How Osama Got Away

Rather than offer you an outright condemnation of Bush based on a blurb from a book that has not yet been released, I would direct you to this excellent summary of the War in Afghanistan in the CS Monitor:

It was a war like no other. In an evolutionary leap powered by Information Age technology, US ground soldiers were mainly employed as observers, liaisons, and spotters for air power – not as direct combatants sent to occupy a foreign land. The success of the US was dazzling, save for the fight for Tora Bora, which may have been this unconventional war’s most crucial battle. For the US, Tora Bora wasn’t about capturing caverns or destroying fortifications – it was about taking the world’s most wanted terrorist “dead or alive.”

In retrospect, it becomes clear that the battle’s underlying story is of how scant intelligence, poorly chosen allies, and dubious military tactics fumbled a golden opportunity to capture bin Laden as well as many senior Al Qaeda commanders.

Moreover, as the US military conducts new strikes with its Afghan allies in nearby Paktia Province, sends special forces into Southeast and Central Asia – and prepares for a possible military plunge into Iraq – planners will need to learn the lessons of Tora Bora: Know which local leaders to trust. Know when to work with allied forces on the ground. And know when to go it alone. “Maybe the only lesson that is applicable is: whenever you use local forces, they have local agendas,” says one senior Western diplomat, now looking at options for invading Iraq. “You had better know what those are so that if it is not a reasonable match – at least it is not a contradiction.”

While Bush is President and ultimately responsible for the escape of Bin Laden, statements that this is “Bush’s fault” are facile, stupid, and should be ignored. I am aware that the distinction between being responsible for something and being to blame for something is as hopelessly blurred in politics as the difference between being wrong and lying about something, so I doubt there will be honest efforts in the blogosphere to really examine this issue. At any rate, I would recommend this article as a starting point for an examination of the war in Afghanistan and bin Laden’s escape.

The fascinating report concludes with this bit:

“There appears to be a real disconnect between what the US military was engaged in trying to do during the battle for Tora Bora – which was to destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban – and the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden,” says Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies. “There are citizens all over the Middle East now saying that the US military couldn’t do it – couldn’t catch Osama – while ignoring the fact that the US military campaign, apart from not capturing Mr. bin Laden was, up the that point, staggeringly effective.”

Via the comments, this map of the area in question. The closer together the ‘brown lines’ (contour intervals), the steeper the incline. I can’t find the legend, so I don’t know what the intervals are, but suffice it to say that is STEEP in a lot of the region. Here is a little primer on land nav and map-reading, which was one of my absolute favorite things to do in the military.

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38 replies
  1. 1
    BumperStickerist says:

    This is a pretty good reason why simply stuffing more troops into the region would not necessarily have helped matters.

    Topographic map of Tora Bora

  2. 2
    Zifnab says:

    There is the idea that Bush allowed bin Laden to slip the net intentionally. Whether it was to set up the proverbial 1984 “Goldstein” style nemesis or because he was secretly sympathetic to the bin Laden family, the conspiracy theory motives span the stretch of the imagination. That said, it’s not unreasonable to assume that we did not capture bin Laden because we simply failed, but because we didn’t really try.

  3. 3
    demimondian says:

    Zifnab, one who is named after a joke god in a fantasy series, shows that his tastes for fantasy are not restricted to literature:

    There is the idea that Bush allowed bin Laden to slip the net intentionally. Whether it was to set up the proverbial 1984 “Goldstein” style nemesis or because he was secretly sympathetic to the bin Laden family

    Woo. Just…wow.

  4. 4
    ppGaz says:

    While Bush is President and ultimately responsible for the escape of Bin Laden, statements that this is “Bush’s fault” are facile, stupid, and should be ignored.

    True, as far as it goes. However, there is the “Wanted, dead or alive” gaffe. A lot of people thought he meant it as a profound committment, and then dropped that committment when his bluster morphed into “I truly am not that concerned about him” only 120 days later.

