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October 25, 2004

How Bin Laden Got Away

Mr. President, Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward states that you asked General Franks to start planning for Iraq just two months after 9/11. Your own Vice President told ABC News at the time that he thought Bin Laden was at Tora Bora. Can you explain the timing of this distraction from the hunt for Al Qaeda?

Don't miss Bob Kemper's summary of the distraction for the Atlanta Journal Constitution on 10/27, either.

You can also see my previous posts on this subject, here, here, and here.

Here are some of the references that establish the timeline:

September 12, 2001

Bush at War by Bob Woodward: Rumsfeld raised the question of Iraq. Why shouldn't we go against Iraq, not just al Qaeda? he asked. Rumsfeld was speaking not only for himself when he raised the question. His deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, was committed to a policy that would make Iraq a principal target of the first round in the war on terrorism.

Before the attacks, the Pentagon had been working for months on developing a military option for Iraq. Everyone at the table believed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a menace, a leader bent on acquiring and perhaps using weapons of mass destruction. Any serious, full-scale war against terrorism would have to make Iraq a target - eventually. Rumsfeld was raising the possibility that they could take advantage of the opportunity offered by the terrorist attacks to go after Saddam immediately.

Powell, who opposed striking Iraq at this point, countered that they were focusing on al Qaeda because the American people were focused on al Qaeda. "Any action needs public support. It's not just what the international coalition supports; it's what the American people want to support. The American people want us to do something about al Qaeda." (Page 49)

September 13, 2001

Bush at War by Bob Woodward: The Pentagon press briefing that day was conducted by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who had been a senior defense official under Cheney during the first Bush administration. Wolfowitz often voiced the views of an outspoken group of national security conservatives in Washington, many of them veterans of the Reagan and senior Bush administrations. These were men who believed that there was no greater menace in the world than Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and they argued that if the president was serious about going after those who harbor terrorists, he had to put Hussein at the top of the list.

Iraq posed nearly as serious a problem for the president and his team as Afghanistan, they held. If Saddam, a wily and unpredictable survivor, decided to launch a terrorist attack or even a limited military strike on U.S. facilities after September 11 and the president had failed to move against him, the recriminations might never end.

Rumsfeld had raised Iraq during the previous day's national security meetings with the president. Now Wolfowitz wanted to issue a public warning to terrorist states. It was another effort to prod hte president to include Iraq in his first round of targets.

"It's not simply a matter of capturing people," he said, "and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism.

"It will be a campaign, not a single action. And we're going to keep after these people and the people who support them until it stops." (Page 60)

Bush at War by Bob Woodward: Earlier in the week, Powell had approached Shelton and rolled his eyes after Rumsfeld had raised Iraq as a potential taget.

"What the hell, what are these guys thinking about?" asked Powell, who had held Shelton's job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "Can't you get these guys back in the box?"

Shelton could not have agreed more. He had been trying, arguing practicalities and priorities, but Wolfowitz was fiercely determined and committed. (Page 61)

Late September 2001

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: "By the way, General," Rumsfeld had said at the end of one of our video conferences in late September, "don't forget about Iraq."

"I won't, Mr. Secretary," I'd said. "We've got aircrews flying in harm's way over Iraq every day." (Page 268)

October 29, 2001

State Department Bureau of Public Affairs: After a meeting with U.S. Army General Tommy R. Franks in Islamabad, President Musharraf called for a bombing pause during Ramadan. In Washington, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said that the terrorists "are unlikely to take [a] holiday" and observed that there were many historical examples of Muslim countries continuing to wage war during Ramadan. In London, however, British Secretary of Defense Geoff Hoon told reporters that a bombing pause would not be ruled out.

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: When I summarized the tactical picture for Musharraf, he predicted that the Taliban regime "must soon collapse - hopefully before Ramadan."

"I hope so, Mr. President," I said. "The Afghan people have suffered under the Taliban and al Qaeda long enough."

"Do you know where Osama bin Laden is?" he asked.

"No, Sir. Do you?"

Musharraf smiled. "We think he is still in Afghanistan, in the east - Tora Bora. My intelligence officers would know if he had crossed into Pakistan."

"We're going after him," I emphasized. "We won't stop until we get him." (Page 308)

November 14, 2001

BBC from Kabul: The Afghan capital Kabul remains calm, one day after troops of the Northern Alliance arrived to take over control after the withdrawal of the Taleban.

The Northern Alliance's political leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, is expected in the capital during the day.

