The 45-year-old said he counted on the help of women who risked their lives to carry his satellite telephone under their burqas, moving it from house to house to avoid detection. He said he telephoned Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai --- now the head of Afghanistan's interim government --- on predetermined dates and times, relaying information that helped the Americans know which buildings were being used by Taliban and al-Qaida forces.
Ali used the phone from different locations to call Karzai, a friend since his youth who led a U.S.-backed Pashtun tribal militia. Ali relied on his own observations and on informants, including some within the Taliban, to know which places where to direct the bombing. "We were so afraid of the Taliban. If they had known, they would have hanged me. I feel very happy. I have done it for my nation," he said, his eyes tearing as he recalled the day the Taliban left the city.
Ali's story was supported by a woman who helped him. Others identified by Ali as helpers said they were too scared to speak publicly. "I did what I did to get an independent country, for the future of my nation," said Massima, a mother of three who, like many Afghans, uses only one name.
Massima said the satellite phone was in a case with a strap, which she could use to carry the phone over her shoulder but concealed under her billowing burqa. Ali had contacted Massima's husband to get his permission for his wife's help.
Does she ever think about the people who died because of her work? "Those who are cruel should have their punishment," she said flatly.
Ali, the father of six, is a former office administrator for the United Nations. A few days before the United States began the bombings in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, Ali traveled to the exiled Karzai's house in Quetta, Pakistan, to be trained on use of the satellite phone. The antennas would have to be placed outside and the phone would be dialed from inside.
He was provided a set a maps with individual buildings in Kandahar designated by number; Karzai and the Americans had corresponding maps, Ali said, so that when he called with information about a potential target he only had to tell them the number of a building. A woman smuggled the satellite phone into the country under her burqa from Quetta to Kandahar, a six-hour drive, Ali said.
Karzai declined interview requests to discuss Ali. When sent written questions through an aide, Karzai responded through the aide that Ali's story was not true. He did not elaborate. Pashtun tribal chief Aurang Zeb Jogazai, who lives in Quetta, said several informants helped pass on information that helped U.S. and coalition pilots know where to bomb, though he did not say whether Ali was one of them. "He's not telling the whole truth," he said of Karzai. "The common people helped."
He suggested that Karzai does not want to talk about intelligence-gathering because Afghanistan remains an unstable, dangerous country. "It's underground, or under-the-carpet work," he said. "The Taliban is still not finished. There are still a lot of Arabs. That's why they want to keep this quiet. If it leaks out, a lot of Taliban are still in the streets of Kandahar, so they have to be careful. It's a ticking bomb that no one knows where it will explode."
Ali claims he was responsible for targeting a Red Cross building in Kandahar. An informant had told him the Taliban were using the building as a safe house because they believed allied planes would not bomb it. The warplanes first mistakenly bombed the building next to it and 16 civilians died, Ali said. This gave time for some Taliban to escape. In the end, eight people died in the Red Cross building.
Ali said he and Karzai would set an agreed-upon time between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. for Karzai to phone in targets. The call had to be made within two minutes or he'd have to wait until the next day. Karzai would then relay the information to U.S. military officials. Warplanes sometimes responded within 20 or 30 minutes of the nighttime phone calls, Ali said. "Sometimes I didn't sleep for three days. When the walls or floors shook with the bomb- ings, I would go on the roof of my house to see if it was my target they had hit," Ali said.
Ali said the first target he identified was an arms depot. He wanted to get the Taliban, not the buildings, he said. He was interested in buildings where the hard-line militia met or, for example, places like a clinic where the Arab fighters of al-Qaida were taken for treatment.
Ali said he did not know who else in Kandahar was assisting Karzai or other tribal leaders working with the Americans. In late November, the Taliban hanged an alleged spy in Kandahar's main intersection and draped his corpse with cables from a satellite telephone. The man, who was not identified, was accused of pointing out bombing targets to Americans. The hanging was reported at the time by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.
Ali suspects the hanging was meant to scare people and keep them from helping. But it did not work, he said. "Our hearts became more hard. 'Look at this cruelty,' we thought. 'The Taliban are cruel and we should finish them.' I didn't stop my contact with Karzai," he said.
Ali has been restored to his post as director of the radio and television stations of Kandahar --- a job he held before the Taliban took control in the mid-1990s.