    “Mission Accomplished” became “Bring it on”, the latter regarded in some circles as the dumbest thing ever said by a US president …..

    Okay, Bush himself isn’t responsible for the escape of OBL. But he’s responsible for framing the subject with bluster and foolish breast-beating that adds to the impression that he doesn’t know what he is doing.

  5. 5
    Jeff Miller says:

    Whatever. Bush failed to catch Bin Laden. End of story. He didn’t get it done, Bin laden is still at large, and the longer he lives the greater he becomes in the eyes of Islamic fundamentalists.

    Is it OK to hold Bush responsible for this one thing? Or has the Bush Apologist Code become so extensive now that nothing can ever be considered to be a failing of this bizarre and consistently ineffectual president?

  6. 6
    Doug says:

    Maybe I missed it somewhere in the post, but is there a link to that CSMonitor piece?

  7. 7
    Aaron says:

    Okay, Jeff, as long as we can hold Clinton to just one thing “I did not have sex with that woman.”

    Of course, we know Clinton was weaseling then, as opposed to Bush who is simply expressing the wishes of us all in wanting Bin Laden dead or alive.

    p.s. I actually like Clinton and don’t expect 100% from him or Bush – c’mon it’s the real world here.

    and I’m glad to note the comments appear pretty reasonable on this one: would anyone here second guess your military’s operational plan for a high altitude battle in Afghanistan?

    And anyone who thinks our mountain troops could have been quickly substituted for our allies in Tora Bora is wrong – by the time the got there, the enemy could have fled – that’s ALL THE ENEMY not just Bin Laden.

    Coulda Woulda Shoulda on Monday morning.

    p.s. maybe we can have a contest on what Bush should have said to rally the country?

    “We will do our best to try to locate Bin Laden – and, I mean, if it’s feasible, to perhaps try him, or even kill him, but – and you know the UN has a voice, I have to tell you he might be in Pakistan, or Iran, so don’t get your hopes up.

    (Hmmm, sounds like Kerry.)

  8. 8
    shark says:

    There is the idea that Bush allowed bin Laden to slip the net intentionally

    I usually make fun of moonbat conspiracy theories, yet I have to admit that I do indulge in 1, regarding OBL-

    I too, always had this sneaking suspicion that Bush allowed him to escape. The reasoning being that had we captured him, a large segment of the population would presume the whole thing to be over and done, while Bush saw a pressing need to deal with terrorism in a whole new way.

    It’s probably a load of crap but it’s my small foray into moonbat land

  9. 9
    Reid says:

    I really don’t care where in the chain of command the blame might fall. The battle at Tora Bora occurred two months after we’d first begun inserting forces in Afghanistan. Yet we were still unwilling or unable to commit the forces needed to finish the job that we knew we’d come there to do. It wasn’t just Osama that got away, it was over 1,000 hard core Al Qaeda. The bastards we were after.

    We had the cat in the bag, and four years later, we’re still chasing kittens all over the place. That was a gross tactical failure that largely voided one of the biggest strategic goals of the entire incursion.

    And that has lengthened this war. That’s beyond unacceptable, yet today it’s “ho hum, oh well.”

  10. 10
    James Emerson says:

    So the President leads us into Afghanistan to capture or kill the mass murderer of 3,000 innocent Americans and then at the most critical moment…when Osama and his henchmen are almost certainly trapped at the Tora Bora complex… he inexplicably pulls our most effective special forces out of theatre in preparation for the newly conceived Iraq War and blithely turns the operational reins over to the minions of a bribed warload? What kind of a sheriff does that? What kind of President?

    And then you say that anyone who claims this is Bush’s fault (beyond a remotely generalized sense of responsibility) are facile, stupid, and should be ignored is obviously someone who doesn’t understand the staying power of a misplaced presidential erection. At least not since Clinton’s dalliance with Monica I’m sure.

