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September 24, 2004

Anatomy of a Debacle

Bush's misguided focus on Iraq in November 2001 helped Bin Laden get away.

If you can explain to me why this catastrophic failure has not been a campaign issue, please feel free to contact me. Otherwise, please help spread the word.

November 17, 2001

Time Magazine:

An officer of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), speaking on condition of anonymity, tells TIME that bin Laden was last seen on November 17, departing the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan in anticipation of the imminent collapse of the Taliban regime. The officer says bin Laden headed for the Tora Bora area in a convoy of 25 vehicles that included four trucks carrying his family members and personal belongings.

November 18, 2001

The Daily Telegraph:

According to Afghan military commanders, some of whom were already on Western payrolls when bin Laden was leaving, the al-Qa'eda base held between 1,500 and 1,600 of the best Arab and Chechen fighters in the al-Qa'eda network.

Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, one of the warlords who attacked Tora Bora, said on Nov 18 - 10 days before bin Laden's departure - that the fight would be a tough one.

November 19, 2001

USA Today:

WASHINGTON ? Defense Department strategists are building a case for a massive bombing of Iraq as a new phase of President Bush's war against terrorism, congressional and Pentagon sources say. Proponents of attacking Iraq, spearheaded by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, are now arguing privately that still-elusive evidence linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime to the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 is not necessary to trigger a military strike.

November 21, 2001

Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack:

President George W. Bush clamped his arm on his secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, as a National Security Council meeting in the White House Situation Room was just finishing on Wednesday, November 21, 2001. It was the day before Thanksgiving, just 72 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the beginning of the eleventh month of Bush's presidency.

"I need to see you," the president said to Rumsfeld. The affectionate gesture sent a message that important presidential business needed to be discussed in the utmost privacy. Bush knew it was dramatic for him to call the secretary of defense aside. The two men went into one of the small cubbyhole offices adjacent to the Situation Room, closed the door and sat down.

"I want you..." the president began, and as is often the case he restarted his sentence. "What kind of a war plan do you have for Iraq? How do you feel about the war plan for Iraq?" (Page 1)

"Let's get started on this," Bush recalled saying. "And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to." He also asked, Could this be done on a basis that would not be terribly noticeable? (Page 2)

When he was back at the Pentagon, two miles from the White House across the Potomac River in Virginia, Rumsfeld immediately had the Joint Staff begin drafting a Top Secret message to General Franks requesting a "commander's estimate," a new take on the status of the Iraq war plan and what Franks thought could be done to improve it. The general would have about a week to make a formal presentation to Rumsfeld. (Page 5)

"Hey," Newbold said in his best take-notice voice, "I've got a real tough problem for you. The secretary's going to ask you to start looking at your Iraq planning in great detail - and give him a new commander's estimate."

"You got to be shitting me," Renuart said. "We're only kind of busy on some other things right now. Are you sure?"

"Well, yeah. It's coming. So stand by."

The current Iraq war plan, Op Plan 1003, was some 200 pages with 20-plus annexes numbering another 600 pages on logistics, intelligence, air, land and sea operations. According to this plan, it would take the United States roughly seven months to move a force of 500,000 to the Middle East before launching military operations. Renuart went to see General Franks, who had received only a vague indication there had been discussion in Washington about the Iraq war plan. Renuart now had more detail.

"Hey, boss," Renuart said, reporting that a formal request of a commander's estimate was coming. "So we'd better get on it."

Franks was incredulous. They were in the midst of one war, Afghanistan, and now they wanted detailed planning for another, Iraq? "Goddamn," Franks said, "what the fuck are they talking about?" (Page 8)

Remarks by the President to Troops and Families at Fort Campbell

Afghanistan is just the beginning on the war against terror. There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all of these threats are defeated. Across the world and across the years, we will fight these evil ones, and we will win.

November 25, 2001

New York Times:

On November 25th, the New York Times printed the following text: "... Law and Order Minister for Eastern Shura, Afghanistan, says Osama bin Laden was seen this week at the large and well-fortified encampment in Tora Bora; aides to [the minister] say as many as 2,000 'Afghan Arabs,' or foreign fighters, are at Tora Bora, armed with rifles, machine guns and surface-to-surface missiles."


And in his interview with Newsweek, President Bush for the first time declared that "Saddam is evil." In Bush's moral algebra, that would seem to mean that Saddam Hussein is a legitimate, indeed necessary, target, writes Fineman. "I think Saddam is up to no good," said Bush. "I think he's got weapons of mass destruction. And I think he needs to open up his country to let us inspect ... Show the world he's not [evil]. It's up to him to prove he's not. He is the one guy who has used weapons of mass destruction -- not only against his neighbors in Iran, but against people in his own country. He gassed them." Asked if there is a time limit for letting U.N. weapons inspectors back in, Bush replies: "I just told him."

November 26, 2001

Christian Science Monitor:

The hunt for Osama bin Laden may be narrowing to a network of caves near the village of Tora Bora, in Afghanistan's eastern White Mountains.

Mr. Bin Laden has been seen in the last four days, spending his days in caves and moving around on horseback by night, according to local intelligence reports.

The Daily Telegraph:

Squatting in the dark cave with a glass of green tea in hand, Osama bin Laden must have felt awkward. It was late November, the 11th day of Ramadan.

In a cavern high in the mountain complex, bin Laden delivered a diatribe on "holy war" to his elite al-Qa'eda fighters, telling them that unity and belief in Allah would lead to victory over the Americans.

