Current Episode | CFR-TV Archive
Apple Store


Qala-i Jangi Uprising

Sunday morning a CIA operative known only as Dave and fellow officer Johnny Spann arrived at Qala-i Jangi to begin interrogating the prisoners.  They arrived in separate vehicles which they parked in the north half of the fortress near an entrance to the southern courtyard.  The prisoners were led from the cell structure into the southern courtyard one by one.  According to American Taliban John Walker his hands were tied as they surfaced from the cells below.   

This was the first big gathering of foreign prisoners in the war to date and the CIA operatives were likely anxious to find out whom was in the group.  Dostum’s Chief of Intelligence, Sayed Kamal, accompanied the CIA operatives into the southern courtyard and watched as they began talking to the prisoners including an American, John Walker Lindh.

At some point during the interrogations, the Taliban revolted and killed CIA officer Spann, wounded Dostum’s intelligence chief and killed a number of Northern Alliance guards as they took possession of the southern courtyard.  The Other CIA operative, Dave, managed to get out of the southern courtyard and run to a main building along the north wall.  Also inside the wall were the Red Cross, who arrived to make sure the prisoners were being fairly treated, and at least one TV crew including German ARD TV. 

An intense firefight ensued between the Taliban inside the southern courtyard and the Northern Alliance troops guarding the prisoners.  By first person estimates, it appears that there were only about 100 Northern Alliance soldiers in the fortress when the uprising occurred.  During the struggle, Taliban insurgents set about freeing their comrades still under restraint and found a large caches of weapons and ammunition stored along the south side of the wall dividing the northern and southern courtyards and in conex containers against the western wall of the southern half of the fortress.

Armed with mortars, RPGs and small arms, they took control of the southern courtyard and continued a brisk exchange of fire with Northern Alliance troops gathering along the north wall and roof of the main building. Two Northern Alliance T-55 main battle tanks assumed positions along the fortress’s north wall and courtyard below, and began firing 100mm shells into the Taliban-held southern section.

Whether or not it was lost in the melee or just left in his vehicle, Dave was missing his communications gear and had to rely on the German TV’s satellite phone to call for help.  Around two o’clock p.m. local time US Special Forces personnel, designated FOB53 (5th SFG 3rd BN), and British SBS operatives, arrived at the fortress from there bases in Mazar-i Sharif. After conferencing briefly with Northern Alliance commanders they assumed positions on the northwest towers and the roof of the main building and began orchestrating combat air support.   

At around 4 pm local time, FOB53 guided the first of several air strikes on the fortress, while Dave, wounded Northern Alliance troops and the journalists climbed over the back wall from their position along the parapet and exited the fortress to the north running to a near by road.  Meanwhile the air strikes continued with mixed success.  A number of the ordnance missed the southern courtyard but Northern Alliance soldiers present claimed the air strikes were instrumental in containing the Taliban to the southern section of the fortress despite the fact that there were a handful of dead Taliban outside the fortress, indicating that at least a few may have escaped the fortress compound during the havoc of the uprising.  However, in possession of the weapons facilities, the Taliban insurrection was far from over.  In fact, it was just beginning.

Additional Afghanistan Material by CFR:

For an inside look at reporting the uprising at Qala Jangi see CFR’s feature length documentary Fog and Friction. CFR Director Dodge Billingsley and TIME Magazine’s Alex Perry were there as the battle unfolded, trying to make sense of this watershed event in the war for Afghanistan.

Qala-i Jangi Satellite Imagery

Spann Interrogates John Walker at Qala-i Jangi Transcript

Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan