May 25th, 2006 04:56 EST
Afghan fortress site of Taliban's last deadly siege
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- Just a few minutes drive from where an Air Force embedded training team is mentoring Afghan National Army soldiers is the site of the Taliban’s last deadly siege.
It is also the location where the first American died in the war against terrorism following Sept. 11, 2001; where John Walker Lindh -- known as the American Taliban -- was captured; and where only memorial plaques and horrible memories remain.
The ancient mud-brick fortress called Kala-I Janghi was built in 1889. In 2001, Uzbek Northern Alliance leader, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was the king of the castle. He made an agreement with Mullah Faizal, a Taliban commander, to allow Afghan Taliban fighters safe passage after surrender, but the foreign, fanatical fighters in Faizal’s group would be handed over to the general.
The general decided to use his castle as a prison camp. On Nov. 24, 2001, the foreign fighters surrendered and were taken to the fortress. Somehow, two vehicles laden with weapons were allowed through the castle gates. Many of the Taliban also carried hidden weapons into the compound.
On the morning of Nov. 25, Johnny Micheal Spann, a former Marine who became a CIA agent, interrogated prisoners, including Lindh. Two hours after interrogating Lindh, while trying to get information from another member of the Taliban, the terrorists revolted, killing Agent Spann.
Agent Spann was the first American killed in combat after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
The armed foreign extremists, 800 in all, overpowered the 20 guards, killing them, too. After raiding the armory, the prisoners were armed to the teeth.
Within hours, United States and British special forces arrived in an effort to retake the fort. According to Afghan National Army soldiers who listened to witnesses later, confusion reigned because many of the U.S. and British forces were dressed in civilian clothes. The prisoners were a mix of Arabs, Pakistanis and Chechens. The soldiers said it was difficult to tell who was who during the firefight that ensued.
Then the gunships and U.S. airplanes began air strikes. After two days, the uprising was pretty much put down and the Taliban, including Lindh, took cover in an underground tunnel. They stayed there for 10 days, despite no food and repeated attempts to force them out. Coalition troops started fires in the tunnel and even tried gas, but to no avail. They finally rooted the extremists out by forcing water down the hole and filling it up.
In the end, 500 people were dead. The U.S. air strikes resulted in the first U.S. combat injuries when a bomb went astray on Nov. 26, killing six Northern Alliance fighters and seriously injuring five U.S. Special Forces Soldiers.
The Army camp here shares the name with America’s first casualty in its war on terrorism. It’s called Camp Micheal Spann.