November 15, 2001

Christian Science Monitor: The hunt for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network is already looking like a game of "show me the money." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said this week that he hoped US dollars would "begin to talk." Part of the problem, however, is knowing whom to trust in an environment where Taliban and Al Qaeda loyalists can lurk over the next mountain pass or in the next mud hut.

"The Arab fighters are withdrawing to mountain redoubts just south of the city of Jalalabad, where they have stocks of supplies that can hold for weeks," says Pir Sayed Ishaq Gailani, an ethnic Pashtun, who warns the US against trusting too many of his own former anti-Soviet fighting colleagues. A former reporter for the Kabul Times, now inside Afghanistan, said yesterday in a phone interview that Taliban and Arab fighters are massing near the Logar River about 35 miles south of Kabul.

November 16, 2001

CNN from Kabul: Eight C-130 aircraft carrying 160 U.S. and British forces have landed at an airfield outside Kabul to secure and inspect it for possible use in aid missions.

Al Qaeda's Great Escape by Philip Smucker: As Kabul fell, Mulholland sent one of his own twenty-two man “A teams” to Bagram, the old Soviet-built airfield an hour’s drive north of the capital.

The Green Beret’s force still spearheaded the U.S. military’s operations, but after the fall of Kabul they had an added mission – the long anticipated manhunt for senior Al Qaeda leaders. Both the CIA and Green Berets were trying desparately to track the mastermind’s movements. “In mid-November we had reports of him going to numerous locations, one being to Tora Bora, south of Jalalabad,” Mulholland told me, running his thick finger along the still disputed “Durand Line,” the Afghan-Pakistan border drawn by the British. (Page 37)

November 17, 2001

TIME Magazine from July 17, 2002: 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 19, 2001

Daily Telegraph: Several hundred of the best Arab fighters in the al-Qa'eda terrorist network have vowed to make a last stand at their Tora Bora mountain redoubt south of Jalalabad.

Two pro-Western regional commanders are arguing over who has the right and the might to attack the Arab base.

Their dispute is the result of a power-sharing deal worked out at the weekend when tribal elders gave the region's senior police post to a mountain warlord Hazret Ali, who has far more military hardware than his rival, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik.

USA Today: 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 20, 2001

Denver Post: Northern Alliance soldiers say they are planning to raid a Taliban base in the mountains near here, where they hope to find Osama bin Laden or some of his top men.

"We are preparing our next offensive," said Palawan, a 35-year-old soldier who uses only one name.

He said he's one of 400 troops based at Jalalabad's military headquarters readying an attack on the mountain stronghold of Tora Bora.

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)

President Bush: 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 23, 2001

Daily Telegraph: Osama bin Laden helped negotiate a peaceful handover of power in Jalalabad under cover of darkness 10 days ago, according to residents who have worked closely with the terrorist leader in the past.

A convoy of more than 100 lorries and armoured vehicles left that same night for the al-Qa'eda base at Tora Bora in the nearby White Mountains, said two Jalalabad residents....

Babrak gave his account to the Telegraph in an interview at his house. He said that bin Laden had been wearing loose grey clothing covered by a camouflaged jacket and was holding a small "Kalakov" machinegun, a shorter version of a Kalashnikov.

Babrak did not ask for money for his information and he also volunteered to try to videotape bin Laden, who he believes is still hiding in the nearby terrorist base known as Tora Bora....

Commander Ghamsharik said in his interview: "I'm absolutely sure that Osama bin Laden was in Jalalabad and that he dined with Pakistanis from the town of Paracinar."

He added that two important Taliban officials were now acting as a liaison between the Arabs in Tora Bora and the newly-appointed, Western-backed government in Jalalabad.

He said: "I am 70 per cent sure that Osama is still there in Tora Bora, though he could have fled further south."

November 25, 2001

CNN Transcript: Well the "New York Times" has a quote that I think I want you to see. And it says, quote: "We have some people who told us that three or four days ago Osama bin Laden was in Tora Bora. I trust them like my mother or father." And that was Hazarat Ali, the law and order minister in Eastern Shura.

Newsweek Magazine: 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.

November 27, 2001

Daily Telegraph from February 23, 2002: 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.

NBC Nightly News: MIKE TAIBBI reporting: We were searching for caves, as close as we could get to where Osama bin Laden is reportedly hiding in Tora Bora, south of Jalalabad, and we found these. The boat that would take us there was three inner tubes loosely lashed together. We crossed the river and then hiked to a 1,000-year-old complex of more than a dozen caves in the same mountain range as bin Laden's reported underground maze but some 20 miles away. Mahmahoud knows the history of Afghanistan's caves and has heard bin Laden's hideout is vast.

