‘Spy Ops’ Episode 1 Recap: Who Is Ahmad Shah Massoud? Was Operation Jawbreaker A Success?

It is not that often that we come across stories about how an operation was conducted by intelligence agencies. We have seen and heard about them through books and movies. Often, the characters in these are fictionalized, while other times they stick to using the names of real people. Spy Ops is a brand-new documentary series that takes the audience through several famous spy operations conducted all around the world by different intelligence agencies. The first episode is about how the Central Intelligence Agency, aka CIA, carried out ‘Operation Jawbreaker’ in Afghanistan within months of the attacks of September 11, 2001. A mission was carried out to decimate the Taliban and Al Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden.


What Triggered The Formation Of Operation Jawbreaker?

The episode begins with Gary Schroen talking about his history of serving in Afghanistan from 1993 to 1996 and how he has established ties with Allies for his agency. Gary was about to retire and move back to his home country, only to see the United States of America in collective shock and despair when two passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It was by far the deadliest terrorist attack on any country, killing thousands of people. Gary was shipped back to Afghanistan.

Gary admits having changed his plan to retire from the CIA on account of seeing many of his countrymen mourn the deaths of their loved ones. Gary’s conviction is justified, because the attack further inflamed his patriotism, and he served his country for a few more years. His conviction led to the execution of Operation Jawbreaker. We are not sure why the operation is named as such, and the makers of the documentary also did not clarify the reasons. Phil Reilly talks about joining Gary’s team as his secondary in the team Jawbreaker, and he is vocal about revenge being his only motivation to join this mission. There were ten people who were picked up for the planning and execution of this mission, which might later require US military assistance as well.


Who Is Ahmad Shah Massoud?

The team’s only mission was to work with the Northern Alliance and convince them to side with the USA to end the reign of terror unleashed by the Taliban and their radical ideologies. This is a standard strategy used by intelligence agencies, to look for an ally, they can reach a mutually beneficial agreement with. The Northern Alliance was the Taliban’s biggest rival in the country, always putting up a fight and never allowing them to annex the Panjshir Region, which was their only stronghold. Their leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was strictly against the radicalized policies of the Taliban and spoke about them on international stages for the freedom of Afghanistan. From what we saw in the documentary, Ahmad Shah Massoud came across as the right leader for Afghanistan, despite the volatile politics of that region. He stood up for the rights of his people, which is why he was a great ally of America.

The documentary also brings forward Masood Khalil, Massoud’s best friend, who supported the man’s journey to make Afghanistan Taliban-free. Massoud was slowly becoming the face of the country, which threatened the existence of the Taliban. It is obvious to understand that Massoud’s life was constantly under threat, keeping in mind that the Taliban fighters had the power to kill him and his resistance group. Unfortunately, Massoud was killed by two Al Qaeda operatives, who posed as journalists and infiltrated Massoud’s territory under the guise of interviewing him. His death left a void in the history of Afghanistan and crushed the United States’ only chance to stop the growth of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden in the country. Osama Bin Laden carried out this act for the Taliban, so in exchange, they allowed him to stay in Afghanistan. Osama was smart enough to make an offer that would provide him with security for a longer period of time. Osama bin Laden was probably sure that the Taliban would last, and so would his power.


How Did They Cope With The Terrain Of Afghanistan?

Gary and his team of CIA operatives got roughly three million dollars to convince the local warlords resisting the Taliban to support the American cause. Each member of Team Jawbreaker was given 10 Weapons. This was done only to safeguard themselves, in case they were exposed while on active duty. The CIA operatives had a difficult job ahead of them, facing plenty of potential barriers. Language and terrain are the most prominent ones. The makers focused on how difficult it was for the chopper pilots to fly across the Hindu Kush region. It sheds light on the difficulties faced by these men, but eventually, this helped them understand the region much better. Since Gary is a veteran of Afghan politics and the terrain, he did not have much trouble adjusting.

The makers also introduced us to JR Seeger, who was the leader of Team Alpha. He played an important role in bringing the commander of the Uzbek forces and an Afghan-born politician, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, to back America’s fight to throw out the Taliban. He was an ethnic tribal leader, whose militia soon became a resistance group. The episode surely introduces us to many of the world leaders that plenty of us were unaware of. This alliance allowed the USA to get closer to its bigger goal. The Makers also speak about, how difficult it would be for the American army to carry out rescue and extraction operations for the CIA operatives. The terrain and the volatile nature of the politics made Afghanistan an unsafe place for a very long time.


