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Friday, May 6, 2011

Collateral Damage To Anti-Bush Mythology About The Hunt For Bin Laden

The relentless banter by the mainstream media and others (including by some in the comments here) is that Bush let bin Laden get away at Tora Bora and gave up the search.

As the facts come out in the wake of bin Laden's death, bits and pieces are coming out that debunk the mythology and lies.  In fact, there was a never ending and relentless campaign to find bin Laden, the fruits of which were not harvested until last Sunday.

The Washington Post has a multi-part article today on how bin Laden stayed hidden for so long, and the import of the article is that it was not because we weren't trying to find him.

First, the escape from Tora Bora was not by the direct route to Pakistan as we have been led to believe countless times, or a supposed failure to seal the border with Army Rangers.  In fact, something I had not heard before, bin Laden took an unexpected route to the north right past U.S. special forces:
The popular version of bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora was dramatic enough. Somehow, a hunted man made it over the mountains, south to the tribal areas of Pakistan.
But U.S. interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching U.S. and British special forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days' journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan's far northeast. A U.S. intelligence official this week confirmed this account.
Then came the hunt, which never ended:
U.S. forces believed that at Tora Bora they had come within perhaps 2,000 yards of bin Laden. Yet he managed to slip away, vanishing so completely that several years went by without a single tip, surveillance photo or monitored transmission of any value. On the ground, American operatives continued to try to pry intelligence from "locals willing to talk for some pocket change," Fury said. "The CIA did a lot of this fishing. Mind-numbing. A million dead ends."
Even as the White House was consumed politically by the Iraq war, the search for bin Laden and the development of leads through interrogations never let up.  Not knowing where bin Laden was, a "flood the zone" strategy put in place (Operation Cannonball) proved ineffectual

Comments used against Bush to show he was unconcerned simply were an attempt by the Bush administration not to raise public expectations when no one knew where bin Laden was:
In the Bush White House, the lack of credible leads led to public statements designed to play down the individual and focus attention on the broader threat.

The idea was "not to overly aggrandize the man even as we tried to find him," Zarate said. Outside the HV Unit, the landscape looked grim: "I can't remember any single piece of intelligence that got us especially excited," Zarate said.
And as we now know, the ultimate location and killing of bin Laden was the direct result of painstaking intelligence gathering and interrogations much of which took place during the Bush years:
But even as the hunt became a political liability, the road to bin Laden's house in Abbottabad was being built, not "brick by brick," said former CIA director Michael V. Hayden, but "pebble by pebble."
Turning vague references to a courier into a verified name took upwards of four years, but that opened the way to discovering how he operated, and that led to the surveillance of the strangely overbuilt house that curiously had no phone or Internet service.

The couple of dozen U.S. commandos who dropped onto bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad last weekend had to complete their mission in minutes, but it had taken years to get them there.
Hindsight always is 20/20.  Mistakes were made, but Bush had to deal with the hunt in real time, without the benefit of prior intelligence creating links to bin Laden's location.

Bush laid the foundation for Obama's success, a success which would not have taken place had Bush followed Obama's demands to stop harsh interrogations (even those short of waterboarding), to close so-called "black sites," to lawyer-up detainees early on, to close Gitmo, and to treat the al-Qaeda problem as a law enforcement problem.

Obama made the right decision in killing bin Laden, but it was a decision made possible by hard work that took place during the Bush years.

One of the collateral benefits of the killing of bin Laden is that more facts are coming out, and those facts debunk the malicious mythology which has been spread by the mainstream media and Democratic Party politicians and pundits about George W. Bush and the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

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  1. Note to myself: Just STOP READING the comments below any article in The Washington Post. Tends to just raise the systolic/diastolic to dangerous levels. While I admit The Post is a more reasonable (and more believable) organ of the MSM, its commenters are generally typical inside-the-beltway far-leftists who truly think obama=great; Bush=bad. Be forewarned. Thanks for the link to the story, though, Bill.

  2. I could never really take it seriously when people were saying BUSH let bin Laden slip away. It's sort of like saying Jefferson Davis lost Pickett's Charge. Bush was the CiC, but he obviously wasn't in operational command of mission to track OBL down.

  3. I just love how they think O was so courageous. All he did was say yes to what others have been working on, and some losing their lives, since 9/11. It's a wonder he didn't say "present" instead.

  4. @RoseB, "present" is what he said for 16 hours. No EIT, no Bin Laden (early strands of courier nick-name were developed by EIT). No war in Iraq, no Bin Laden (where Al-Libbi was captured). No staying in Afghanistan, no Bin Laden (DevGru took off from there).
    O gets credit for sending a team to a do a mission that any President given the obvious collateral damage from JDAM's would have chosen as his only option.

  5. Now, let us hope the Republican candidate(s) use(s) this truth to expose this bumbling, dithering One for what he is: a failure of mass proportions.

    Too much to hope?! After last night, perhaps not. Debaters went after the ObaMessiah with a vengeance. Come on 2012!

