The main reason policy toward Afghanistan is so vexing, in my view, is that we basically failed in our main mission back in 2001 and 2002. Demands were made on the Taliban to hand over key al-Qaeda leaders, the Taliban refused, we went to war, and even though we succeeded in marginalizing the Taliban we didn’t succeed in achieving for ourselves what we’d been demanding the Taliban do. Having failed at that mission, we then shifted gears into a hazily defined effort to remake Afghanistan.
A new Senate report, thankfully, finally focuses attention on how we failed and why:
“The decision not to deploy American forces to go after Bin Laden or block his escape was made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, General Tommy Franks,” the report says.
“On or around December 16, two days after writing his will, Bin Laden and an entourage of bodyguards walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan’s unregulated tribal area. Most analysts say he is still there today.”
Rumsfeld’s argument at the time, the report says, was that deploying too many American troops could jeopardize the mission by creating an anti-US backlash among the local populace.
The report dismisses arguments at the time from Franks, Vice President Dick Cheney and others defending the decision and arguing that the intelligence was inconclusive about Bin Laden’s location.
“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.”
Another reminder of the horrible legacy of the George W. Bush administration.