Friday, October 22, 2004

Tora Bora Revisited

In a recent post, I addressed John Kerry's ridiculous claim that we "outsourced" the job of defeating al-Qaeda at Tora Bora in December 2001. In the October 19th New York Times, someone far more qualified to discuss this issue dealt with Senator Kerry's remarks. General Tommy Franks, the man in charge of Operation Enduring Freedom, made the following points:

First, take Mr. Kerry's contention that we "had an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden" and that "we had him surrounded." We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.

Second, we did not "outsource" military action. We did rely heavily on Afghans because they knew Tora Bora, a mountainous, geographically difficult region on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is where Afghan mujahedeen holed up for years, keeping alive their resistance to the Soviet Union. Killing and capturing Taliban and Qaeda fighters was best done by the Afghan fighters who already knew the caves and tunnels.

Third, the Afghans weren't left to do the job alone. Special forces from the United States and several other countries were there, providing tactical leadership and calling in air strikes. Pakistani troops also provided significant help - as many as 100,000 sealed the border and rounded up hundreds of Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

It seems to me that General Franks would have just a little bit more knowledge of the operational situation at Tora Bora than would Senator Kerry. As I stated in my previous post on this topic, it is clear that "Senator Kerry's statement on Tora Bora drastically oversimplifies a complicated operational situation, and represents the worst sort of second guessing." BTW, Tom Maguire points out that Kerry had a different take on events while the battle of Tora Bora was actually underway:

KERRY: Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.

John Kerry on Larry King Live, December 14, 2001

On the issue of whether Osama bin Laden escaped Tora Bora, read this terrific post by Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch. He provides an excellent analysis of all the alleged bin Laden audio and video tapes released since Tora Bora, and finds them less than convincing. Djerejian's conclusion:

I think Osama bin Laden is dead. And, if so, you might as well chalk that up, of course, on the positive side of the ledger vis-a-vis Bush's prosecution of the war on terror during his first term. Oh, be sure to think about that the next time you hear hysterical chiming-ons about all those myriad missed opportunities at Tora Bora and such.

To be fair, Lt. General David Barno, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, was reported on October 19 as saying "that bin Laden's death would be difficult to conceal from intelligence services, even if he died in a secret place, because his associates would talk about it."

Still, even if bin Laden is alive, he is barely able to elude capture, let alone effectively run a global terrorist jihad. Frankly, bin Laden is now primarily a symbol more than anything.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny how things change depending on the political climate. Ever feel like Winston Smith with the memory hole?

U.S. Concludes Bin Laden Escaped at Tora Bora Fight
Failure to Send Troops in Pursuit Termed Major Error
By Barton Gellman and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 17, 2002; Page A01

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.
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.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tora Bora falls, but no bin LadenUS-backed Afghans yesterday said they seized the last Al Qaeda posts in Tora Bora, but there's no sign of its leader.
from the December 17, 2001 edition
By Philip Smucker | Special to The Christian Science Monitor
© 2001 The Christian Science Monitor
...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...

Though Mr. Rumsfeld has said that the two dozen or so US Special Forces are helping to block exit routes, that number of US military personnel can only be considered a token of the real figure needed to cut off all the mountain passes surrounding the mountain enclave.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Cool, the anonymous linkbot has been visiting. If you had read my first post on this topic, where I assume that bin Laden was at Tora Bora and escaped, you might realize why the idea that we could have taken him out with 700 men from the 10th Mountain Division is a myth.

If you read the entire WaPo article, it is clear that it is little more than an anonymously sourced hit on General Franks by Washington based bureaucrats. BTW, here's part of that article that you left off.

Franks continues to dissent from that analysis. Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, his chief spokesman, acknowledged the dominant view outside Tampa but said the general is unpersuaded.

"We have never seen anything that was convincing to us at all that Osama bin Laden was present at any stage of Tora Bora -- before, during or after," Quigley said. "I know you've got voices in the intelligence community that are taking a different view, but I just wanted you to know our view as well."

"Truth is hard to come by in Afghanistan," Quigley said, and for confidence on bin Laden's whereabouts "you need to see some sort of physical concrete proof."

Franks has told subordinates that it was vital at the Tora Bora battle, among the first to include allies from Afghanistan's Pashtun majority, to take a supporting role and "not just push them aside and take over because we were America," according to Quigley.

"Our relationship with the Afghans in the south and east was entirely different at that point in the war," he said. "It's no secret that we had a much more mature relationship with the Northern Alliance fighters." Franks, he added, "still thinks that the process he followed of helping the anti-Taliban forces around Tora Bora, to make sure it was crystal clear to them that we were not there to conquer their country . . . was absolutely the right thing to do."

With the collapse of the Afghan cordon around Tora Bora, and the decision to hold back U.S. troops from the Army's 10th Mountain Division, Pakistan stepped in. The government of President Pervez Musharraf moved thousands of troops to his border with Afghanistan and intercepted about 300 of the estimated 1,000 al Qaeda fighters who escaped Tora Bora. U.S. officials said close to half of the detainees now held at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were turned over by the Pakistani government.
That sounds remarkably like the account that General Franks just offered in the New York Times. BTW, the Shah-e-Kot/Anaconda operation in March 2002 was conducted differently because the operational circumstances were different. Tora Bora wasn't perfect, few things in war are. But under the circumstances at the time, it was almost certainly the best we could do. I stand by my assessment that Kerry is engaged in the worst sort of second guessing on this issue.

11:59 AM  

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