Osama bin Laden: Bush Team Dropped The Ball Many Times

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[A Global Perspective]

History is a very important vehicle of putting Osama bin Laden into a political perspective.

Without a critical and historical perspective, we are left with a profane and ugly superficial “feel good.”

After the 9/11 tragedy, President George W. Bush rejected a Taliban offer to have Osama bin Laden tried by an un-radical and judicious group of Islamic states back in October of 2001. Bush gave up the only opportunity that he had to bring bin Laden to
trial. The Taliban then controlled Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden eluded captivity. The Bush administration had to no real plans to secure or arrest him. Why?

The last Taliban foreign minister, Wakil Ahned Muttawakil, offered Osama bin Laden into custody of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), at a secret meeting in Islamabad on October 15th, 2001. He would have been tried for the 9/11 attacks on the New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon; another plan crashed in Pennsylvania. Ironically, last year, Muttawakil discussed the history in an IPS interview in Kabul.

With its Islamic credentials, an OIC trial would have would have been a profound blow to the al Qaeda leadership; more so than anything that the U.S. could do with bin Laden in American custody. Muttawakil said the U.S. would have been asked to provide evidence of bin Laden's guilt connected to the 9/11 attacks.

In October 2001 the U.S. started bombing Taliban targets. The Taliban, even then, again made a new offer in Islamabad to have bin Laden tried by one or more foreign countries.

Muttawakil was detained at Bagram airbase for a little under two years after the ouster of the Taliban government. He now lives in Kabul under the Hamid Karzai government. He said he had also offered a second alternative —-a special court-- to try bin Laden that Afghanistan and two other Islamic states could set up.

U.S. officials believed Muttawakil had had the trust of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Back in December 1998 the U.S. embassy in Islamabad stated in a cable that Muttawakil was considered to be "Omar’s closest adviser on political issues” and that he had becomes Omar’s “point man” on foreign affairs foreign back in 1997.

Obviously, with the heavy U.S. bombardment, the Taliban had a huge incentive to offer up bin Laden.

Bush's response?: “They must have not heard. There're no negotiations.”

Bush was to reject the Taliban offer in spite of the fact that U.S. intelligence had picked up reports in the previous months of deep divisions within the Taliban over Osama bin Laden. It was because of those reports that Bush had authorized secret meetings by a CIA officer with high-ranking Taliban officials in late September.

George Tenet the former CIA director was to say in his memoirs, "At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA," that the CIA station chief in Pakistan Robert Grenier, was to meet with Mullah Osmani, the second highest Taliban official, in Baluchistan province of Pakistan.

But Grenier was to authorize to offer Osmani options: turning bin Laden over to the United States; letting Americans find him on their own; or, a third option, as Tenet described it, to “administer justice themselves, in a way that clearly took him off the table.”

Osmani rejected those three options, as well as a subsequent proposal by Grenier on October 2, that he drive out Mullah Omar from power then openly reveal on the radio that bin Laden would be handed over to the United States right away.

On October Bush had publicly ruled out negotiations with the Taliban. They had to turn “turn over the al Qaeda organization living in Afghanistan and must destroy the terrorist camps,” is how he put it.

The former CIA station chief in Pakistan, Milton Bearden during the Mujahideen war against the Soviet Union, told The  Washington Post two weeks after Bush rejected Muttawakil’s new offer, that the Taliban needed a face-saving way of resolving the crises, consistent with its Islamic values. “We never heard what they were trying to say,” Bearden was to say.

This gave the Taliban and bin Laden a free pass. The Bush administration didn’t know or want to know the level of military effort that would be required to block Osama bin Laden to block him from leaving Afghanistan to Pakistan.

The national security team, which was lead by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had firmly opposed any military operation in Afghanistan that would have lead to any possibility of catching Osama bin Laden and the lieutenants.

Rumsfeld and the second-ranking official at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz was to dismiss CIA warnings of an al Qaeda terrorist attack coming to the United States in the summer of 2001. Even after the 9/11 attacks, the CIA’s conclusion that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda were actually behind the attacks, was still questioned.

Cheney and Rumsfeld were more focused on their plan to attack Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Even after Bush decided in favor of an Afghanistan invasion, CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks --in charge of the war there-- did not have a plan for the capture of Osama bin Laden or to block his escape into Pakistan.

One month later, in November 12, 2001 the CIA had received intelligence that bin Laden had left the Kandahar section of Afghanistan. He was on his way to the cave complex in the Tora Bora Mountain region close to the Pakistani border.

Commander Franks asked Lt gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, the commander of the Army Central Command (ARCENT), if he could provide a blocking force between bin Laden and his al Qaeda forces and the Pakistani border, according to Col. David W. Lamm, who was the then commander of ARCENT Kuwait.

ARCENT had not the troops or the equipment in Kuwait to put such a move in place.

Franks asked the Pakistani for their help in blocking Osama bin Laden's exit into Pakistan --as explained by Donald Rumsfeld to the National Security Council, according to the transcript in the Bob Woodward book “Bush at War.” Rumsfeld, like most U.S. governmental officials and key advisors must have known that this was all a farce and sham. It was common knowledge that bin Laden was a long time friend and ally of the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI; the Pakistanis would not help in bin Laden's capture.

Then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf then agreed to Commander Franks' request to deploy 60,000 troops, away from the border with India, to Tora Bora an area of volatility between Pakistan and Afghanistan--according to Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin who was in on the meeting. Musharraf would say that he needed airlift assistance from the U.S.; this would require an entire aviation brigade, including hundreds of helicopters, and hundreds of support troops to deliver that many combat troops to the border region.

The U.S. was not willing to commit all the assets required.

In hindsight, some of the verbal attacks on Osama bin Laden by the Bush administration was only a charade; a theatre of the absurd that masked missed opportunities. The early actions --or lack of-- by the Bush administration had already allowed bin Laden to slip into hiding.

Those who are politically un-informed, or the naïve, must revisit history to avoid being hoodwinked; again and again.

History is on our side, but not time.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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