Scott Shane in the hNew York Times reports on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report which concludes that there was a lost opportunity in December 2001 to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. This of course is reported widely in the press around the world.
The Foreign Committee concluded that removing bin Laden would not have eliminated the global threat from terrorism out would have removed “a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.”
The report, based asserts that the consequences of not sending American troops in 2001 to block Mr. bin Laden’s escape into Pakistan are still being felt. The lapse laid “the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.”
The showdown at Tora Bora, a mountainous area dotted with caves in eastern Afghanistan, pitted a modest force of American Special Operations and CIA officers, along with allied Afghan fighters, against a force of about 1,000 Qaeda fighters led by Mr. bin Laden.
A larger troop commitment to Afghanistan might have resulted in the demise not only of Mr. bin Laden and his deputy but also of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. Mullah Omar, who also fled to Pakistan in 2001, has overseen the resurgence of the Taliban.
Like several previous accounts, the committee’s report blames Gen. Tommy Franks and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld for not putting a large number of American troops there lest they fuel resentment among Afghans. General Franks, who declined to comment for the committee’s report, has at times questioned whether Mr. bin Laden was even at Tora Bora in late 2001.
If this is the case then the US made an appalling and costly blunder in Afghanistan in 2001. It is true that there was no guarantee that bin Laden and Mullah Omar would have been captured but additional troops would have made it more likely. Without the rallying figure of bin Laden it is very possible that some of the atrocities carried out by Muslim extremists would not have taken place... would we have seen the Bali, Madrid or London bombings? We will never know but there might have been less of a chance of them happening.
Would Mullah Omar’s capture have helped blunt the Taliban’s resurgence? Again we will never know but perhaps fewer soldiers would have been killed in Afghanistan over recent years. More importantly Afghanistan may have been more stable and the country may have been able to make further desperately needed progress.