Monday :: Sep 13, 2010

Bush administration bungling allowed Bin Laden to get away

by Turkana

The ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has passed, but as we remember and mourn the horror and heartbreak, we also must remember what came next. When Bush releases "his" book, we will have time to remember his maladministration's truly staggering inattention and incompetence, without which the attacks wouldn't have succeeded, and we also will have time to remember how his team of sociopaths manipulated the nation's profound grief and still stunned shell-shock to launch a war against a nation that had in no way been responsible for those attacks. But this is about the more immediate aftermath. This is about the most basic human desire for justice, not even retribution.

Of the countless false postures by which the Bush-Cheney cabal capitalized on the 9/11 attacks, none was more fundamental to their political and economic success than their cartoon cowboy schtick. The priapic swagger and adolescent blather left many in the traditional media besotted and swooning. Chickenhawks were being cast as Shakespearean heroes. And even after all these years, the rancid residue of that collective propaganda effort lingers. After all, Republicans are supposed to be tough; Democrats are supposed to be weak. But the most basic facts prove such framings flatly false, and never was it more apparent than in the months after the 9/11 attacks. For Osama bin Laden was identified as the one man most responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and Osama bin Laden got away. Two wars, hundreds of thousands dead, trillions of dollars wasted, and the man deemed most responsible for the 9/11 attacks was not brought to justice. Thus is Republican leadership truly defined.

The news was actually reported as early as April 2002, when the Washington Post had the following:

The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.

Intelligence officials have assembled what they believe to be decisive evidence, from contemporary and subsequent interrogations and intercepted communications, that bin Laden began the battle of Tora Bora inside the cave complex along Afghanistan's mountainous eastern border. Though there remains a remote chance that he died there, the intelligence community is persuaded that bin Laden slipped away in the first 10 days of December.

After-action reviews, conducted privately inside and outside the military chain of command, describe the episode as a significant defeat for the United States. A common view among those interviewed outside the U.S. Central Command is that Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the war's operational commander, misjudged the interests of putative Afghan allies and let pass the best chance to capture or kill al Qaeda's leader. Without professing second thoughts about Tora Bora, Franks has changed his approach fundamentally in subsequent battles, using Americans on the ground as first-line combat units.

The irony could not be more sad and twisted. Bin Laden got away because of a failure to commit ground troops. A "significant defeat for the United States" being a truly monumental understatement. And afterwards, of course, the Bush-Cheney team committed ground troops callously and almost indiscriminately, as it largely successfully distracted the nation from its failures before and immediately after 9/11, venting an irrational national wrath on the innocents of Iraq. And Franks, of course, was by Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom.

In 2005, Newsweek reported this:

During the 2004 presidential campaign, George W. Bush and John Kerry battled about whether Osama bin Laden had escaped from Tora Bora in the final days of the war in Afghanistan. Bush, Kerry charged, "didn't choose to use American forces to hunt down and kill" the leader of Al Qaeda. The president called his opponent's allegation "the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking." Bush asserted that U.S. commanders on the ground did not know if bin Laden was at the mountain hideaway along the Afghan border.

But in a forthcoming book, the CIA field commander for the agency's Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, says he and other U.S. commanders did know that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Qaeda and Taliban members. Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora--intelligence operatives had tracked him--and could have been caught. "He was there," Berntsen tells NEWSWEEK. Asked to comment on Berntsen's remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks. "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001," Franks wrote in an Oct. 19 New York Times op-ed. "Bin Laden was never within our grasp." Berntsen says Franks is "a great American. But he was not on the ground out there. I was."

In his book--titled "Jawbreaker"--the decorated career CIA officer criticizes Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department for not providing enough support to the CIA and the Pentagon's own Special Forces teams in the final hours of Tora Bora, says Berntsen's lawyer, Roy Krieger. (Berntsen would not divulge the book's specifics, saying he's awaiting CIA clearance.) That backs up other recent accounts, including that of military author Sean Naylor, who calls Tora Bora a "strategic disaster" because the Pentagon refused to deploy a cordon of conventional forces to cut off escaping Qaeda and Taliban members. Maj. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman, says the problem at Tora Bora "was not necessarily just the number of troops."

Having successfully lied and smeared their way to victory in the 2004 election, the Bush administration and its allies continued to cover their tracks, despite testimonials from apolitical career professionals who actually had been at Tora Bora. The New York Times added to the accumulating evidence in 2005:

The Taliban retreat from Kandahar was emblematic of the war. None of Afghanistan's cities had been won by force alone. Taliban fighters, after intense bombing, had simply made strategic withdrawals. A number of American officers were now convinced that this was about to happen at Tora Bora, too.

One of them was Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of some 4,000 marines who had arrived in the Afghan theater by now. Mattis, along with another officer with whom I spoke, was convinced that with these numbers he could have surrounded and sealed off bin Laden's lair, as well as deployed troops to the most sensitive portions of the largely unpatrolled border with Pakistan. He argued strongly that he should be permitted to proceed to the Tora Bora caves. The general was turned down. An American intelligence official told me that the Bush administration later concluded that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines - along with their failure to commit U.S. ground forces to Afghanistan generally - was the gravest error of the war.

Among other reports, citing even more people who were on the ground in the region, was this 2002 article in the Christian Science monitor, and this 2004 article in The Atlantic Monthly. But the final word really came in this (pdf) 2009 Majority report of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

The decision not to deploy American forces to go after bin Laden or block his escape was made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, the architects of the unconventional Afghan battle plan known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Rumsfeld said at the time that he was concerned that too many U.S. troops in Afghanistan would create an anti-American backlash and fuel a widespread insurgency. Reversing the recent American military orthodoxy known as the Powell doctrine, the Afghan model emphasized minimizing the U.S. presence by relying on small, highly mobile teams of special operations troops and CIA paramilitary operatives working with the Afghan opposition. Even when his own commanders and senior intelligence officials in Afghanistan and Washington argued for dispatching more U.S. troops, Franks refused to deviate from the plan.

There were enough U.S. troops in or near Afghanistan to execute the classic sweep-and-block maneuver required to attack bin Laden and try to prevent his escape. It would have been a dangerous fight across treacherous terrain, and the injection of more U.S. troops and the resulting casualties would have contradicted the risk-averse, ‘‘light footprint’’ model formulated by Rumsfeld and Franks. But commanders on the scene and elsewhere in Afghanistan argued that the risks were worth the reward.

After bin Laden’s escape, some military and intelligence analysts and the press criticized the Pentagon’s failure to mount a full-scale attack despite the tough rhetoric by President Bush. Franks, Vice President Dick Cheney and others defended the decision, arguing that the intelligence was inconclusive about the Al Qaeda leader’s location. But the review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants underlying this report removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora.

When you see Cheney or his daughter on TV, or when you see any Republicans or right wing apologists criticizing President Obama or the Democrats on national security issues, keep this in mind. Because the traditional media won't often mention it, even though some traditional media sources initially reported it. Just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden could have been brought to justice, but Bush-Cheney administration bungling once again failed to protect our national security. The Bush-Cheney administration failed to protect us before 9/11, and it failed to bring the attacks' lead perpetrator to justice. Never forget it.

Turkana :: 8:55 AM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!