  6. If I remember correctly were they not supposed to have read this puke his rights before they sent him to paradise

  7. Next, you'll be telling us Bush never really said that there were WMDs in Iraq.

  8. The WaPo article you cited cites Dalton Fury's book "Kill bin Laden". If you haven't read that book on the events at Tora Bora, you should. The point is this: it was at the highest levels of the Bush administration that the tactical advice of the Delta guys on the ground as advisors was ignored, denying repeated requests for US troops even as our Afghan warlord "allies"' "troops" did nothing more than play their equivalent of a game of cowboys and indians and abandoned their positions night after night to retreat from the battlefield and sleep in the valley below. Even if Army Rangers sealing the border on the ridge above Tora Bora wouldn't have prevented OBL from escaping to the north as he reportedly did, US forces in number above and below could have tightened the noose and made escape along any route impossible. It was the administration's micro-mis-management that allowed bin Laden to escape Tora Bora.

  9. By the way, that indictment of the Bush administration for letting bin Laden go in 2001 does not deny that Bush's leadership did facilitate the events that ultimately led to the Abbottabad mission. The point is simply that bin Laden could have been killed a decade earlier, and in a timely reprisal for the 9/11 attack. That failure gave bin Laden a decade of mystique and al Qaeda an allure to the muslim world that could have been blunted by bin Laden getting an immediate cause/effect death at the hands of our forces.

  10. @nobody special - hindsight is a great thing. If we had dropped large numbers of troops into the mountains, we might have alienated the locals, diminished our large carpet bombing runs, and possibly had soldiers taken captive or killed in large numbers on difficult terrain without a way to resupply or rescue. Maybe it would have worked, maybe not, but the mantra that Bush "let bin Laden get way" and so on is not a fair assessment.

  11. With all respect professor (and I do hold you in the highest regard), it wasn't hindsight. Dalton Fury is the pen name under which the author wrote about what happened in Tora Bora after his retirement. Many things about that book, particularly the photos, support the author's claim to have first-hand knowledge. Even if one were to doubt who the author claims to be, there isn't cause to doubt his account in the book that the Afghanis didn't have their hearts in the fight. When they literally abandoned their positions night after night, resetting the chess board to starting positions each morning, hindsight would not have been needed to recognize that the strategy at Tora Bora wasn't going to work. That information was forwarded up the chain of command, yet requests for US boots in the fight (not just Delta advisors) were denied. Alienating the locals around Jalalabad would have been a small price to pay to have killed bin Laden in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and sent an unmistakable message to the would-be terrorists in the muslim world.

    I suspect that you're familiar with the book in question, but if not, this was it in an iconic photo of a student reading it while Obama was addressing the students at West Point, sending a message to the speaker:


    If you've read it, I'm surprised that we would be in disagreement. If you haven't, I'd be happy to buy a copy on amazon and specify your office at Cornell law as the gift address.

  12. @noboby special - thanks for the offer, but it sounds like numerous other accounts which I have read, namely, someone thinks a different strategy would have worked better, but that's only because of what we now know in retrospect. You say a different strategy "would have been a small price to pay to have killed bin Laden," but that presumes the result. My point is that in real time, with conflicting interests and advice, military and civilian leadership made decisions which they thought at the time would be successful; it simply is too convenient for someone to say you should have done this or that.

  13. A final counterpoint before I let this one go: I'm repeating myself, but the Afghan warlords' "soldiers" were abandoning the battlefield every night. There were indications (more than mere suspicion among the Delta operators) that there was active collaboration going on by the supposedly friendly Afghanis to provide cover and time to al Qaeda. All of this information was being passed up the chain of command. It isn't a question of different strategies and asserting with the benefit of hindsight that one strategy would have been better than what was employed. Rather, given the reports of the Delta commander at Tora Bora to his superiors, it must have been abundantly clear that the strategy of letting the Afghani warlords run the show was doomed to fail. This strategy was an extension of the strategy of supporting them against the Taliban. It worked just fine against the Taliban because there was power to be gained by the warlords. The warlords did not have anything in the way of incentive or possibility for gain in Tora Bora.

    Therefore, it isn't that one strategy would have been better than another, but that doing something ourselves would have been better than letting our pretend friends do nothing behind a transparent facade. The strategy of supporting supposedly friendly Afghanis probably did make sense in the first few days. At that early stage of the Tora Bora operation it was indeed, as you said, a decision between two courses of action without benefit of hindsight. But a few days in, it was clear to all that it wasn't working, as were the reasons why it wasn't working and wouldn't magically start to work. It is sadly not at all unheard of that the administration ignored the advice of the on-site commander. It sounds very much like a failure to learn and apply the lessons of history, and making that same old mistake at such a critical juncture should not be whitewashed.

    FYI, the author of "Kill bin Laden" claims to have been the Delta commander in the battle at Tora Bora. While that claim may be suspect, a book of this sort being written after retirement by the disillusioned former leader of an elite unit, written with great pains taken to not compromise operational details is not without precedent: Richard Marcinko wrote Rogue Warrior (nonfictional autobiography) and Red Cell (fiction as a device to write about things that could not be written as nonfiction), and he was the CO who established SEAL team six, then another unit for which the Red Cell unit in the second book is a fictional proxy.

    With that precedent, all the photos in the book, and pains taken to tell what happened at Tora Bora without compromising the Delta commandos' identities or current operational security, I'm inclined to believe that "Dalton Fury" is who he claimed to be. Of course, if one is inclined doubt the author's identity then various statements that I made above as fact are only as credible as the source.

    With that, I believe we can agree to disagree, unless your interest has been piqued - in which case a copy of "Kill bin Laden" will be headed your way. In any case, thank you for engaging in an interesting discussion here in the comments.