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)

General Franks: 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.

Atlanta Journal Constitution from October 27, 2004: Retired Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and a supporter of Bush's re-election, recently acknowledged that "we did rely heavily on Afghans because they knew Tora Bora." But he said U.S. Special Forces also were there "providing tactical leadership and calling in air strikes."

"The senator's understanding of events doesn't square with reality," Franks wrote in The New York Times. "Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp."

But in April 2002, U.S. intelligence officials leaked to the media a report concluding that they had "high confidence" that bin Laden had been at Tora Bora. The report called the decision to rely on Afghan troops one of the gravest mistakes in the war against al-Qaida.

Franks also now disputes Kerry's claim that U.S. forces were distracted during the battle by the administration's growing focus on Iraq. But Franks had a very different view at the time, according to "Plan of Attack," a book by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, who had access to top administration officials.

The book reports that in November 2001, just as the assault on Tora Bora was beginning, Franks got a call from Washington asking him to develop a plan for the invasion of Iraq.

"[Expletive], what the [expletive] are they talking about?" Franks is quoted as saying.

New York Daily News from October 27, 2004: Franks has since written a history of his own, the book "American Soldier." Franks reports that on Nov. 27, 2001, he and Gen. Gene Renuart were working on the air support for the Afghan proxies moving into Tora Bora. He was interrupted by a phone call from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"Gen. Franks, the President wants us to look for options for Iraq," Rumsfeld said, by Frank's account. "What is the status of your planning?"

Franks said they had something called OPLAN 1003, but it was "out of date."

"Please dust it off and get back to me next week," Rumsfeld directed.

The book recounts Franks saying to himself, "Son of a bitch. No rest for the weary." He turned to the general with whom he had been planning air support at Tora Bora.

"Gene ... new work to be done," Franks said.

As the plan for Iraq was updated, the plan in Afghanistan unraveled. A well-sourced dispatch in the Christian Science Monitor reported that one of the warlords paid an underling $5,000 to guard the escape routes from Tora Bora. Al Qaeda reportedly topped that and the underling guided the terrorists to safety.

By this account, Bin Laden simply walked out of the supposed encirclement sometime between Nov. 28 and Nov. 30, or between one and three days after the Rumsfeld phone call.

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: On the morning of November 27, 2001, I received an unexpected call from Secretary Rumsfeld. At the time I was working with Gene Renuart and the operations staff on air support for Afghan units pushing into the Spin Mountains around Tora Bora.

"General Franks, the President wants us to look at options for Iraq. What is the status of your planning?"

Throughout the operation in Afghanistan, the situation in Iraq had remained an issue - it was always within my peripheral vision. The pattern of attacks on our aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones had triggered Response Options at varying levels. It was a low-grade war, but a war just the same. Every morning as I jotted my daily notes on a fresh index card, I listed "Air crew shootdown in Iraq" as a likely challenge.

"Mr. Secretary," I said, "we have a plan, of course. OPLAN 1003."

"What's your opinion of it, General?"

"Desert Storm II. It's out of date, under revision because conditions have changed. We have different force levels in the region than we had when the plan was written. And we obviously have learned some valuable lessons about precision weapons and Special Operations from our experience in Afghanistan."

"Okay, Tom," Rumsfeld said. "Please dust it off and get back to me next week."

Son of a bitch, I thought. No rest for the weary.

"Gene," I said. "Grab Jeff Kimmons and come see me. New work to be done." (Page 315)

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: What the SecDef had requested on November 27 was not a new plan. He'd asked me to give him a "Commander's Concept" - the philosophical underpinnings of what might eventually become a plan. It was that concept, which had taken three weeks to complete, that filled the folders. (Page 329)

November 29, 2001

Christian Science Monitor from March 4, 2002: 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.

ABC Primetime Live: Do you believe he's in Tora Bora?

CHENEY: I think he's still in Afghanistan. I think he's probably in that general area.

SAWYER: Why do you think he's still there?

CHENEY: Because I think he was equipped to go to ground there. He's got what he believes to be fairly secure facilities, caves underground. It's an area he's familiar with. He operated there back during the war against the Soviets in the '80s. He's got a large number of fighters with him probably, a fairly secure personal security force that he has some degree of confidence in, and he'll have to he may try to leave, that is, he may depart for other territory, but that's not quite as easy as it would have been a few months ago. Anybody who contemplates providing sanctuary for bin Laden at this point has to keep in mind what happened to the Taliban when they did that.