What Happened In The Process Of Bringing Down The Taliban?

The Northern Alliance helped the CIA set up fusion centers in Afghanistan, filled with the resistance group’s intelligence analysts, who constantly provided intel about the enemy’s position and other important tactical information. The Northern Alliance was serious about getting rid of the Taliban, which is why they were ready to receive assistance from and offer help to the American intelligence operatives on the ground.

This relationship allowed the CIA to share intel with the US military, which was relentlessly asked to bomb specific Taliban training spots. Sadly, the American air raid campaigns were a big let down because they did not follow the diktats given down by the local CIA operatives, and they ended up bombing random places all around the country. This served no purpose because the Taliban were not hurt by these attacks, and most likely, it allowed them to be on the alert since the war in Afghanistan had officially begun.


The CIA worked closely with General Dostum, just like the other Northern Alliance fighters, and helped him mobilize his forces. JR Seeger offered him the laser-beam-Technology, that made the Airstrikes easier for the American Forces. Dostum used the tactic of letting the enemy know, that they were on the losing side, and he would point the Americans to the coordinates and bomb those spots. This seems like a gross misuse of the manpower provided by the forces, but Americans had to put up with his one-man show and his greed to be the leader. This was the first time the Americans were using laser beam technology, and they were keen to understand, how advantageous it would prove in their important mission.

Was Operation Jawbreaker A Success?

The city of Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the Taliban’s strongest regions, was abandoned rather quickly by the ruling forces, thanks to the airstrikes conducted by the US military. This was rather surprising, because no one expected the Taliban forces to give up this early in the war. The fall of this major stronghold was followed by the fall of Kabul, the capital city. This was indeed a huge win because, as a capital city, it holds strong political power. The operatives involved in Operation Jawbreaker were also part of the entourage that entered Kabul and were happily received by the Afghans. Two speakers in the documentary, who were from the Northern Alliance, spoke about the joy they felt in seeing the Taliban being pushed to the corner. Their win was celebrated around the world because, for the first time, we saw the people of Afghanistan finally getting their lives back.


The Northern Alliance was more than happy to have received help from the United States of America in bringing down their biggest rival. The makers and the ex-CIA officers speaking in the documentary are more than elated, and it is justified. The joint venture was able to claim victory within two months of the 9/11 attack in New York. It proves how strong the CIA’s network was and their willingness to go catch those who wreaked havoc. The vigor with which the American intelligence operatives went after the Taliban and Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda is on full display in this episode. It was years of work put in by Gary, who built a strong network of local allies, and both parties eventually benefited from each other’s assistance.

Osama, for a brief period, stayed back in Afghanistan, but later fled to the neighboring country of Pakistan. Pakistan never claimed any involvement in providing asylum to a terrorist, which we believe is a standard response. There were reports of mass surrenders by Taliban fighters, which further improved the position of the Northern Alliance. A piece of footage that showcases the American army in Kabul raising their flag and singing the American national anthem felt a bit out of place, keeping in mind that it is Afghanistan that has just received freedom. It paints the victory as Conquest rather than Liberation. Masood Khalil also talks about how the ultimate dream of Ahmed Shah Massoud was achieved, and rightly so. We get to watch footage of Hamid Karzai being made the interim president of Afghanistan.



Afghanistan’s Freedom did not last long because the Taliban very recently came back to power, and the world witnessed the desperation of many wanting to leave the country. The citizens of Afghanistan were terrified of the Taliban coming back to power and flocked to the airport in thousands, which led to the deaths of many. The ending montage was heartbreaking to witness. Afghanistan was making progress slowly and steadily, but with the reemergence of the Taliban, the country is now thrown back in the dark ages. The CIA operatives compare the scene of utter chaos to that of the fall of Saigon, which marked the end of the decade-long Vietnam War. The Afghans were rendered helpless and could not bear the sight of the country’s freedom, they fought for, going back in the enemy’s hands. Afghanistan rallied on Operation Jawbreaker’s success, sadly only for a short period.

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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