So the Kerry campaign wants to float the idea that we didn’t get OBL in Tora Bora because Bush “outsourced” his capture to the Afghans instead of sending in the Americans to do the job. Hmmmm… Sorry, no dice.
Then again, I suppose maybe Kerry and Edwards were there for the intel brief on OBL’s presence, which the Special Forces Commander never got, while they missed all the intel briefs on Iraq, terrorism, and 9/11?
Col. John Mulholland, Commander of 5th Special Forces Group:
[When did Tora Bora emerge as an operational focus?]
After the fall of Kandahar, Tora Bora emerged very quickly on the radar screen, at least from my headquarters, as there was the potential for Al Qaeda presence and possibly other personnel could be hiding. One of the main questions early on was how these forces could actually muster to go into this massive mountainous area, to really go after and seal this area, search it in detail and prosecute an operation up there.
There has been a lot of discussion since about [whether] American forces [should have been on the ground in Tora Bora]. I would be a liar if I didn’t say that certainly … [with] American forces on the ground, we would have had a more conventionally confident force to do conventional search, seizure, isolate, cordon and search operations. But that search force wasn’t available yet, and there was great impetus to do something to move up into these mountains. So we were asked to supply an A-team up in there to assist with [Afghan forces – 2,000 or 3,000 totally, as I remember] you could muster to go up there and take on any Al Qaeda forces who we knew were there. … Our function was to work with [anti-Taliban Afghan] forces and increase their capability as much as possible to move into the mountains, and then re-apply air power up there to destroy these caves and to kill as many Al Qaeda as possible. [Al Qaeda] wasn’t interested in surrendering, by and large.
It would have been a difficult task for any military to go up in these mountains, search them out and take prisoners. This is incredible terrain, incredible elevations, and truthfully, very difficult with the force available to decisively search every nook and cranny, because there are no shortages of caves in Afghanistan. They probably number in the hundreds of thousands, if not 50 million. They just seem [to be] everywhere, and [they are] natural granite, not man-made. …
[Did you believe bin Laden was in the caves?]
… It was as good a place for him to be as anywhere. It had … access to a cross-border sanctuary of Pakistan … very defendable terrain, known strongholds within the framework of the mountains. So in terms of an analytical perspective, certainly it met the criteria for a place he could likely be. Kandahar [was] no longer available to him. Whether or not he was there or not, I truly never had the level of intelligence to say he was or wasn’t. But I think it was a reasonable expectation that it was a place he could be, and therefore we would prosecute an operation to try to determine whether he was there or not. …
The mission was to try to destroy and eliminate the Al Qaeda presence there, and capture Osama bin Laden or any of his senior deputies that were there. We certainly did the former with the Al Qaeda fighters up there. We knew it would be a hard fight. Everywhere we had encountered … the Taliban, they tended to recognize when the day was done; they would either surrender or make deals. The Al-Qaeda would fight pretty much to the death or look for avenues to escape to fight another day. We knew it would be a hard fight up there, no question about that. And it was. They fought very hard, until we killed them. …
If terms of the mission were to try and go find and show the world that we had captured and killed Osama bin Laden – even though we didn’t do that – that’s a very difficult task. Some folks underestimated how difficult the task is to find somebody in his own backyard. … At any rate …we certainly accomplished a significant proportion of the mission which was to go up there and destroy Al Qaeda in his backyard, in his stronghold.
Was it perfect? No, it wasn’t perfect. … In hindsight maybe would we have liked to have done more? Absolutely, we would like to walk out of the mountains with bin Laden and his cronies in hand, certainly, but it didn’t happen. I think it’s a mistake for people to cast too glaring an indictment of that operation not understanding fully the context of what was going on with the battlefield at the time, what was available, and the urgency of when people wanted to see things happen.