November 30, 2001

Daily Telegraph: America is planning how best to attack the Tora Bora mountain cave complex where Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'eda leaders are believed to be hiding, it emerged yesterday.

Defence officials have met Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, the leading military commander in eastern Afghanistan, to discuss the assault.

Bin Laden fled to Tora Bora more than two weeks ago with his best fighters and could still be there, Afghan and western sources said.

December 1, 2001

Christian Science Monitor from March 4, 2002: 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.

Washington Post from April 17, 2002: 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.

In the fight for Tora Bora, corrupt local militias did not live up to promises to seal off the mountain redoubt, and some colluded in the escape of fleeing al Qaeda fighters. Franks did not perceive the setbacks soon enough, some officials said, because he ran the war from Tampa with no commander on the scene above the rank of lieutenant colonel. The first Americans did not arrive until three days into the fighting. "No one had the big picture," one defense official said.

Associated Press from March 23, 2005: A terror suspect held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, helped the al-Qaida leader escape his mountain hide-out at Tora Bora in 2001, according to a U.S. government document.

The document, provided in response to a Freedom of Information request, says the unidentified detainee ''assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora.'' It is the first definitive statement from the Pentagon that bin Laden was at Tora Bora and evaded U.S. pursuers.

The detainee is not identified by name or nationality. He is described as being ''associated with'' al-Qaida and having called for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States.

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)

December 3, 2001

Enduring Freedom Operational Update: That's correct. General Franks has articulated he believes that the leadership of al Qaeda may be in the area south of Jalalabad, and that's why and where we've been concentrating our efforts there.

Washington Post from April 17, 2002: The Bush administration has never acknowledged that bin Laden slipped through the cordon ostensibly placed around Tora Bora as U.S. aircraft began bombing on Nov. 30. Until now it was not known publicly whether the al Qaeda leader was present on the battlefield.

But inside the government there is little controversy on the subject. Captured al Qaeda fighters, interviewed separately, gave consistent accounts describing an address by bin Laden around Dec. 3 to mujaheddin, or holy warriors, dug into the warren of caves and tunnels built as a redoubt against Soviet invaders in the 1980s. One official said "we had a good piece of sigint," or signals intelligence, confirming those reports.

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)

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: On the afternoon of December 4, 2001, seven days after that conversation, Gene Renuart and I met in the J-2 conference room in the SCIF and presented the first iteration of my Commander's Concept to Rumsfeld and the JCS Chairman Dick Myers in the Pentagon via secure VTC. (Page 329)

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: The next chart was UNILATER OPTION. "Here we assume minimum staging, basing, and overflight - our only operating bases would be in Kuwait and on carriers in the Gulf. This operation would be absolutely sequential. We would have to introduce our ground forces gradually, because there is simply not enough infrastructure in Kuwait to stage large formations at the same time. This is not an option we would want to execute."

That marked the end of the briefing. "Mr. Secretary, I know you are not fulfilled by what I've given you today. But it is a beginning, and I wanted to make sure we were on the same page on strategic assumptions and support options."

"Well, General, you have a lot of work ahead of you," he said, stacking the pages. "Today is Tuesday. Let's get together again next Wednesday, December 12. I want to hear more details at that time."

The screen went blank. Gene had been taking notes in his oversized journal; the staff called it the "Black Book of Death," because the workload it represented was enough to kill even the hardiest group of staff officers.

"Hey, Boss," Gene said. "Things are looking up. The Secretary juts gave us eight whole days. Last time it was only a week."

"Piece of cake, J-3," I said.

The staff was already working seven sixteen-plus-hour days a week. But I knew that producing this next iteration of the Commander's Concept wouldn't be too demanding - because I already had a model in mind.

For the next several days I spent my time brainstorming; when I wasn't in my office with Gene, I was with our senior Operations staff or with Jeff Kimmons, and the Intel crew in the SCIF. During the hectic twenty-six days we'd just spent planning for Afghanistan, I had developed a planning technique that focused on "Lines of Operation" - the tasks any given mission would call for - and "Slices," the various aspects of the country that would be affected by the lines of operation. (Page 335)

December 5, 2001

Al Qaeda’s Great Escape by Philip Smucker: If the warlords looked unkempt and unprepared as they raced to the front on the first full day of battle, December 5, 2001, the press corps, myself included, was in equal disarray. (Page 90)

Daily Telegraph from December 6, 2001: AFGHAN tanks supported by American bombers opened the long-heralded offensive against Osama bin Laden's suspected mountain-top fortress yesterday.

