Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Bin Laden Escaped at Tora Bora Fight

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.

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.

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.

"I don't think you can ever say with certainty, but we did conclude he was there, and that conclusion has strengthened with time," said another official, giving an authoritative account of the intelligence consensus. "We have high confidence that he was there, and also high confidence, but not as high, that he got out. We have several accounts of that from people who are in detention, al Qaeda people who were free at the time and are not free now."

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.

Those successes included none of the top al Qaeda leaders at Tora Bora, officials acknowledged. Of the dozen senior leaders identified by the U.S. government, two are now accounted for -- Muhammad Atef, believed dead in a Hellfire missile attack, and Abu Zubaida, taken into custody late last month. But "most of the people we have been authorized to kill are still breathing," said an official directly involved in the pursuit, and several of them were at Tora Bora.

The predominant view among the analysts is that bin Laden is alive, but knowledgeable officials said they cannot rule out the possibility that he died at Tora Bora or afterward. Some analysts believe bin Laden is seriously ill and under the medical care of his second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri, an Egyptian-trained physician. One of the theories, none supported by firm evidence, is that he has Marfan syndrome, a congenital disorder of some people with bin Laden's tall, slender body type that puts them at increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

The minority of U.S. officials who argue that bin Laden is probably dead note that four months have passed since any credible trace of him has surfaced in intelligence collection. Those who argue that he is probably alive note that monitoring of a proven network of bin Laden contacts has turned up no evidence of reaction to his death. If he had died, surely there would have been some detectable echo within this network, these officials argue.

In public, the Bush administration acknowledges no regret about its prosecution of Tora Bora. One official spokesman, declining to be named, described questions about the battle as "navel-gazing" and said the national security team is "too busy for that." He added, "We leave that to you guys in the press."

But some policymakers and operational officers spoke in frustrated and even profane terms of what they called an opportunity missed.

"We [messed] up by not getting into Tora Bora sooner and letting the Afghans do all the work," said a senior official with direct responsibilities in counterterrorism. "Clearly a decision point came when we started bombing Tora Bora and we decided just to bomb, because that's when he escaped. . . . We didn't put U.S. forces on the ground, despite all the brave talk, and that is what we have had to change since then."

When al Qaeda forces began concentrating again in February, south of the town of Gardez, Franks moved in thousands of U.S. troops from the 101st Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division. In the battle of Shahikot in early March -- also known as Operation Anaconda -- the United States let Afghan allies attack first. But when that offensive stalled, American infantry units took it up.

Another change since Tora Bora, with no immediate prospect of finding bin Laden, is that President Bush has stopped proclaiming the goal of taking him "dead or alive" and now avoids previous references to the al Qaeda founder as public enemy number one.

In an interview with The Washington Post in late December, Bush displayed a scorecard of al Qaeda leaders on which he had drawn the letter X through the faces of those thought dead. By last month, Bush began saying that continued public focus on individual terrorists, including bin Laden, meant that "people don't understand the scope of the mission."

"Terror is bigger than one person," Bush said March 14. "He's a person that's now been marginalized." The president said bin Laden had "met his match" and "may even be dead," and added: "I truly am not that concerned about him."

Top advisers now assert that the al Qaeda leader's fate should be no measure of U.S. success in the war.

"The goal there was never after specific individuals," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. "It was to disrupt the terrorists."

Said Quigley at the Central Command: "There's no question that Osama bin Laden is the head of al Qaeda, and it's always a good thing to get rid of the head of an organization if your goal is to do it harm. So would we like to get bin Laden? You bet, but al Qaeda would still exist as an organization if we got him tomorrow."

At least since the 1980s, the U.S. military has made a point of avoiding open declaration of intent to capture or kill individual enemies. Such assignments cannot be carried out with confidence, and if acknowledged they increase the stature of an enemy leader who survives. After-action disclosures have made clear, nonetheless, that finding Manuel Noriega during the Panama invasion of 1989 and Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Persian Gulf War were among the top priorities of the armed forces.