    It is indeed so very obvious. George “he tried to kill my daddy” Bush had a hard-on for Saddam long before the killing was finished in Afghanistan. No responsible CiC would have let Osama escape, but Bush did exactly that, and then trivializes the fact a few months later, sometime after the imaginary WMD office hunt.

    I don’t understand why this excuse still lives in the hearts and minds of his supporters. I understand it even less from you. Maybe they are facile, stupid, and should probably be ignored. No, make that a probability with a measure of religious fervor and corporate greed thrown into the mix. I haven’t made my mind up about you as yet, but I was hoping for better.

  11. 11
    ppGaz says:

    what Bush should have said to rally the country?

    The “country” can speak for itself, but I don’t need a rally. I don’t need a daddy. I’d really prefer a leader who isn’t always trying to manipulate. The relentless manipulation by this administration from the moment the towers fell down has been insulting and not helpful.

    The next time this guy makes a speech telling me to “remember the lessons of 911” I hope somebody is there to tell him to shut up. Not only do I not need somebody to tell me to remember the lessons, I have no reason to think that he knows what they are.

  12. 12
    Bartelson says:

    Who is Clinton?

  13. 13
  14. 14
    Aaron says:

    Please let me know how many mountain troops we had on the ground, acclimatized, and ready to hit thousands of AQ types in Tora Bora.

    I doubt we could even have gotten one division of troops there. But please, I’m willing to learn.

    Actually, are there any good books on the subject out yet?

  15. 15
    Mike says:

    “We will do our best to try to locate Bin Laden – and, I mean, if it’s feasible, to perhaps try him, or even kill him, but – and you know the UN has a voice, I have to tell you he might be in Pakistan, or Iran, so don’t get your hopes up.

    (Hmmm, sounds like Kerry.)”

    No, this is what Kerry would have said:

    “I decided to not try and capture Osama Bin Laden after I decided to capture Osama Bin Laden”.

  16. 16
    Bob says:

    At the very least, it was poor tactical planning to pull back in anticipation of Iraq (remember, this was before all the fake yellowcake intelligence was generated and paraded before the public). But here’s the problem BushCo faced. If Bin Laden was bagged early on, think how much harder it would have been to invade Iraq.

    “Bush’s fault” may not be a completely accurate statement, like it was Bush’s fault that his minions leaked a CIA operative’s identity for political gain, but when you wear the top hat of the administration the thought doesn’t have to originate in your head. In this administration it usually doesn’t.

  17. 17
    Yet another Jeff says:

    Is there a link to the article?

  18. 18
  19. 19
    neil says:

    Yes, it is simply unthinkable that we hold the President of the United States, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, at all responsible for strategic failures in the U.S.’s war conduct. Why would anyone ever make such a silly mistake?

    At any rate, you must always assume that he did better than any Democrat would have.

  20. 20
  21. 21
    Defense Guy says:

    I have no problem with speculation, but is it reasonable to point out that it took us years to nab Eric Rudolph and way longer to get the Unibomber and they were within the borders of the country the whole time. OBL is a very popular guy and is getting a bunch of help to stay lost.

    I would also like to point out that this war does not begin and end with OBL, as our enemy is not going to give up the fight simply beacuse it’s poster boy is killed or captured.

  22. 22
    Cassidy says:

    We had a Brigade from the 101st and a Battalion from the 10th Mountain Division, during that period in Afghanistan.

  23. 23
    neil says:

    Defense Guy, that’s an apples and oranges comparison. The US never started a war to get Eric Rudolph. There was never an international force deployed to bring the Unabomber to justice.

  24. 24
    croatoan says:

    CSM followup to the article.

    Here’s a timeline of the Tora Bora assault and how it overlapped with preparations for the invasion of Iraq as the administration began shifting resources away from the hunt for bin Laden.

    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?”

    In April 2002 the Washington Post reported that:

    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.

    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.

    .