The earth quaked and the Afghan children cheered. Field Commander Halim Shah said: "The battle for Tora Bora has begun and will continue until we eradicate al-Qa'eda. We have already advanced and taken several caves." America and Britain have said bin Laden could be hiding in the maze of mountain tunnels, although there have been no sightings for a number of days. But it is known that hundreds of his foreign legionnaires, perhaps 2,000, are based in the complex.

December 7, 2001

Al Qaeda's Great Escape by Philip Smucker: Mulholland, ensconced at the Bagram Air Base and in daily contact with General Fahim’s Northern Alliance, was also doing what he could to achieve the proper mass and mix of forces to begin the battle of Tora Bora.

“In the third and fourth weeks of November, we were still fighting some pretty heavy firefights across Afghanistan,” he said. Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual and military stronghold in the south of the country, did not fall until December 7, and the Fifth Group’s few hundred troops were tied up with that battle, with the help and firepower of the Marines. (Page 82)

December 9, 2001

United Press International from November 18, 2002: With fresh evidence that Osama Bin Laden is still alive and kicking and with his friends and protectors about to take over the provincial governments of two of Pakistan's four provinces, as well as a share in the new national coalition that will now run the country (under the watchful eye of President Pervez Musharraf), a key question for the U.S. intelligence community remains unanswered: Why has the CIA ignored for 11 consecutive months the only anti-al Qaida Pakistani tribal leader who had tracked bin Laden's movements ever since his escape from Tora Bora last Dec. 9? In their quest to find bin Laden dead or alive, CIA operatives doled out millions of dollars in cash to buy the loyalty of tribal chieftains whose tribes straddle the unmarked, mountainous Afghan-Pakistan border. There was one glaring omission: a tribal leader who commands the loyalty of 600,000 people who is also a respected, national figure. His adobe abode near Peshawar is Spartan. He is a former Marxist of Cold War vintage and is not interested in money. A good news source of this writer, his information was prescient and invariably accurate. At his request, we agreed not to reveal his name.

In late November 2001, this tribal chief contacted us via a mutual friend. He said his people knew where bin Laden was in the Tora Bora mountain range. He agreed to put some of his tribal scouts and horses at our disposal and on Dec. 11 we set out on horseback for the Tirah Valley, on the southside of Tora Bora, where "Afghan Arab" survivors of U.S. bombing were expected to make their escape. Shortly after we began our journey, a messenger caught up with us and advised us to dismount, as "you will almost certainly be kidnapped for ransom." Wearing national dress, our party, including a prominent Pakistani American and two security guards, detoured around the valley to another pass on the border. Upon our return, we stopped off to see the tribal leader. Bin Laden, he informed us, had indeed come out through the Tirah Valley on horseback two days before we got there, on Dec. 9. He and a party of about 50 had turned their horses over to local tribesmen, and continued in 4x4s and SUVs into Peshawar, 2 hours away.

December 10, 2001

Christian Science Monitor from March 4, 2002: 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.

December 11, 2001

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: By the night of Tuesday, December 11, we were ready for a walk-through of the next afternoon's VTC with Donald Rumsfeld. Because the iterative evolution of the Commander's Concept was a sensitive and highly classified process, I'd limited staff participation to a handful of senior officers. And Gene had personally supervised a trooper in the Operations shop as he produced the graphics.

I knew there would be adjustments to the Lines and Slices - additions, consolidations, and swap-outs - as we worked through future iterations. As I examined the work my staff had produced under extreme time contraints, though, I believed we had a template that could produce a decisive victory - should the President decide that the time had come to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. (Page 341)

December 12, 2001

Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack: This time Franks was given eight days to come back with more, and on December 12 he and Renuart returned to the Pentagon to give Rumsfeld their update. This was called the second iteration of the commander’s estimate, and it was kept as secret as possible, delivering on President Bush’s strong desire to prevent any leaks. (Page 42)

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: And interested he was. Our VTC the following afternoon, scheduled for forty-five minutes, ran twice as long.

"General Franks," Rumsfeld asked when I'd completed the breifing, "what's next?"

Aware that we might move from the conceptual to the practical at any time, I chose my words carefully. "Mr. Secretary," I said, "we want to begin now to improve our force posture in the region." (Page 341)

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: "General," Rumsfeld said, smiling, "this is a good beginning, but I need more detail before I take it to the President. I don't know what he will decide to do, but you need to work more quickly than the military usually works."

I glanced at Gene again. We were iterating this exercise in one-week bites; it was hard to imaging moving any faster. I explained that I was leaving in a week to attend Hamid Karzai's inauguration in Kabul. "Sir, I'd like some time to refine our assumptions and analyze the elements we've identified as necessary to execute this concept. I recommend we begin the inter-agency work that will be necessary with State and the intelligence community."

