OSAMA VS. SADDAM….Via Tom Spencer, an NBC report suggests that as early as spring of 2002, only a few months after the defeat of the Taliban, the war against al-Qaeda was already being compromised by preparation for war in Iraq:

?There were decisions made,? says Flynt Leverett, a former director at the National Security Council in the Bush White House, ?to take key assets, human assets, technical assets, out of theater in Afghanistan in order to position them for the campaign to unseat Saddam.?

….NBC News has learned that in one still-classified incident in Yemen, commanders wanted to engage what sources call a ?viable mission against an al-Qaida target.? After all, in the past they had used the missiles on the remotely piloted drones to strike at terrorists. But in this case, because of the Iraq war, there was not a Predator they could use. The al-Qaida target got away.

What?s more, members of the CIA?s elite special activities division and the Army?s entire 5th Special Forces Group (Green Berets), who?d hunted down hundreds of al-Qaida terrorists, were pulled out of Afghanistan. The 5th, based in Fort Campbell, Kent., specializes in the Middle East and Central Asia. These soldiers are the ones who speak Arabic and Central Asian languages.

….Rick Francona, a retired Air Force colonel and an NBC News analyst, says that another valuable resource in the war against al-Qaida was a high-tech surveillance plane called the RC-135 ?Rivet Joint.? ?It?s not just the platform itself, it?s the linguists that man the platform,? Francona says. ?They were being really overworked.?

A squadron of the RC-135s was deployed to ?Operation Enduring Freedom? in 2001, says Air Force spokeswoman Beth Kelly, but they stopped prowling the skies over Afghanistan in May 2002….?I don?t think there is any question that the effort against al-Qaida was degraded,? Francona says.

Food for thought. It’s hard to say how much of this was the result of normal duty rotation and routine force deployment decisions, but Leverett’s descriptions are disturbing.

It’s been apparent for some time that much of al-Qaeda ? and possibly Osama bin Laden himself ? escaped capture because we committed too weak a force to Afghanistan, but that kind of criticism is always all too easy to make in hindsight. However, if that weakness was actually the result of a deliberate decision to refocus on Iraq before the job in Afghanistan was finished, it displays astonishingly poor judgment. I hope we see a followup to this.