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Johnny “Mike” Spann

American forces first entered Afghanistan in 2001, members of the CIA’s ultrasecret Special Activities Division were among the first boots on the ground. A former Marine Corps captain was among them. His name was Johnny “Mike” Spann. In 1999 Mike joined the CIA and became a member of the agency’s paramilitary unit in the Directorate of Operations. Dozens of paramilitary officers—the actual number is still classified—were dispatched to Afghanistan to assist U.S. Special Operations forces in equipping, arming, training, and supporting the troops flooding into Afghanistan. After the attack on 9/11, Mike Spann was among the first in the Special Activities Division to volunteer for duty there. During the last week of September, SAD operatives were deployed to establish a forward base for military Special Operations detachments which soon followed. Once on site, Mike and his teammates “vetted” Afghans for duty with the Northern Alliance, organized intelligence collection and analysis cells for operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and conducted counter-intelligence activities. During the fight for Mazari-Sharif, more than 300 Taliban fighters surrendered and were taken into custody by Northern Alliance forces and imprisoned in the city’s nineteenth-century fortress. Because the detainees had potential intelligence value on the capabilities and whereabouts of key Taliban and Al Qaeda kingpins, SAD officers were assigned the task of interrogating them.

On 25 November, Mike Spann and his partner arrived at the prison and began to conduct interrogations. That’s how they discovered that one of the detainees wasn’t an Afghan at all. He was an American named John Walker Lindh. According to Lindh, he was a convert to Islam and had traveled first to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan with the intention of joining Al Qaeda. Shortly after being interrogated by Spann, Lindh and his fellow prisoners overpowered their guards and murdered Mike Spann with two gunshots to the head, making him the first American casualty of the War on Terror. Mike Spann was thirtytwo years old when he died at the hands of a murderous countryman who had joined the Jihad. Mike left behind his widow, Shannon Span, an infant son, and two young daughters.

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