TORA BORA…. Towards the end of the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry tried to raise public awareness of an issue Americans hadn’t heard much about. In December 2001, the U.S. had pinned down Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora, but the Bush administration decided not to send additional troops.
George W. Bush, just two weeks before Election Day, was incensed by the criticism, and tried to characterize this as attacks on the military. “Now my opponent is throwing out the wild claim that he knows where bin Laden was in the fall of 2001 — and that our military had a chance to get him in Tora Bora,” the then-president said. “This is an unjustified and harsh criticism of our military commanders in the field.”
It was an odd thing to say. Far from being a “wild claim,” the Bush administration itself came to the same conclusion Kerry did — two years beforehand.
Five years later, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry now chairs, has completed a thorough analysis of the national security failure, documenting for history exactly what transpired.
The report, based in part on a little-noticed 2007 history of the Tora Bora episode by the military’s Special Operations Command, asserts that the consequences of not sending American troops in 2001 to block Mr. bin Laden’s escape into Pakistan are still being felt.
The report blames the lapse for “laying the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.” […]
The showdown at Tora Bora, a mountainous area dotted with caves in eastern Afghanistan, pitted a modest force of American Special Operations and C.I.A. officers, along with allied Afghan fighters, against a force of about 1,000 Qaeda fighters led by Mr. bin Laden. […]
The new report suggests that a larger troop commitment to Afghanistan might have resulted in the demise not only of Mr. bin Laden and his deputy but also of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban. Mullah Omar, who also fled to Pakistan in 2001, has overseen the resurgence of the Taliban.
Like several previous accounts, the committee’s report blames Gen. Tommy R. Franks, then the top American commander, and Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, for not putting a large number of American troops there lest they fuel resentment among Afghans.
This is not to say that success at Tora Bora would have eliminated the threat posed by al Qaeda, but the fiasco allowed the terrorist network’s top leaders to escape and continue with their efforts.
The events at Tora Bora was largely ignored by major media outlets — perhaps because they were too embarrassing to the administration soon after 9/11 — but for the record, Kerry was right, and Bush was wrong.