"Let's talk next week," Rumsfeld had said. "I want this to be worked by a very small group. THere are still too many leakers and this must not be leaked. Thanks, everyone." The screen went blank. (Page 344)

December 14, 2001

Daily Telegraph: According to senior al-Qa'eda sources, who did not know they were being debriefed, Osama bin Laden is on the run again.

His absence, according to the sources, led to a lapse in morale that improved only when he sent his son, Sallah Uddin, to rally the forces.

It seems incredible that bin Laden could have moved out of the showdown in Tora Bora even as the US military was narrowing its focus on the bolthole. But according to Abu Jaffar, the al-Qa'eda financier, and senior Afghan sources in Jalalabad, bin Laden has moved at will around eastern Afghanistan during the month of Ramadan.

"He left Tora Bora on two occasions and on the last time, he never returned," he said in an interview on Wednesday, before himself fleeing the region. "We believe he arrived in Pakistan."

"He is like a butterfly resting on a flower and America is like a child chasing it with a cricket bat," said Shams Khan, an Afghan commander assigned to try to capture Tora Bora.

General Franks: Yeah. Yeah, Osama bin Laden -- what -- my point was that we receive a great many reports. I think that it's well reported by media in the area of Tora Bora that one will hear suggestions that bin Laden may remain in Afghanistan, possibly in the Tora Bora area.

Also widely reported is the possibility that -- or speculation that bin Laden may have in fact moved to Pakistan. That's what I was referring to. And at this point we simply don't know where he is.

Q Sir, if I could simply follow up here, are you saying that the evidence that Osama bin Laden is in the Tora Bora area is based on either sightings or communication from bin Laden? Are you saying it's based on the lack of evidence that his anywhere else? And are you suggesting the possibility that he has left the country -- left the country?

GEN. FRANKS: Well, I wouldn't suggest the probability, I guess I'd say, that he has left the country. Certainly it's a possibility that bin Laden has left the country. It's -- I think we've said all along that there are many, many, many crossing points. And it is true that our efforts to get at the al Qaeda network there and this group of al Qaeda people in the vicinity of Tora Bora are being much assisted by the Pakistanis.

The -- it -- what would cause one to say either he is in the Tora Bora area, vicinity of Jalalabad, or he has left? And obviously we use all sorts of technical means to gain insights into where he may be. We also listen to what these opposition leaders on the ground have to say, because they each have their own intelligence capability. And so when one looks at all these sources, then what happens is, you see all sorts of conflicting information, and I think that's why we always say you just don't know what you don't know. And so it's probably not a good idea to say with some certainty where he is. But we know where our current fight is, and that's in the Tora Bora area.

Q General Franks, Bob Franken at the Pentagon, from CNN. Operating on the assumption, your hope that he in fact is in the Tora Bora area and that -- perhaps may be captured, do you have a plan in place and can you share the plan with us, to some degree, what you would do if in fact you captured him, how you would remove him, what you would do with him?

GEN. FRANKS: Yes, we certainly do have a plan in place for either the capture of bin Laden or the capture of any of the other people which you have seen on our list of what we call the top 20 or the top 40 al Qaeda and Taliban leadership personalities.

December 17, 2001

Daily Telegraph: OSAMA BIN LADEN was believed last night to have fled the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan as anti-Taliban forces expressed confidence that they were on the verge of capturing the mountain range and its entrenched caves.

Standing at the foot of the mountains, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, eastern Afghanistan's most senior military official, said: "This is the last day for al Qa'eda in Afghanistan."

Christian Science Monitor: The site of the world's biggest stakeout certainly has all the appearances of a siege. Heavily armed Afghans race up mountain valleys with anti-aircraft guns in tow.

A US Special Forces team, sometimes hiding behind tinted pickup truck windows, directs the operations of the Afghan fighters and target US bombing runs. Together, they have hammered Al Qaeda forces and cleared two major mountain valleys near the Tora Bora cave complex.

But yesterday, after tribal fighters said they captured the last of the Al Qaeda positions, killing more than 200 fighters and capturing 25, there was still no sign of the world's most wanted terrorist - Osama bin Laden. And there were far fewer fighters both captured and killed than were originally thought present.

December 19, 2001

Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack: Franks got only another week before Rumsfeld summoned him back to the Pentagon on December 19 for the third iteration. Once again Rumsfeld indicated he was not satisfied – “not fulfilled,” as he occasionally termed his sense of dissatisfaction.

