Bush's Failed Bin Laden Hunt
An article in yesterday's New York Times criticized the Bush administration for failing "to develop a comprehensive plan to address the militant problem" along the Afghan-Pakistan border, where Osama bin Laden is reportedly rebuilding the al Qaeda terror network. After expressing enthusiasm for capturing bin Laden shortly after the Sept.11 attacks, the Bush administration has since indicated that "bin Laden doesn't fit" with its "strategy for combating terrorism" and is "not a top priority use of American resources." Beginning in 2002, the administration "shifted its sights...from counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to preparations for the war in Iraq" and outsourced the hunt for bin Laden to Pakistan. As a result, "the Bush administration will leave office with Al Qaeda having successfully relocated its base from Afghanistan to Pakistan's tribal areas, where it has rebuilt much of its ability to attack from the region and broadcast its messages to militants across the world."
SHIFTED RESOURCES TO IRAQ: According to "current and former military and intelligence officials" interviewed by the Times, "the war in Iraq diverted resources and high-level attention from the tribal areas" on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and "drained away most of the CIA officers with field experience in the Islamic world." Intelligence officials have long warned the administration of the dangers of shifting resources prematurely. On Feb.19, 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks reportedly told then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), "We are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan" because "military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq." Similarly, an Army War College report published in December 2003 concluded that the Iraq war "diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable Al Qaeda." Where the specialists went, the equipment followed. Officials told the New York Times, for instance, that when they "requested additional Predator drones to survey the tribal areas, they were told no drones were available because they had been sent to Iraq." As Graham pointed out, the removal of Predator drones from Afghanistan is "a clear case of how the Bush administration's focus on Iraq undermined the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan."
UNRELIABLE ALLY: The Iraq war also bolstered the view "among Pakistanis that American forces in the tribal areas would be a prelude to an eventual American occupation" and made it difficult for the administration "to have insisted that American forces be allowed to cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan." In fact, the Pakistani government "flatly refused" American proposals to allow Special Operations forces to establish operational bases along the border, and in 2003, "under pressure from Pakistan, the Bush administration decided…to end the American military presence on the ground." With the hunt for bin Laden virtually outsourced to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and the administration distracted by the "spiraling violence in Iraq," Bush backed Pakistan's failed strategy of signing cease-fire agreements "with the Taliban inside Afghanistan." But rather than reducing "cross-border incursions," the agreements allowed al Qaeda to establish an even stronger foot hold in the Pakistan tribal regions. Thus while the Bush administration has propped up "the Muslim world's most powerful military dictator as an essential ally," Pakistan has shown little commitment to capturing bin Laden. In fact, in January 2008, Musharraf admitted that "the 100,000 troops that we are using...are not going around trying to locate Osama bin Laden and Zawahri, frankly."
BOLSTERED AL QAEDA: The war in Iraq and Bush's over-reliance on Pakistan have allowed al Qaeda to regroup along the Pakistan-Afghan border. Intelligence sources interviewed by the Times suggest that "the makeshift training compounds" in Pakistan's tribal areas "now have as many as 2,000 local and foreign militants, up from several hundred three years ago." The build-up of members has reshaped al Qaeda into a threat that is "comparable" to what the United States faced on Sept. 11, 2001. Similarly, according to the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate, "Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives." Rather than reducing the terror threat, the Iraq conflict has become the "cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," the report concluded.