Sunday, Sep 10, 2006, 8:52 am
WaPo’s Big Story on Bush Abandoning Search for Bin Laden In Favor of Iraq War
Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson for WaPo have a 5 pager headlined "Bin Laden Trail 'Stone Cold'" which details how "Bush decided to pull out most of the special operations troops and their CIA counterparts in the paramilitary division that were leading the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for war in Iraq."
On the videotape obtained by the CIA, bin Laden is seen confidently instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie in undetected at night. A bomb dropped by a U.S. aircraft can be seen exploding in the distance. "We were there last night," bin Laden says without much concern in his voice. He was in or headed toward Pakistan, counterterrorism officials think.
That was December 2001. Only two months later, Bush decided to pull out most of the special operations troops and their CIA counterparts in the paramilitary division that were leading the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for war in Iraq, said Flynt L. Leverett, then an expert on the Middle East at the National Security Council.
"I was appalled when I learned about it," said Leverett, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration's counterterrorism policy. "I don't know of anyone who thought it was a good idea. It's very likely that bin Laden would be dead or in American custody if we hadn't done that."
Pakistani and U.S. counterterrorism and military officials admit that Pakistan has now all but stopped looking for bin Laden. "The dirty little secret is, they have nothing, no operations, without the Paks," one former counterterrorism officer said.
Although the hunt for bin Laden has depended to a large extent on technology, until recently unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were in short supply, especially when the war in Iraq became a priority in 2003.
Bureaucratic battles slowed down the hunt for bin Laden for the first two or three years, according to officials in several agencies, with both the Pentagon and the CIA accusing each other of withholding information. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's sense of territoriality has become legendary, according to these officials.
In early November 2002, for example, a CIA drone armed with a Hellfire missile killed a top al-Qaeda leader traveling through the Yemeni desert. About a week later, Rumsfeld expressed anger that it was the CIA, not the Defense Department, that had carried out the successful strike.
"How did they get the intel?" he demanded of the intelligence and other military personnel in a high-level meeting, recalled one person knowledgeable about the meeting.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then director of the National Security Agency and technically part of the Defense Department, said he had given it to them.
"Why aren't you giving it to us?" Rumsfeld wanted to know.
Hayden, according to this source, told Rumsfeld that the information-sharing mechanism with the CIA was working well. Rumsfeld said it would have to stop.