Donald Rumsfeld and his allies are dismissing a warmed-over report from Sen. John Kerry who contends Osama bin Laden was "within our grasp" in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountain range and blames the former defense secretary for letting him get away.
The report this week from Democrat Kerry’s partisan staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee relies chiefly on two books — one by a CIA officer, the other by a former special operations warrior — and on a publicly available military history.
In other words, the "facts" presented in the report are a rehash. They continue a Kerry 2004 presidential campaign theme. And its Sunday release was timed to continue the White House’s weekly bashing of George W. Bush and bolster President Obama’s Afghan war speech Tuesday night.
Festooned in the 40-page report are a mix of outrageous, unproven political charges meant to blame Bush for worldwide terrorism.
Keith Urbahn, a spokesman for Rumsfeld, belittled Kerry’s work.
"A review of some of the press stories from eight years ago and a few unclassified interviews is what now seems to pass for a congressional ‘investigation’ in the committee Kerry chairs," Urbahn told HUMAN EVENTS.
Urbahn also dismissed the part of the report that implies the Bush people let bin Laden get away and that Rumsfeld opposed more troops for Tora Bora in December 2001.
"The fact is that Department of Defense officials in Washington and commanders in the field pushed hard to capture or kill bin Laden, and Secretary Rumsfeld urged them on daily," he said. "No senior military officer asked Rumsfeld for more forces to pursue the al-Queda terrorist at Tora Bora, nor did Rumsfeld ever turn down a request by a military commander for additional forces, equipment, or resources in tracking down bin Laden.
"Kerry apparently didn’t like the fact that military commanders — and ultimately, the American voters — rejected his unfounded claim the U.S. government had ‘outsourced’ the fight at Tora Bora during his 2004 presidential campaign, so he’s now wasting taxpayer money to try to rewrite a version of history more to his liking."
And this from Larry Di Rita, a close Rumsfeld aide at the time: "The report is a transparent political hit job that reads more like a hastily assembled term paper for a correspondence course in ‘General for a Day.’ The report misses the relevant fact that the commanders at the time did not seek additional forces, and that Rumsfeld consistently approved the forces they did request. "
A former senior officer, then on active duty, said Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall commander, settled on a strategy for killing bin Laden in Tora Bora that relied on several parts: first, concentrated intelligence collection using ground- and air-based interceptors to hear his conversations; second, elite terrorist-hunters from U.S. Joint Special Operations Command to conduct the ground hunt and organize friendly Afghan militias; third, position the Pakistan Frontier Force to stop his escape; finally, a day-and-night heavy bombing campaign to strike every known mountain hideout.
The source told HUMAN EVENTS that the upcoming Afghan elections weighed on the strategy. If Franks put thousands of troops into the area, they would find themselves fighting pro-al Queda villagers to access the territory needed to block numerous exit routes. Such a bloodbath would likely turn the populace against the idea of American-sponsored elections, the former officer said.
In the end, this approach did not work. Bin Laden escaped.
But Kerry takes the failure and blows it up into outlandish conclusions.
This report paragraph is one example:
"Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat. But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan al- lowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics world-wide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan."
The extrapolation is stunning. Capturing bin Laden would have stopped the Muslim money flow to extremists, made the Islamist-filled tribal areas in Pakistan a peaceful place and ended the warlordism and fanatics who have encased Afghanistan in violence for centuries. Not possible.
Then there is this Kerry assertion:
"There were enough U.S. troops in or near Afghanistan to execute the classic sweep-and-block maneuver required to attack bin Laden and try to prevent his escape. It would have been a dangerous fight across treacherous terrain, and the injection of more U.S. troops and the resulting casualties would have contradicted the risk-averse, ‘light footprint’ model formulated by Rumsfeld and Franks. But commanders on the scene and elsewhere in Afghanistan argued that the risks were worth the reward."
Again, you might find a military expert who agrees with this. But you will find more who say the mountain range was too large, too cavernous and too complex to do a "classic sweep-and-block maneuver." To be confident of success, thousands of troops would have to be airlifted in, along with a massive resupply. And as the former senior officer told HUMAN EVENTS, this would have touched off a war with al Queda-allied villagers who did not want our troops on their land.
Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee’s top Republican, did not endorse the report, nor has he read it, his spokesman, Any Fisher, told HUMAN EVENTS.
"They asked if we were interested and we declined," Fisher said. "That’s not uncommon. We do a lot of reports on the minority side that are not signed by the chairman."
He said Lugar would have no comment. "Our focus on Afghanistan is the future," he said.
Rumsfeld and other Bush-ites continue to fight the rewriting of history by President Obama and his Kerry-like allies. In Tuesday’s nights speech, Obama asserted that commanders had asked for more troops for Afghanistan, but were denied.
This statement does not match the historical facts.
U.S troop levels increased steadily after the 2001 invasion was accomplished with special operations forces. The number grew to 13,000 by 2003 and then to 22,000, before Rumsfeld left office in 2006. Bush upped the force to 31,000 before he left office and signed off on more troops in 2009. Obama approved an additional surge, taking the level to 68,000 American troops today.
Rumsfeld was so displeased by Obama’s charge Tuesday night he put out a rebuttal.
“In his speech to the nation last night, President Obama claimed that ‘commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive.’ Such a bald misstatement, at least as it pertains to the period I served as secretary of defense, deserves a response.
“I am not aware of a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006. If any such requests occurred, ‘repeated’ or not, the White House should promptly make them public. The president’s assertion does a disservice to the truth and, in particular, to the thousands of men and women in uniform who have fought, served and sacrificed in Afghanistan.
“In the interest of better understanding the president’s announcement last night, I suggest that the Congress review the president’s assertion in the forthcoming debate and determine exactly what requests were made, who made them, and where and why in the chain of command they were denied.”
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