Later Rumsfeld recalled during an interview in his Pentagon office, “I tend to ask a lot of questions of the people I work with and I tend to give very few orders. This place is so big and so complicated and there’s so much that I don’t know, that I probe and probe and probe and push and ask, Well why wasn’t this done or shouldn’t this be done, but it’s generally with a question mark at the end.”

Rumsfeld, certainly had to be aware that when the secretary of defense asks, “Why wasn’t this done?” or “Shouldn’t this be done?” or shows even the slightest discontent, it has the force of an order, even if concluded with a sincere question mark. (Page 43)

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: On the morning of Wednesday, December 19, I spoke briefly to Secretary Rumsfeld just before a scheduled VTC in which I would give President Bush a situation report on Afghanistan.

"We've killed a lot of Taliban and al Qaeda, Mr. Secretary," I told him. "The terrorists are literally heading for the hills, toward their traditional refuges in the Spin Mountains. And we've received intelligence reporting that hundreds of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan terrorists were killed during the Northern Alliance November offensives."

"President Karimov will be please, General," Rumsfeld said. "Are you making progress on Iraq?"

I wanted to be well prepared for the next iteration, and I knew Gene and JEff Kimmons could use the time I'd be spending inthe AOR to work on the matrix. "I'll have something to show you when I get back on December 27, Mr. Secretary."

"The President will want to see the concept soon, General," Rumsfeld said. (Page 345)

December 22, 2001

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: Combat operations had gone remarkably well. But I knew the war was not over. Hazrat Ali reported that a large group of Arabs had taken refuge in the redoubt of caves and tunnels southwest of the Kyber Pass. And Ali's Afghan troops had encountered fierce resistance from heavily armed fighters dug into concentric defensive rings. Tora Bora would be a "gunfight," and it would happen soon - before any al Qaeda leaders who might be holed up there could escape. (Page 323)

December 27, 2001

American Soldier by Tommy Franks: On Thursday, December 27, we'd been airborne for about an hour, homeward bound after an overnight in Sicily, when I got down to work in the plane's small conference room. Cathy was resting, trying to catch up on lost sleep from the hectic leapfrog schedule around the AOR. In the past five days, we had visited Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, seven Coalition bases, and five U.S. Navy ships, spending Christmas with the sailors on two carriers in the northern Arabian Sea. We'd been on C-17s, C-130s, three kinds of helicopters, and a twin-turboprop Carrier Onboard Delivery plane (COD), which had given Cathy the thrill of her first flight-deck tailhook landing and catapult-launch takeoff.

Despite the pace of the trip, I was glad that Cathy and I had been able to spend Christmas together because I knew I wouldn't have much time at home in the coming weeks. With stability operations in Afghanistan moving ahead well, I would have to turn my attention to the task Secretary Rumsfeld had given me during the Thanksgiving holidays: bringing our Iraq planning up to date.

"Your homework, General," said Van Mauney, laying a stack of orange-bordered Top Secret file folders on the table before me.

The folders contained the latest "iteration" in the painstaking revision process that began in late November. In the four weeks since then, I had briefed Donald Rumsfeld several times, in person and via video conference. Hundreds of hours of work had gone into the effort. But as I opened the top folder, I knew we were just beginning a long, deliberate process. (Page 329)

February 19, 2002

Intelligence Matters by Bob Graham: At that point, General Franks asked for an additional word with me in his office. When I walked in, he closed the door. Looking troubled, he said, "Senator, we are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan."

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"Military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq," he continued. "The Predators are being relocated. What we are doing is a manhunt. We have wrapped ourselves too much in trailing Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. We're better at being a meat ax than finding a needle in a haystack. That's not our mission, and that's not what we are trained or prepared to do."

It took me a while to digest what he had told me. General Franks's mission in Afghanistan - which, as a good soldier, he was loyally carrying out - was being downgraded from a war to a manhunt. What's more, the most important tools for a manhunt, the Predators, had been redeployed to Iraq at the moment they were most needed in Afghanistan.

I was stunned. This was the first time I had been informed that the decision to go to war with Iraq had not only been made but was being implemented, to the substantial disadvantage of the war in Afghanistan. (Page 125)

Intelligence Matters by Bob Graham: As I was driving home from CENTCOM, I recalled a lesson from ancient history, when the tragic blunders of Athens in the Peloponesian War ultimately led to its destruction. Upon looking it up again, I was struck by how trenchant the analogy was: In 413 BC, Athens, in the midst of a war with Sparta, decided to attempt to expand its empire by taking over Sicily. The campaign was disastrous. It led to the destruction of the Athenian navy and it weakened Athens to the point that Sparta was able to defeat it, effectively ending the Athenian empire and the classical age. As General Franks explained to me how America was shifting its efforts from Afghanistan to Iraq, I understood how Pericles must have felt when he said, "I am more afraid of our own mistakes than of our enemy's designs." (Page 127)

March 13, 2002

President Bush: And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.