  25. 25
    Defense Guy says:

    Why would we need an international force to find citizens within the country? There were a lot of people looking for both of those people, and the point is still valid. Lack of success on a given subject is not in itself proof that no effort or not enough effort is being applied.

  26. 26
    parrothead says:

    It’s true that capturing OBL would not mean the end of terrorism, in fact his capture might be largely symbolic at this point.

    But it was Bush who framed so much of the rhetoric around this one man, with all the “if you attack us we will not rest until you are brought to justice…” talk and in so doing put him on a pedestal as a symbol of overriding importance.

    Maybe we shouldn’t have made him so important from the outset. But we did. We dealt the play. The longer he runs around the more foolish and ineffective we look.

    Maybe it’s too late to salvage him as a symbol of our own, but maybe, just maybe, his capture even at this late date would symbolize to all terrorists that when we say things like “we will not rest” and “there is no place you can hide”, we goddamn well mean it.

  27. 27
    Lee says:

    Ancedotal story about Tora Bora. Take it for what it is worth.

    Marine buddy was in Afghan during Tora Bora. They were geared up ready to surrond TB and eradicate AQ and kill/capture OBL. Everyone knew where they were going and what was on the line. As you can imagine the Marines were ready to unleash some good old American ass kicking on that area.

    They had their shit ready to go, and it got called off. He blames Bush (he thinks Rumsfeld talked Bush out of it). He also sides with the moonbats on this one. If they had captured/killed OBL the Iraq would have been a much harder sell to the American people.

    Anyway, take that for whatever you want.

  28. 28
    James Emerson says:

    Defense Guy — I can’t believe that you found a parallel between the capture of Eric Rudolph and the Unibomber, and the search foe OBL.

    Perhaps if ER and/or the Unibomber organized the mass murder of 3,000 citizens and the destruction of the twin towers then I could see what you’re getting at here. Otherwise, it’s just another apology for a botched job and an incompetent president.

    croatoan — Thanks for the links. I tend to forget including links in my rants, but yours really are topnotch.

    John Cole — I actually agree with much of what you write, and think that we’re politically close in many ways, but for a guy who distains this presidency, you have an odd way of expressing it. In my book, OBL was/is target number one. Allowing him to escape was directly related to the misdirection of resources and focus for another war albeit one that was both controversial and unnecessary.

    That shift in resources could ONLY have been mandated by a presidential decree.

  29. 29
    Aaron says:

    I’ve been reading up on this stuff – from Tora Bora to the obvious counter-example of Anaconda where we did use 3 US battalions. (I don’t think they were in country in time for Tora Bora, or at least not ready.)

    Anaconda did not do too well either. In fact, it was rather weak indeed. (assuming we could do better with our better skillz than the actual guys there.)

    So, unless we see an obvious “Oh, yeah, our troops rock as compared to the local proxy forces” then I will withold too much blame.

    This is a similar discussion one could imagine in 1945 where we discuss how absolutely lacking the Sherman tank was compared to the German tanks….shall I be the first to call FDR an idiot? No, I don’t think so.

  30. 30
    Defense Guy says:

    Defense Guy—- I can’t believe that you found a parallel between the capture of Eric Rudolph and the Unibomber, and the search foe OBL.

    Perhaps if ER and/or the Unibomber organized the mass murder of 3,000 citizens and the destruction of the twin towers then I could see what you’re getting at here. Otherwise, it’s just another apology for a botched job and an incompetent president.

    It is not my fault that you cannot see the parallels. Perhaps if you removed your BushHater glasses it might become more apparent to you. In the future, I will be sure to tell law enforcement that 3000 lives is our benchmark. Shall we call Aruba and tell them to call off the search then?

  31. 31
    croatoan says:

    It’s only fair to blame Bush for letting bin Laden get away at Tora Bora if you take him at his word. This is a guy who’s supposed to be a straight shooter, and who said he’d restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office. Who said, “the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” Who said, “I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.” Who said, “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” Who said he wanted bin Laden dead or alive. Who said:

    “I will not settle for a token act. Our response must be sweeping, sustained and effective.”

