The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator John Kerry, has just published Tora Bora Revisited: How we failed to get bin Laden and why it matters today (funny how committees are now apeing the publishing world's fad for overlong and complicated titles!).
It re-examines the farcical and half-hearted attempt to capture or kill Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of the collapse of the Taliban regime in December 2001. They failed and the reasons are neatly summed up in the report:
"Fewer than 100 American commandos were on the scene with their Afghan allies and calls for reinforcements to launch an assault were rejected. Requests were also turned down for U.S. troops to block the mountain paths leading to sanctuary a few miles away in Pakistan. The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines. Instead, the U.S. command chose to rely on airstrikes and untrained Afghan militias to attack bin Laden and on Pakistan’s loosely organized Frontier Corps to seal his escape routes. 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."
It was the former US defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his military commander, General Tommy Franks, who made the incomprehensible decision not to reinforce the commandos, believing that large US forces would face a backlash and that, anyway, the war could be won by small groups of special forces acting in concert with local warlords. It is hard not to draw the conclusion that Rumsfeld is a dangerous idiot.
The Senate committee report makes it clear that, despite earlier denials, there was plenty of evidence that bin Laden and his senior commanders were at Tora Bora. The official history of the US Special Operations Command says: "All source reporting corroborated his presence on several days from 9-14 December".
As this report was produced by a Democratic-majority committee, its political overtones should not be dismissed. But before they become too complacent, the committee members may well want to consider how history will judge US policy in Afghanistan since January 2009.