"Can you imagine trusting them [Afghan warlords] when you have your 10th Mountain Division, the United States Marine Corps, when you had all the power and ability of the best-trained military in the world?" Kerry told a rally at the University of Nevada-Reno. "I would have used our military and we would have gone after and captured or killed Osama bin Laden. That's tough." ...
"You want to talk about the war on terror, Mr. President? Let's talk about it," Kerry yelled while his supporters cheered him on. "Let's talk about what happened when you let Osama bin Laden escape in Afghanistan.
"Let's talk about what happened when we had the world's number one terrorist, number one criminal, cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora. What did the president do? Do you know what he did? He outsourced the job of capturing him, just like he outsourced a lot of American jobs. He gave it to Afghan warlords who only one week earlier were fighting against us."
Fortunately retired General Tommy Franks -- who, unlike Kerry, was actually involved with the operations around Tora Bora -- put these charges to rest last week in The New York Times: War of Words.
As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator's understanding of events doesn't square with reality.
First, take Mr. Kerry's contention that we "had an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden" and that "we had him surrounded." We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.
Second, we did not "outsource" military action. We did rely heavily on Afghans because they knew Tora Bora, a mountainous, geographically difficult region on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is where Afghan mujahedeen holed up for years, keeping alive their resistance to the Soviet Union. Killing and capturing Taliban and Qaeda fighters was best done by the Afghan fighters who already knew the caves and tunnels.
Third, the Afghans weren't left to do the job alone. Special forces from the United States and several other countries were there, providing tactical leadership and calling in air strikes. Pakistani troops also provided significant help - as many as 100,000 sealed the border and rounded up hundreds of Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Contrary to Senator Kerry, President Bush never "took his eye off the ball" when it came to Osama bin Laden. The war on terrorism has a global focus. It cannot be divided into separate and unrelated wars, one in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. Both are part of the same effort to capture and kill terrorists before they are able to strike America again, potentially with weapons of mass destruction. Terrorist cells are operating in some 60 countries, and the United States, in coordination with dozens of allies, is waging this war on many fronts.
As we planned for potential military action in Iraq and conducted counterterrorist operations in several other countries in the region, Afghanistan remained a center of focus. Neither attention nor manpower was diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq. When we started Operation Iraqi Freedom we had about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, and by the time we finished major combat operations in Iraq last May we had more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Kerry could have learned similar information from Melanie Kirkpatrick of The Wall Street Journal who over a week ago wrote: Tora Bora Baloney. Kirkpatrick, like Kerry, wasn't involved in the military operations Tora Bora either. But unlike Kerry, she at least listens to people who were, such as Gen. Tommy Franks and his deputy, Lt. Gen. Michael "Rifle" DeLong:
Getting the Tora Bora story right is important because Mr. Kerry's accusation goes to the heart of his broader charge against Mr. Bush -- that he bungled the war in Afghanistan. It's hard to be convincing on this point, when, less than three years later, 10 million Afghans have just gone to the polls in the first free election in their 5,000-year-old history. It's even harder to see how sending in thousands of U.S. troops to secure Tora Bora would have helped win that war faster -- even if it had resulted in bin Laden's death or capture. Mr. Kerry's criticism of the Tora Bora campaign also belies his promise to rely more on allies if he were commander-in-chief.
UPDATE -- October 26: This cartoon appears in today's (Tuesday's) Investor's Business Daily.
Posted by Forkum at October 24, 2004 05:55 PM