The same holds true now, high-ranking officials said in interviews on condition that they not be named. "Of course bin Laden is crucial," one said.

In Britain, Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told BBC radio yesterday that bin Laden's capture "remains one of the prime objectives" of the war.

Staff researcher Robert Thomason contributed to this report.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

Book Description
What do our enemies believe? What motivates their war against the West? What is their vision of the ideal Islamic society? Surprisingly, more than five years after 9/11, there is very little understanding of these questions.

Despite our tendency to dismiss Islamic extremism as profoundly irrational, al-Qaeda is not without a coherent body of beliefs. Like other totalitarian movements, the movement’s leaders have rationalized their brutality in a number of published treatises. Now, for the first time, The Al Qaeda Reader gathers together the essential texts and documents that trace the origin, history, and evolution of the ideas of al-Qaeda founders Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden.

This extraordinary collection of the key texts of the al-Qaeda movement—including incendiary materials never before translated into English—lays bare the minds, motives, messages, and ultimate goals of an enemy bent on total victory. Al-Qaeda’s chilling ideology calls for a relentless jihad against non-Muslim “infidels,” repudiates democracy in favor of Islamic law, stresses the importance of martyrdom, and mocks the notion of “moderate” Islam.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these works is how grounded they are in the traditional sources of Islamic theology: the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet. The founders of al-Qaeda use these sources as powerful weapons of persuasion, reminding followers (and would-be recruits) that Muhammad and his warriors spread Islam through the power of the sword and that the Koran is not merely allegory or history but literal truth that commands all Muslims to action.

In addition to laying bare al-Qaeda’s ultimate motives, The Al Qaeda Reader includes the organization’s propagandist speeches, which are directed primarily at Americans, Europeans, and Iraqis. Here, al-Qaeda’s many "official" accusations against the West are meticulously delineated, from standard complaints such as the Palestinian issue and Iraq to wholly unexpected ones concerning the U.S.’s exploitation of women and the environment.

Taken together, the Theology and Propaganda sections of this volume reveal the most comprehensive picture of al-Qaeda to date. They also highlight the double-speak of bin Laden and Zawahiri, who often say one thing to Muslims in their religious treatises ("We must hate and fight the West because Islam commands it") and another in their propaganda directed at the West ("The West is the aggressor and we are fighting back merely in self-defense").

Westerners from across the political spectrum will be fascinated and enlightened by The Al Qaeda Reader’s insights into the nature of Islamic texts and the ways in which al-Qaeda has used these texts to manufacture hatred against our civilization and our way of life.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

United States and Israel share a common enemy

Open Letter to President Bush from New American Century

April 3, 2002

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

We write to thank you for your courageous leadership in the war on terrorism and to offer our full support as you continue to protect the security and well-being of Americans and all freedom-loving peoples around the world.

In particular, we want to commend you for your strong stance in support of the Israeli government as it engages in the present campaign to fight terrorism. As a liberal democracy under repeated attack by murderers who target civilians, Israel now needs and deserves steadfast support. This support, moreover, is essential to Israel’s continued survival as a free and democratic nation, for only the United States has the power and influence to provide meaningful assistance to our besieged ally. And with the memory of the terrorist attack of September 11 still seared in our minds and hearts, we Americans ought to be especially eager to show our solidarity in word and deed with a fellow victim of terrorist violence.

No one should doubt that the United States and Israel share a common enemy. We are both targets of what you have correctly called an “Axis of Evil.” Israel is targeted in part because it is our friend, and in part because it is an island of liberal, democratic principles -- American principles -- in a sea of tyranny, intolerance, and hatred. As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has pointed out, Iran, Iraq, and Syria are all engaged in “inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing” against Israel, just as they have aided campaigns of terrorism against the United States over the past two decades. You have declared war on international terrorism, Mr. President. Israel is fighting the same war.

