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FLASHBACK: Sept. 26, 2001--CIA is "First In" after September 11th Attacks

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President George W. Bush receives a briefing during a meeting with CIA Director George Tenet, right, at Camp David.—White House photo by Eric Draper

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush ordered the CIA to launch operations against the al-Qa’ida terrorist organization and its Taliban supporters in Afghanistan.  “I want CIA to be first on the ground,” President Bush told then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet at a White House meeting on Sept. 17, 2001.

Because of the relationships the CIA had developed with the Northern Alliance in the years leading up to the September attacks, the Agency was in a strong position to be first on the ground in Afghanistan.

The CIA proposed a plan to send seven highly trained officers into the field to renew relationships with Afghan partners and collect real-time, actionable intelligence in order to help shape the battlefield. By Sept. 26, 2001, just 15 days after the attacks on U.S. soil, the Northern Alliance Liaison Team–codenamed “JAWBREAKER” –was on the ground and operating in Afghanistan.

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The Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter was CIA’s workhorse for transporting personnel, equipment, and supplies into, across, and out of Afghanistan. Two days later, the CIA flight mechanic repainted the Mi-17 with a new tail number – 91101.

By the time the U.S. officially launched Operation Enduring Freedom on Oct. 7, 2001, CIA officers had collected all-source intelligence that gave the U.S. a strategic advantage on the ground. In the weeks that followed, a core of more than 100 CIA officers and 300 U.S. Special Forces personnel partnered with local tribal and military forces to pursue the mission. CIA’s teams brought a remarkable range of skills to the mission, including language proficiency and familiarity with the history and culture of the region.

The combined efforts of U.S. intelligence, U.S. military forces, Afghan allies and coalition partners enabled early success in Afghanistan. By early December 2001, the U.S. and its partners overthrew the Taliban regime, killed or captured a significant number of al-Qa’ida leadership, and eliminated a major terrorist safe haven.

For more on CIA’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, read the Office of Public Affairs’ publication Devotion to Duty and visit the CIA Museum collection On the Front Lines: CIA in Afghanistan.


Posted: Sep 26, 2013 12:58 PM
Last Updated: Sep 26, 2013 12:58 PM