A Senate report with an agenda? Of course, doesn’t mean the facts are not true. The Afghanistan conflict would be quite different if Bush and Rumsfield weren’t so hell-bent to attack Iraq.
Osama bin Laden was unquestionably within reach of US troops in the mountains of Tora Bora when military leaders made the costly decision not to pursue him with massive force, a Senate report says.
The report asserts that the failure to kill or capture Bin Laden when he was at his most vulnerable, in December 2001, has had lasting consequences beyond the fate of one man. The al-Qaida leader’s escape laid the foundation for today’s reinvigorated Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan, it says.
Staff of the Senate foreign relations committee’s Democratic majority prepared the report [pdf] at the request of the chairman, John Kerry, as Barack Obama prepares to increase US troop numbers in Afghanistan.
Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, has long argued that the Bush administration missed a chance to attack the al-Qaida leader and his deputies when they were holed up in the mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan three months after the September 11 attacks.
[Click to continue reading Bin Laden was within US reach in 2001, says Senate report | World news | guardian.co.uk ]
Specifically, the Committee On Foreign Relations of the US Senate spends 49 pages documenting how this puzzling decision was a policy blunder with long-term consequences:
More pointedly, it seeks to affix a measure of blame for the state of the war today on military leaders under George Bush, specifically Donald Rumsfeld, as defence secretary, and his senior military commander, Tommy Franks.
“Removing the al-Qaida leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat,” the report says. “But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed Bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism.”
From pages 12-13 of the report:
On November 21, 2001, President Bush put his arm on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as they were leaving a National Security Council meeting at the White House. ‘‘I need to see you,’’ the president said. It was 72 days after the 9/11 attacks and just a week after the fall of Kabul. But Bush already had new plans.
According to Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack, the president said to Rumsfeld: ‘‘What kind of a war plan do you have for Iraq? How do you feel about the war plan for Iraq?’’ Then the president told Woodward he recalled saying: ‘‘Let’s get started on this. And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to.’’ Back at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld convened a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draft a message for Franks asking for a new assessment of a war with Iraq. The existing operations plan had been created in 1998 and it hinged on assembling the kind of massive international coalition used in Desert Storm in 1991.
In his memoir, American General, Franks later described getting the November 21 telephone call from Rumsfeld relaying the president’s orders while he was sitting in his office at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Franks and one of his aides were working on air support for the Afghan units being assembled to push into the mountains surrounding Tora Bora. Rumsfeld said the president wanted options for war with Iraq. Franks said the existing plan was out of date and that a new one should include lessons about precision weapons and the use of special operations forces learned in Afghanistan.
‘‘Okay, Tom,’’ Rumsfeld said, according to Franks. ‘‘Please dust it off and get back to me next week.’’
Franks described his reaction to Rumsfeld’s orders this way: ‘‘Son of a bitch. No rest for the weary.’’
For critics of the Bush administration’s commitment to Afghanistan, the shift in focus just as Franks and his senior aides were literally working on plans for the attacks on Tora Bora represents a dramatic turning point that allowed a sustained victory in Afghanistan to slip through our fingers. Almost immediately, intelligence and military planning resources were transferred to begin planning on the next war in Iraq. Though Fury, Berntsen and others in the field did not know what was happening back at CentCom, the drain in resources and shift in attention would affect them and the future course of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.