Even as he spoke, he was planning to abandon them. Part of the audience that day were three of his most loyal Yemeni fighters.

One of them was Abu Baker, a square-faced man with a rough-hewn beard. He recalled his leader's words.

"He said, `hold your positions firm and be ready for martyrdom'," Baker later told his Afghan captors. "He said, `I'll be visiting you again, very soon'."

Between three and four days later, according to lengthy and detailed accounts gathered by The Telegraph in eastern Afghanistan, the world's most wanted man left through pine forests in the direction of Pakistan.

November 27, 2001

Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack:

That morning, six days after the president's request on the Iraq war plan, Rumsfeld flew to see General Franks at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa. After greeting everyone, he kicked Franks's staff as well as his own aides out of the room, even telling his military assistant, Vice Admiral Giambastiani, "Ed, I need you to step outside."

"Pull the Iraq planning out and let's see where we are," Rumsfeld told Franks when they were alone. (Page 36)

"Let's put together a group that can just think outside the box completely," Rumsfeld ordered. "Certainly we have traditional military planning, but let's take away the constraints a little bit and think about what might be a way to solve this problem."

After the meeting, Rumsfeld and Franks appeared before the news media to brief on the ongoing Afghanistan war called Operation Enduring Freedom. Franks, a head taller than Rumsfeld, loomed over him physically. But there was no question who was boss. The war in Afghanistan was essentially won, at least the first phase. Widespread predictions of a Vietnam-style quagmire had been demolished, at least for the time being, and Rumsfeld was in a bouyant mood. (Page 37)

Remarks of General Tommy Franks:

I'm sorry, I did forget that. The question about Tora Bora. There are two areas that are very interesting to us, one of them for the leadership of the Taliban, and that is out in the vicinity of Kandahar, well reported and true; and the other is in the area between Kabul and Khyber, to include the Jalalabad area and down toward Tora Bora, which you mentioned.

And so these are the two areas that we're paying very, very careful attention to.

November, 28, 2001

Christian Science Monitor:

Between two and four days later, somewhere between Nov. 28 to Nov. 30 - according to detailed interviews with Arabs and Afghans in eastern Afghanistan afterward - the world's most-wanted man escaped the world's most-powerful military machine, walking - with four of his loyalists - in the direction of Pakistan.

November 29, 2001

ABC's Primetime Live:

On November 29th, Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC's "Primetime Live" that bin Laden was in Tora Bora. "I think he was equipped to go to ground there," Mr. Cheney said. "He's got what he believes to be a fairly secure facility. He's got caves underground; it's an area he's familiar with."

December 1, 2001

Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack:

Four days later, December 1, a Saturday, Rumsfeld sent through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a Top Secret planning order to Franks asking him to come up with the commander's estimate to build the base of a new Iraq war plan. In two pages the order said Rumsfeld wanted to know how Franks would conduct military operations to remove Saddam from power, eliminate the threat of any possible weapons of mass destruction, and choke off his suspected support of terrorism. This was the formal order for thinking outside the box.

The Pentagon was supposed to give Franks 30 days to come up with his estimate - an overview and a concept for something new, a first rough cut. "He had a month and we took 27 days away," recalled Marine General Pete Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Rumsfeld favorite. Franks was to report in person three days later. (Page 38)

Christian Science Monitor:

On Dec. 11, in the village of Upper Pachir - located a few miles northeast of the main complex of caves where Al Qaeda fighters were holed up - a Saudi financier and Al Qaeda operative, Abu Jaffar, was interviewed by the Monitor. Fleeing the Tora Bora redoubt, Mr. Jaffar said that bin Laden had left the cave complexes roughly 10 days earlier, heading for the Parachinar area of Pakistan.

December 4, 2001

Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack:

An impatient Rumsfeld wanted the first formal presentation on the Iraq war plan from Franks three days later on December 4 at the Pentagon. It was to be done in the strictest secrecy. Franks asked who he could bring to their meetings. Rumsfeld said that Major General Gene Renuart, Franks's operations director, could attend and even accompany them to the White House for the NSC meetings with the president. Renuart had commanded a fighter squadron during the Gulf War and flown 34 combat missions himself. Before becoming Franks's J-3, he had spent a year in Saudi Arabia commanding the Southern Watch no-fly zone enforcement, so he had the most immediate on-the-ground knowledge of the region and intelligence on Iraq.

"Look, if Gene is around, you can bring Gene into anything as far as I'm concerned," Rumsfeld told Franks.

So on December 4, Franks and Renaurt came to Rumsfeld's Pentagon office. Franks began by saying that in the short period of time all he had been able to do was tinker with Op Plan 1003. He now had it trimmed down to a force level of 400,000 over six months, having cut 100,000 and one month from the base plan. (Page 40)

December 10, 2001

Christian Science Monitor:

Pir Baksh Bardiwal, the intelligence chief for the Eastern Shura, which controls eastern Afghanistan, says he was astounded that Pentagon planners didn't consider the most obvious exit routes and put down light US infantry to block them.

"The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it," he said, leaning back in his swivel chair with a short list of the Al Qaeda fighters who were later taken prisoner. "And there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters, had the Americans acted decisively. Al Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet."

The intelligence chief contends that several thousand Pakistani troops who had been placed along the border about Dec. 10 never did their job, nor could they have been expected to, given that the exit routes were not being blocked inside Afghanistan.

Posted by Mike at September 24, 2004 06:34 PM

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