Senate Report: Bin Laden Was Within Our Grasp

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a new report on Afghanistan.

The report states categorically that bin Laden was hiding in Tora Bora when the U.S. had the means to mount a rapid assault with several thousand troops at least. It says that a review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants "removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora."

The blame for blowing the chance to get bin Laden -- and for the current state of the war in Afghanistan -- is placed squarely on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander Tommy Franks.

The full report is here (pdf). [More...]

On how bin Laden was within our grasp:

After bin Laden’s escape, some military and intelligence analysts and the press criticized the Pentagon’s failure to mount a full-scale attack despite the tough rhetoric by President Bush. Franks, Vice President Dick Cheney and others defended the decision, arguing that the intelligence was inconclusive about the Al Qaeda leader’s location. But the review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants underlying this report removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora.

For example, the CIA and Delta Force commanders who spent three weeks at Tora Bora as well as other intelligence and military sources are certain he was there. Franks’ second-in-command during the war, retired Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, wrote in his autobiography that bin Laden was ‘‘definitely there when we hit the caves’’—a statement he retracted when the failure became a political issue. Most authoritatively, the official history of the U.S. Special Operations Command determined that bin Laden was at Tora Bora. ‘‘All source reporting corroborated his presence on several days from 9-14 December,’’ said a declassified version of the history, which was based on accounts of commanders and intelligence officials and published without fanfare two years ago.

The report goes into much further detail on bin Laden in three sections:

The first section traces bin Laden’s path from southern Afghanistan to the mountains of Tora Bora and lays out new and previous evidence that he was there. The second explores new information behind the decision not to launch an assault. The final section examines the military options that might have led to his capture or death at Tora Bora and the ongoing impact of the failure to bring him back ‘‘dead or alive.’

The bottom line:

Our inability to finish the job in late 2001 has contributed to a conflict today that endangers not just our troops and those of our allies, but the stability of a volatile and vital region. This report relies on new and existing information to explore the consequences of the failure to eliminate bin Laden and other extremist leaders in the hope that we can learn from the mistakes of the past.

After noting the recent arrests of Najibullah Zazi and David Headley, the report ends with:

For American taxpayers, the financial costs of the conflict have been staggering. The first eight years cost an estimated $243 billion and about $70 billion has been appropriated for the current fiscal year—a figure that does not include any increase in troops. But the highest price is being paid on a daily basis in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 68,000 American troops and hundreds of U.S. civilians are engaged in the ninth year of a protracted conflict and the Afghan people endure a third decade of violence.

So far, about 950 U.S. troops and nearly 600 allied soldiers have lost their lives in Operation Enduring Freedom, a conflict in which the outcome remains in grave doubt in large part because the extremists behind the violence were not eliminated in 2001.

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  • Display: Sort:
    wapo (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by Turkana on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 02:31:58 AM EST
    had it in 2002:


    glad the senate is catching up.

    Surely rumsfeld is a major screw-up (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by pluege on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 06:14:47 AM EST
    and of course the decider-in-chief and his puppeteer cheney need to share in the blame, but I'd also like to see the convincing evidence that things would be much different today had they gotten bin laden when they could have?

    a) bush and his cabal were hell bent on invading Iraq and nothing other than sustained negative media would have stopped them.

    b) the taliban are religious zealots. I'd be highly skeptical of whatever "logic" presumes that the loss of bin laden would change them or slow them down much.

    what makes you think (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by cpinva on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 07:56:28 AM EST
    that rumsfeld and franks "blew" the opportunity to capture/kill bin laden?

    consider, had either event occurred, what legitimate (using the term in its loosest possible sense) reason would have existed for our continued presence in afghanistan? that's ok, take your time.

    the worst thing that could have happened, politically, was for bin laden, "the satan spawn of middle-east terrorists" to have been captured/killed, for the bush administration.

    sure, it would have given him a brief bump, but then he'd have been forced to actually be a CEO, something that, historically, he's dangerously bad at. with bin laden on the "loose", it kept people from looking behind that curtain, and realizing there was only a naked, incompetent person hiding there.

    Who Cares (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by gpassavanti on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 09:15:04 AM EST
    Clinton also had him in his sights. Are we just going to sit back and discuss this or move on to Obama and his escalating another war?

