Senate Report: Bin Laden Was 'Within Our Grasp'

Osama bin Laden was unquestionably within reach of U.S. troops in the mountains of Tora Bora when American military leaders made the crucial and costly decision not to pursue the terrorist leader with massive force, a Senate report says.

The report asserts that the failure to kill or capture bin Laden at his most vulnerable in December 2001 has had lasting consequences beyond the fate of one man. Bin Laden's escape laid the foundation for today's reinvigorated Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan, it says.

Staff members for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Democratic majority prepared the report at the request of the chairman, Sen. John Kerry, as President Barack Obama prepares to boost U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The Massachusetts senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate has long argued the Bush administration missed a chance to get the al-Qaida leader and top deputies when they were holed up in the forbidding mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan only three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Although limited to a review of military operations eight years old, the report could also be read as a cautionary note for those resisting an increased troop presence there now.

More pointedly, it seeks to affix a measure of blame for the state of the war today on military leaders under former president George W. Bush, specifically Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary and his top military commander, Tommy Franks.

"Removing the al-Qaida leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat," the report says. "But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism."

The report states categorically that bin Laden was hiding in Tora Bora when the U.S. had the means to mount a rapid assault with several thousand troops at least. It says that a review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants "removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora."

On or about Dec. 16, 2001, bin Laden and bodyguards "walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan's unregulated tribal area," where he is still believed to be based, the report says.

Instead of a massive attack, fewer than 100 U.S. commandos, working with Afghan militias, tried to capitalize on air strikes and track down their prey.

"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," the report said.

At the time, Rumsfeld expressed concern that a large U.S. troop presence might fuel a backlash and he and some others said the evidence was not conclusive about bin Laden's location.

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  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Nov 30, 2009 at 11:25 AM
    There was a team of Obama people speaking to Mr. Cole (engineer, automotive experience of 40 years, and Chairman of CAR). They were explaining to Mr. Cole that the auto companies needed to make a car that was electric and liquid natural gas (LNG) with enough combined fuel to go 500 miles so we wouldn't "need" so many gas stations (a whole other topic). They were quoting BTUs of LNG and battery life that they had looked up on some website.Mr. Cole explained that to do this you would need a TRUNK FULL of batteries and a LNG tank as big as the car to make that happen, and that there were problems related to the laws of physics that prevented them from... The OBAMA PERSON interrupted and said (and I am quoting here): "These laws of Physics? Whose rules are those? We need to change that." (Some of the others wrote down the law name so they could look it up.) "We have the congress and administration. We can repeal that law, amend it, or use an executive order to get rid of that problem.
  • by ace Location: plymouth on Nov 30, 2009 at 04:14 AM
    Give me a break. If you offered money he would be delivered to the steps of the White House in a big red bow. Too many people making money off the war to end it right now!
  • by Vana Location: NC on Nov 29, 2009 at 11:17 PM
    Pres. Harry Truman saved about a million American lives. By dropping 2 Atomic Bombs on Japan in 1945 Harry did not care about collateral damage. Just win the war , and save American lives. Gen. Patton said in ww2 I want to hang that paper hanging SOB " Hitler " Now we have a wimp in the White House.
  • by History Student Location: NC on Nov 29, 2009 at 08:20 PM
    Nathan - You talk about collateral damage in war. Your commewnt " we've had plenty of opportunities to get bin Laden, to get Hussein, but if we just drop a bomb and take him and a few hundred civilians out, we're just as bad as the terrorists" Pres. Harry Truman dropped 2 Atomic Bombs on Japan. It killed about 100,000 thousand dead in a fire storm with in seconds. Yes kids died. The US Army Air force Bombed German cities every night and day. They killed millions of German civilans. Sherman burned Atlanta GA. thats all with collateral damage. Now Obama wants to set terroist free in New York City.
  • by Nathan Location: Eastern NC on Nov 29, 2009 at 05:21 PM
    To go off on a tangent for a minute, the reason that widely-criticized airport scene in Modern Warfare 2 is that the modern American military does not really allow that much collateral damage (shooting up an airport full of Russian citizens, to get close to a terrorist leader). By the same token, we've had plenty of opportunities to get bin Laden, to get Hussein, but if we just drop a bomb and take him and a few hundred civilians out, we're just as bad as the terrorists. So our military tries to strike with the lowest collateral damage possible. Maybe it's ineffective, but it's the "right" way to wage war, if there is such a thing. There are rules in war you just don't break -- bombing places of worship is one as well, torture is another. This country's hands are not totally clean (whose are?) but I do believe they try. bin Laden will get his in due time. It may be swift, may not be just, but he will answer for his crimes at some point.
  • by Wolfgang Location: Chocowinity.NC on Nov 29, 2009 at 05:16 PM
    TD & Barlow - I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. This is my interpretation. Barlow I think Bush got good part of Bin Ladens family out of the USA for there own protection. I am sure they got death threats or there was talk about it from the FBI wire tapping these looney organizations. TD - what I ment by Texas justice. Did you ever see the old cowboy movie " Hang um High " maybe I should have said good old American cowboy justice. It is to bad Saddam was not on the back of a horse with a rope around his neck swong over a big tree lim. Thats what I ment by Bush giving Saddam Texas justice
  • by Cactus Location: Strabane on Nov 29, 2009 at 05:03 PM
    Sorry Barlow and George W; It was Kerry, Bill Clinton, obama that saved Bin Laden.
  • by Anonymous on Nov 29, 2009 at 04:43 PM
    STD ..justice was served when Saddam was hung.
  • by TD Location: Ayden on Nov 29, 2009 at 04:12 PM
    Wolfgang writes: "G.W.Bush gave Saddam Texas justice". Really? Do you really believe this Wolfgang? Where's the evidence? Don't have any? Really? Both left and right-wingers will believe anything that you shovel them. Don't trust either. Wolgang, do you really believe this?! I doubt it.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Nov 29, 2009 at 03:44 PM
    The Bin Laden and Bush family go back 20 years. The Bushs made sure the Bin Laden "family" got out of the states after 9/11. makes you wonder?
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