We've no doubt that people will find a way to connect this to his 9/11 account, even though that was relayed almost 8 years earlier.
As we detailed above, in May 2002 MSNBC reported that "President Bush was expected to sign detailed plans for a worldwide war against al-Qaida two days before Sept. 11 but did not have the chance before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, U.S. and foreign sources told NBC News."
The article appears generally in agreement with the 9/11 Commission's report. This was a long-term project, starting with diplomatic initiatives, working with other countries to round up al Qaeda suspects, attacking al Qaeda financial support, and attempts to persuade the Taliban to turn over bin Laden. The main focus was on covert operations. Only later would there be military action, if all else failed (and even then this may have been simply to "get bin Laden", rather than launch a full-scale attack).
There's a contradiction in the timing - the article says Bush was to sign it on September 9th, the 9/11 Commission say officials were passing it on the 10th - but this hardly seems a smoking gun.
And when the article is quoted, significance is often given to this: "In many respects, the directive, as described to NBC News, outlined essentially the same war plan that the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon put into action after the Sept. 11 attacks. The administration most likely was able to respond so quickly to the attacks because it simply had to pull the plans “off the shelf,” Miklaszewski said."
But how is this surprising? Of course the US sought to work with other countries, post-9/11, to deal with al Qaeda. Of course they wanted to disrupt their finances. Of course they asked Afghanistan to hand over bin Laden. These are very obvious things to do. Notably they're not plans for war in Afghanistan, though. And on that point, as we've seen, there are people who feel the administration didn't "respond so quickly" at all.
In other words, while this was new at the time, we now know much more, and there's nothing here that varies significantly from what the 9/11 Commission have told us.
There are other stories that crop up on this same topic, but in our experience they're of little substance.
The first Guardian story we quote above turned out to be a retelling of Niaz Naik's account, for instance. It includes a line saying "reliable western military sources say a US contingency plan exist[s] on paper by the end of the summer to attack Afghanistan from the north", but so what? The 9/11 Commission report spoke of the US preparing plans for air attacks at the end of 2000, but says they weren't about an invasion, and the article contains nothing to contradict this.
Elsewhere there's the report that "A senior official in the Taliban’s defense ministry tells journalist Hamid Mir that the US will soon invade Afghanistan. Mir will later recall that he is told, “[W]e believe Americans are going to invade Afghanistan and they will do this before October 15, 2001, and justification for this would be either one of two options: Taliban got control of Afghanistan or a big major attack against American interests either inside America or elsewhere in the world.”"
We don't have the original report for this, so can't be sure of its accuracy. However, as senior Taliban officials reportedly knew the attacks were coming, then that may be the foreknowledge that caused them to believe the US would soon invade. Seems a more plausible explanation to us than somehow trying to tie this to Taliban awareness of American foreknowledge of a false flag attack.
It's no secret that the US were preparing plans to deal with al Qaeda and the Taliban before 9/11. The 9/11 Commission cover the issue in great depth.
It's not in any sense suspicious that they were doing this, either. The impetus came about because al Qaeda attacked the US embassies in Africa, bombed the Cole, and threatened many more attacks, with intelligence agencies predicting something would happen in the summer. Why is it surprising that the US would respond to this by planning new actions, when their existing path plainly wasn't working?
Ah, the 9/11 truth movement asks, so was it really just a "coincidence" that the White House were working on the directive just the day before the attacks, according to the 9/11 Commission?
And we say, no, probably not. It wasn't a coincidence. On September 9th, al Qaeda, knowing that the Taliban may soon need buttressing from a military response, killed the leader of the Northern Alliance. Given their importance to US plans, and the suspicion that something significant may be going on in Afghanistan, it's probably not a "coincidence" that officials met to discuss their own plans regarding the country and al Qaeda. It's more likely they reacted to an important event to discuss how it might affect their plans, then try to move forward with them, a natural and obvious thing to do.
Of course the details of what is, or it not suspicious can be debated endlessly. What isn't in dispute, though, is that the US attack on Afghanistan didn't occur immediately after the attack: it took 26 days, such a long time that the respected commentator Peter Bergen concluded the US had no "plan in place" for anything faster.
What's also plain is that, even then, the attack was mostly about air power. There were reportedly just a few specialist forces on the ground, and conventional troops wouldn't arrive for almost another month.
We believe this shows the US were not prepared for the task of an all-out war to remove the Taliban, then. The stories from MSNBC and Niaz Naik do nothing to convince us otherwise, and so on balance we feel the American lack of preparedness doesn't support foreknowledge of the attacks: more likely, they didn't know what was coming, or what they would soon have to do.