    “We will find this who did it, we’ll smoke them out of their holes,” Bush said.

    “We’ll get them running and we’ll bring them to justice,” he said.

    Of bin Laden, Bush said: “If he thinks he can hide from the United States and our allies he will be sorely mistaken.”

    Unfortunately bin Laden was a really good hider, and Bush was distracted by the shiny new war in Iraq, so he changed his tune to “we are not too worried about him” (then lied about saying that during the 3rd debate when Kerry called him on it).

    Bush came into office criticizing the Clinton administration by saying, “they’ve moved that sign, ‘The buck stops here,’ from the Oval Office desk to ‘The buck stops here’ on the Lincoln Bedroom.” I guess he’s been too busy to move it back.

    It’s also fair to point out that we tracked down and captured Mir Amir Kansi, who killed two people outside CIA headquarters in July 1993 and hid out in the same border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan where bin Laden is most likely hiding.

  32. 32
    Bob says:

    Lee, a moonbat is someone who says that it would have been harder to sell the war in Iraq if bin Laden was nabbed?

  33. 33
    Bob says:

    By the way, is catching the anthrax guy under the war on terror or is that under some other war? Daschle’s mailman is worried.

  34. 34
    Kimmitt says:

    That guy targetted Democrats; if the Bush Administration found him, he’d probably have a long and prosperous career as a consultant/radio personality ahead of him.

  35. 35
    Krusty Krab says:

    Is it OK to hold Bush responsible for this one thing?

    No, it’s not. However, he’s ultimately accountable for it though, since he was CIC at the time.

    Responsibility=event happened as result of direct actions you took or failed to take.
    Accountability=you answer for event, whether or not you were directly responsible.

    The rest of the points you Bush critics are making is that Bush is not a great PR person, and he says lots of dumb things. Got any NEWS?

  36. 36
    Krusty Krab says:

    James “Blinded by Hate” Emerson says:

    I actually agree with much of what you write, and think that we’re politically close in many ways, but for a guy who distains this presidency, you have an odd way of expressing it.

    Maybe the difference is that John is still able to think. You, on the other hand, have become nothing more than a shill for the DNC. Talking about how ideology makes people stupid: You’re this week’s poster child!

    Shit happens in war, and if you can’t figure that out, then it isn’t ideology that’s making you a moron. In that case, it’s simply flawed DNA.

    Allowing him to escape was directly related to the misdirection of resources

    Well, in your fever swamp world, anyway. In the real world, supposing that he was in Tora Bora at the time, it has more to do with the chaos of war.

    …and focus for another war albeit one that was both controversial and unnecessary.

    In spite of your highly inflated opinion of yourself, you aren’t nearly smart enough to know the answer to that. Ultimately, history will have to be the judge of that.

    The sad fact is, in spite of all of your bloviating, we still don’t know for a fact that bin Laden was ever in Tora Bora. Like you, I’ve reviewed the evidence for bin Laden’s presence, however, I find it suggestive but unconvincing. I have no particular political agenda to feed or hatred to inflame, so that probably explains the differences in our conclusions.

  37. 37
    Anderson says:

    What kind of person, having read Cole’s post and the above comments, could write Krusty Krab’s comment without feeling like a moron or a fake?

    Krusty Krab, evidently.

  38. 38
    DougJ says:

    Boy, the Dems are good at Monday morning quarterbacking…

    Clinton had EIGHT YEARS to get Osama and did nothing. We’ve got him on the run now, reduced him to the point where all he does is make music videos. We’ve captures over half of the higher-ups in Al Qaeda, including the number three guy in the whole operation.

    If the Dems had their way, Osama and Saddam would be sharing a big plate of falafel in a one of Saddam’s palaces right now.

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