Ex-CIA Operative Comes Out of the Shadows

Tells 60 Minutes U.S. Needs Partners On The Ground In Pakistan To Take Out Taliban And Al Qaeda

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This story was originally published on Dec. 27, 2009. It was updated on July 27, 2010.

You don't hear from people like Henry Crumpton very often. That's because "Hank," as he's known, spent most of his adult life as a spy for the CIA. Now he has stepped out of the shadows to tell how just after 9/11, at age 44, he masterminded the downfall of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

And as we first reported last December, he did it with just a handful of CIA officers, military special operations teams and an army of Afghan tribal warriors. Crumpton probably knows more about the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban than almost anyone else.

And now that he is out of the CIA, he makes no secret anymore about what he did in 2001 to defeat them.

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"I've described it as our own insurgency to overthrow the Taliban, to attack al Qaeda," Crumpton told 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan.

Asked what orders he gave his men, he said, "Orders were fairly simple: 'Find al Qaeda and kill them, especially leadership. Destroy command and control. If the Afghans, including Taliban leaders wanted to help us, we are receptive.'"

"How did that work? I mean, going to each individual tribal leader one by one and offering them what? Saying what?" Logan asked.

"Well, in a very crude way, it would be a carrot and a stick. The carrot would be 'If you come cooperate with us, we will reward you and your people.' The stick was 'If you do not cooperate, the chances of your survival are greatly diminished.' And we would prove this by attacking Taliban leaders who had rejected our overtures," Crumpton explained.

"Killing them?" Logan asked.

"Yes. And the next day, we'd talk to the tribal leader that was next door. We would make him the same offer. Given the incentive that we had set the previous day, he was much more amenable to negotiations in our favor," Crumpton replied.

"Because he heard the guy that wouldn't cooperate was killed yesterday?" Logan asked.

"Or in some cases, he saw that his fellow commander, his tribal ally was killed," Crumpton said.

Crumpton took 60 Minutes with him last September to the place where his plan first began to unfold: the Panjshir Valley, 70 miles north of the Afghan capital Kabul.

Our helicopter touched down on the same riverbank where Crumpton first landed in the dead of night nearly nine years ago. Just across the river on a hill overlooking the landing site is the original safe house used by the CIA in 2001. Inside the now-renovated building, one of Crumpton's old allies was waiting to greet him.

Muhammad Arif Sarwari, known among the CIA's operatives as "Engineer Arif," was a senior commander of the main coalition of Afghan tribes opposing the Taliban. Crumpton's men - small teams of seasoned operatives - flew into Afghanistan on Russian-made helicopters. On one they painted "9-11-01" on the tail.

The teams linked up with Engineer Arif's tribal militia. "And it worked very well. You could always count on Engineer Arif and his men. We put our lives in your hands," Crumpton told his old ally.

A few miles away, ascending thousands of feet up a winding mountain road, Engineer Arif and Crumpton showed us where they spied on the Taliban and al Qaeda, from a position overlooking the vast Shomali Plains where the Taliban army was dug in, 40,000 strong. From that vantage point, they gathered critical intelligence on enemy positions and movements.

"And this is where you fully expected the Taliban and al Qaeda to fight, right? To defend? To try and stop the advance towards Kabul?" Logan asked.

"Yes, they had the frontline stretched all the way across. They were entrenched and we thought that it would be a stiffer fight," Crumpton recalled.