October 13, 2004

President Bush: Gosh, I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. That's kind of one of those exaggerations.

November 2, 2004

GeorgeWBush.com: Suggested reading list

Thank You, President Bush
by Aman Verjee and Rod D. Martin

A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush
by Ronald Kessler

by Bill Sammon

The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America's Security
by John Kerry

Plan of Attack
by Bob Woodward

Ten Minutes from Normal
by Karen Hughes

Letters to My Daughters
by Mary Matalin

UPDATED 11/1: Slowly, the story is getting out. Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times, who was at the scene near Tora Bora, has started to realize the connection to Plan of Attack. Michael Daly of the New York Daily News brings Frank's own book, American Soldier into the mix. Matthew Clark of the Christian Science Monitor is asking the right questions. Now he just needs a copy of Plan of Attack. Should have checked the Bush campaign's Suggested Reading List, I guess. Yup, there it is, Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward. Al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen, and Josh Marshall both look to be on the case. Paul Krugman has hinted at it now, too. Josh is also tying in an explosive new article from Russ Baker. Josh has also linked to my timeline now. Bob Kemper wrote a perfect summary of Bush's distraction of General Franks on Wednesday, and I missed it until now. If ever an article was worth the Atlanta Journal Constitution free registration, this is it. I've also pasted the relevant part below for those who refuse to register for news. Buzzflash is linking here now, too.

Two months after 9/11, late November 2001, Bush distracted our top military commanders from the hunt for Bin Laden with rushed plans for a new war in Iraq. This shifted their focus at a critical moment, when we had Osama cornered at Tora Bora. The facts now show that it helped Bin Laden escape. The details are all public information, but the story never got out. Until now.

Feel free to copy, share, and mirror these videos.

The song is "Dear Mr. President" by Fred Wreck.

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Data show slips in bin Laden hunt

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/27/04

WASHINGTON ? The battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, initiated two years ago in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Osama bin Laden, is still raging this week on the presidential campaign trail.

Sen. John Kerry has accused President Bush of inept leadership for allowing bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora in December 2001.

Bush shot back Wednesday that bin Laden may not even have been at Tora Bora. He said Kerry's "wild claim" is "part of a pattern of saying almost anything to get elected."

But unlike the partisan feud over the 380 tons of explosives missing in Iraq, about which facts are still being learned, the story of Tora Bora has already been written in official after-action reports and intelligence documents.

Kerry contends bin Laden was among al-Qaida leaders holed up in the caves of Tora Bora in December 2001. Bush and Cheney now claim that the intelligence on bin Laden's location was more ambiguous.

But at the time of the battle, Bush and Cheney both said bin Laden was in Tora Bora and dismissed reports he might have been in Kashmir or Pakistan.

"He was equipped to go to ground there," Cheney told ABC News in late November 2001. "He's got what he believes to be fairly secure facilities, caves underground. It's an area he's familiar with."

Kerry contends the administration and its commanders erred in sending Afghan troops after bin Laden instead of using more extensively trained and reliable U.S. troops. The Afghans failed to secure critical areas of the mountains and may have aided bin Laden's escape, U.S. officials said at the time.

Retired Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and a supporter of Bush's re-election, recently acknowledged that "we did rely heavily on Afghans because they knew Tora Bora." But he said U.S. Special Forces also were there "providing tactical leadership and calling in air strikes."

"The senator's understanding of events doesn't square with reality," Franks wrote in The New York Times. "Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp."

But in April 2002, U.S. intelligence officials leaked to the media a report concluding that they had "high confidence" that bin Laden had been at Tora Bora. The report called the decision to rely on Afghan troops one of the gravest mistakes in the war against al-Qaida.

Franks also now disputes Kerry's claim that U.S. forces were distracted during the battle by the administration's growing focus on Iraq. But Franks had a very different view at the time, according to "Plan of Attack," a book by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, who had access to top administration officials.

The book reports that in November 2001, just as the assault on Tora Bora was beginning, Franks got a call from Washington asking him to develop a plan for the invasion of Iraq.

"[Expletive], what the [expletive] are they talking about?" Franks is quoted as saying.

Posted by Mike at October 25, 2004 01:56 AM

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