    What timing.. (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by ding7777 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 12:28:25 PM EST
    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a new report telling us Bush's failure was NOT sending in more troops just days before Obama's ("I intend to finish the job," ) Afghanistan war speech on Tuesday requesting more troops.

    Yes, as pointed out above (none / 0) (#17)
    by KeysDan on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 02:12:59 PM EST
    this is not a new story, just a new source.  And, the moral of the story is, more troops will "finish the job".

    Not at all (none / 0) (#22)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:54:33 PM EST
    The only thing missed was capturing Osama bin Laden. Obama's intent in Afghanistan has never once said we wouldn't be done until we got OBL.

    He has taken on enough of GWB's attitudes toward the middle eastern conflicts to most likely share the attitude that OBL is of little concern in this.

    That's not to say he isn't using the same technique of 8-10 year old intelligence to get the approvals wanted and needed.


    A query... (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by lentinel on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:27:58 PM EST
    I still ask this question:
    If Osama was the mastermind of 9/11, and that's why we invaded Afghanistan, who the hell is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

    Do you reckon (none / 0) (#3)
    by JamesTX on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:47:59 AM EST
    old Sammy is still with us? Will they ever produce anyone they claim to be him? What's left in this show? Another hangin'? Maybe a firing squad with a last request and a cigarette or something?

    I doubt Obama will allow the U.S. to embarrass ourselves again in such a fashion, so I guess it will be sort anticlimactic after Sadam. Of all the things we allowed Georgie to do, that was the most repugnant, demeaning, disgusting, and unforgivable act the U.S. will ever have to live down. We (the taxpayers) allowed that delinquent imbecile to actually hang a man from a gallows in living out some kind of childhood cowboy movie fantasy. That is down right sick. That one will go down in history against us. It was the sickest event of the 21st century. It is amazing that such a spoiled brat could do something like that using the resources of the most advanced civilization in world history. His daddy must be some kind of rich to buy him toys like that.

    That disgusting wife of his was on the TeeVee in Dallas the other night with her nose up in the air pointing and barking around that place over there on Central Expressway where they've decided to build his "library". She's supposed to be literate, you see, so she's naturally heading up the library building detail.

    In typical form, she advised us that the planned replica of Georgie's Oval Office to be placed in the "library" is something she feels is a real gift to us underlings because, to closely paraphrase if not actually quote, "it's the closest thing most people will ever see to the real Oval Office".

    Uh hm.

    Thank you, Laura.

    Well, it seems some of her (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by KeysDan on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 02:08:08 PM EST
    mother-in-law rubbed off one her, perhaps learning from Barbara Bush's infamous commentary on the Katrina victims housed in stadiums--"actually, it is working out quite well for them, since they were underprivileged anyway"

    That way she (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by JamesTX on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 03:17:49 PM EST
    didn't have to trouble her "beautiful mind" about the incompetent, nay, criminally negligent actions of her son in the affair! Thanks for reminding me that there is plenty of evidence out there to prove there is really nothing wrong with me for saying these things. The "beautiful mind" statement will stay with me forever. I suspect the "beautiful mind" is still unperturbed by the body bags and all the other human suffering wrought by her offspring. I had forgotten about the fortune of the "underprivileged". What a privilege! I wish I had an opportunity to camp on one of their stadium floors! No, I think I would rather see the faux Oval Office. That would be a real "gift" for me. Could I maybe sit in the chair, Laura?

    This whole gang of people are so steeped in the privilege of unimaginable wealth that there is no way they could possibly "represent" any significant proportion of Americans. They can't even fake it. It would seem that their PR people could find ways to censor out such telling obscenities from their careless public utterances.

    They are the third generation of a New England family that specializes in providing political representation for the ultra-rich. George W., with his hokey Texas cowboy persona -- created in its entirety by professional media producers to lure ignorant poor conservatives into voting against themselves -- was the ultimate insult to our integrity as a democracy. This doesn't hold a candle to the insult which it delivers to actual, real Texans.

    I can stomach both fiscal and social conservatives and sometimes even understand their arguments. In some small contexts and limited ways they even make sense. But the fact that rank-in-file conservative Americans fell for this family is a real disappointment. They irreparably harmed our country, and failure of the right wing to fully admit it, show some remorse, and apologize for empowering them is a serious barrier to healing.