This central truth has important implications for any Middle East peace process. For one spoke of the terrorist network consists of Yasser Arafat and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Although your critics in the United States, Europe and the Arab world suggest that you and your administration bear some responsibility for the lack of political progress between Israel and the Palestinians, they are mistaken. As Secretary of State Powell recently stated, the present crisis stems not from “the absence of a political way forward” but from “terrorism…, terrorism in its rawest form.” That terrorism has been aided, abetted, harbored, and in many instances directed by Mr. Arafat and his top lieutenants. Mr. Arafat has demonstrated time and again that he cannot be part of the peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He demonstrated it in July 2000, when he rejected the most generous Israeli peace offer in history; he demonstrated it in September 2000, when he launched the new intifada against Israel; and he demonstrated it again these past two weeks when, despite the hand you offered him through Vice President Cheney, he gave sanction to some of the worst terrorist violence against Israeli citizens.

It is true that the United States has a leading role to play in the Middle East and, potentially, in resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But it is critical that negotiations not be the product of terrorism or conducted under the threat of terrorist attack. This would send a most dangerous signal to our adversaries that civilized states do not have the necessary courage to fight terrorism in all its forms.

Mr. President, it can no longer be the policy of the United States to urge, much less to pressure, Israel to continue negotiating with Arafat, any more than we would be willing to be pressured to negotiate with Osama Bin Laden or Mullah Omar. Nor should the United States provide financial support to a Palestinian Authority that acts as a cog in the machine of Middle East terrorism, any more than we would approve of others providing assistance to Al Qaeda.

Instead, the United States should lend its full support to Israel as it seeks to root out the terrorist network that daily threatens the lives of Israeli citizens. Like our own efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Israel’s task will not be easy. It will not be accomplished quickly or painlessly. But with fortitude, on our part as well on the part of the Israeli people, it can succeed in significantly reducing the risk of future terrorist attacks against Israel and against us. And, in so doing, we will give the Palestinian people a chance they have so far not had under Arafat’s rule -- an opportunity to construct a political culture and government that do not marry their national and religious aspirations with suicide bombers.

Furthermore, Mr. President, we urge you to accelerate plans for removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. As you have said, every day that Saddam Hussein remains in power brings closer the day when terrorists will have not just airplanes with which to attack us, but chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, as well. It is now common knowledge that Saddam, along with Iran, is a funder and supporter of terrorism against Israel. Iraq has harbored terrorists such as Abu Nidal in the past, and it maintains links to the Al Qaeda network. If we do not move against Saddam Hussein and his regime, the damage our Israeli friends and we have suffered until now may someday appear but a prelude to much greater horrors. Moreover, we believe that the surest path to peace in the Middle East lies not through the appeasement of Saddam and other local tyrants, but through a renewed commitment on our part, as you suggested in your State of the Union address, to the birth of freedom and democratic government in the Islamic world.

Mr. President, in that address, you put forth a most compelling vision of a world at peace, free from the threat of terrorism, where freedom flourishes. The strength of that vision lies in its moral clarity and consistency. In the war on terrorism, we cannot condemn some terrorists while claiming that other terrorists are potential partners for peace. We cannot help some allies under siege, while urging others to compromise their fundamental security. As you eloquently stated: “Our enemies send other people’s children on missions of suicide and murder. They embrace tyranny and death as a cause and a creed. We stand for a different choice, made long ago, on the day of our founding. We affirm it again today.”

Israel’s fight against terrorism is our fight. Israel’s victory is an important part of our victory. For reasons both moral and strategic, we need to stand with Israel in its fight against terrorism.


William Kristol

Ken Adelman Gary Bauer Jeffrey Bell William J. Bennett

Ellen Bork Linda Chavez Eliot Cohen Midge Decter

Thomas Donnelly Nicholas Eberstadt Hillel Fradkin Frank Gaffney

Jeffrey Gedmin Reuel Marc Gerecht Charles Hill Bruce P. Jackson

Donald Kagan Robert Kagan John Lehman Tod Lindberg

Rich Lowry Clifford May Joshua Muravchik Martin Peretz

Richard Perle Daniel Pipes Norman Podhoretz Stephen P. Rosen

Randy Scheunemann Gary Schmitt William Schneider, Jr. Marshall Wittmann

R. James Woolsey

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