In May 2011, I wrote for the first time about Johnny “Mike” Spann, the CIA special operations officer who was the first American killed inside Afghanistan after the 9/11 attack. Spann and a small operations team entered Afghanistan to organize opposition, particularly among the Northern Alliance, against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

[CIA Officer Johnny “Mike” Spann on horseback in Afghanistan]

Spann was killed in a prison uprising on November 25, 2001, soon after he interrogated the captured ‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh.

The occasion of my first writing about Spann was the killing of Osama bin-Laden in an operation opposed by then vice president Joe Biden.

I wrote, on May 3, 2011, Remembering Johnny “Mike” Spann:

Hearing the news of Osama bin Laden’s death brought forward many emotions and memories.

One of those memories for me was the story of Johnny “Mike” Spann, from Winfield, Alabama, the first American killed in the Afghanistan war, on November 25, 2001.

Spann was a CIA operative, one of a small number of Americans who landed in Afghanistan, helped coordinate local forces hostile to the Taliban, and directed bombing and other military action.

The story of this small band of men has been told, but not told enough.

Spann was killed during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi when Taliban prisoners gained access to weapons and attacked.

Spann was killed during that uprising (see video).  One of the prisoners was the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lyndh, who Spann interrogated shortly before Spann’s death.

Spann’s wife Shannon also worked for the CIA.  In addition to his wife, Spann left behind two daughters and an infant son.

Spann’s family established a website to honor his life, and there is a wealth of information and photos at his Arlington National Cemetery page.

There is an interesting honor paid to Spann at the website of Afghan General and Warlord Abdul Radhis Dostum, including a link to a photo of the memorial to Spann at the site of the uprising in which he died.

So in these days in which we remember those who died on 9/11, let’s also remember Johnny “Mike” Spann, who died in the weeks immediately after 9/11 on a battlefield far from home, and who against seemingly impossible odds helped pave the way for the overthrow of the Taliban, and over nine years later, the justice delivered two days ago.

There is something about this story that has struck an emotional chord with me. Each year since then, on November 25, I have remembered Mike Spann, and updated any new information was able to find about him and his family. I do so again today.

As time marches on, it’s harder to find new information. I found this recently posted footage from the Battle of Qali-i-Jangi, which appears to show Spann at the 0:45 and 1:10 marks.

We have posted many times about Spann’s daughter Alison, and his father Mike, and their efforts to honor her father’s and son’s memory. We found this recent video report in which Alison recounts her father’s words before he left for Afghanistan:

We also found this 2019 interview with Allison that we had not posted before.

But for the first time we learned more about Spann’s son Jake, via a Washington Post profile in late 2019:

First came the horse-drawn wagon rolling through Arlington National Cemetery, carrying the remains of the first American killed in Afghanistan in a flag-draped casket. Members of a Marine honor guard trailed behind, clad in navy blue uniforms, white caps and white gloves, marching ramrod-straight to muffled drums and the clip-clop of horse hoofs.

Then the family of CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann appeared, dressed in black. His 32-year-old widow, Shannon Spann, who also worked at the agency, walked behind the caisson, cradling a white-blanketed bundle in her arms. This was their infant son, Jake, just 6 months old on Dec. 10, 2001.

Jake had no way of knowing he was at the nation’s most distinguished military cemetery. Or that his father, a 32-year-old CIA paramilitary officer, was among the first U.S. warriors sent to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks to confront the terrorists responsible. Or that, by losing his father, Jake would become a symbol of the longest war in U.S. history, one still claiming American lives 18 years later.

Next year will be 20 years.


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