    Everytime (none / 0) (#6)
    by Ga6thDem on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 07:03:49 AM EST
    Obama starts talking about the middle east it reminds me of Nixon Vietnam. I guess history is repeating itself on that account.

    I still would really like to know (none / 0) (#8)
    by Militarytracy on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 08:28:35 AM EST
    how this mission failure came about.  Call me curious.  I suppose I should read up on it more but because it is essentially not of import outside of curiousity it never becomes a priority.  Nobody ever even talks about it around me so I don't even have gossip about it to go by.

    My understanding (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 08:40:54 AM EST
    is that Bush/Franks/Rumsfeld didn't want to risk U.S. troops and thought they could get the Northern Alliance folks to get him with the help of a small number of U.S. special ops guys, but of course, enough of the Afghans were playing both sides to "accidentally" let him escape.  I think it's true that sending U.S. troops up into those mountains they had only minimal familiarity with would have been a high-casualty operation.  But relying on the Afghans to do it was folly.

    And I agree with you entirely that it's nothing more than a curiosity.  We should "get" bin Laden, should have gotten him, but it's only of symbolic importance.  His survival or capture has no impact on either the Taliban or even al Qaeda itself.


    The phrase "within our grasp" makes... (none / 0) (#12)
    by EL seattle on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 11:04:56 AM EST
    ... it sound kind of easy.  But the report has passages like this:

    Crumpton showed the president where Tora Bora was located in the White Mountains and described the caves and tunnels that riddled the region. Crumpton questioned whether the Pakistani forces would be able to seal off the escape routes and pointed out that the promised Pakistani troops had not arrived yet.
    In addition, the CIA officer told the president that the Afghan forces at Tora Bora were ``tired and cold'' and ``they're just not invested
    in getting bin Laden.''

    If the US didn't have reliable support from the Pakistani and Afghan forces, I'm not confident that 1000 American troops would have been quickly effective in sealing off such a geographically complicated region where the US did not really have any prior experience on the ground.

    The US might have killed a lot of Al Queda soldiers but lost an awful lot of those 1000 troops and still not have successfully captured bin Laden or be 100% confident that he was dead.

    And the point is? (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by pluege on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 11:11:15 AM EST
    ...not to pursue stated objectives because you might not succeed or it might be hard? Under that guise, maybe its best not to have stated objectives.

    In "Farenheit 9/11" (none / 0) (#18)
    by lentinel on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 03:08:01 PM EST
    Moore put forth the assertion that George Bush let the bin Laden family leave the US right after 9/11. In fact, I believe that Moore claims that Bush actually helped them go.

    I don't know if it is true or not.
    To my knowledge, no one from the press ever asked Bush about it.
    Nor did anyone from congress.
    Nor, incidentally, did Kerry when he was the alleged opposition candidate.

    It is my jaded inclination to believe it to be true.
    And if it is true, it would explain any action by Rumsfeld to allow Bin Laden to escape if in fact he was ever in any danger of being captured.

    Nor, incidentally, did Kerry when he was the alleged opposition candidate.

    The bin Laden family ... (none / 0) (#21)
    by FreakyBeaky on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:13:44 PM EST
    ... includes a lot of people who, by our standards, are barely related to each other, and who have nothing to do with Osama or terrorism.  Nothing other than an unfortunate last name, that is (imagine being named Manson). Negative ten million points to Michael Moore for not including that fact.  I'm not so sure I wouldn't have let them leave myself for their own safety.  

    Michael Moore Calls it like he sees it, which is fine - but it's not the same thing as He tells it like it is.


    Moore and Bush (none / 0) (#23)
    by lentinel on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:24:48 PM EST
    I think it is alleged to be more than a desire to protect the family.

    The inference was that there had been a business relationship between the Bush family and the Bin Laden family.


    When The 9/11 Attacks Occurred, (none / 0) (#20)
    by bob h on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 03:43:32 PM EST
    there were no DoD war plans for Aghanistan, Rumsfeld being too preoccupied with missile defense, etc., and there never were many boots on the ground there.  The victory was won by special commandos and CIA agents, working with the AF and the Northern Alliance.

    Donald Rumsfeld, the most destructive civil servant in our history.