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Context of 'October 2001: US Military Downplays Importance of Targeting Bin Laden'

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On October 8, 2001, Gen. Tommy Franks, Central Command commander in chief, says of the war in Afghanistan, “We have not said that Osama bin Laden is a target of this effort. What we are about is the destruction of the al-Qaeda network, as well as the… Taliban that provide harbor to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.” [USA Today, 10/8/2001] Later in the month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes similar comments, “My attitude is that if [bin Laden] were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist. He’s got a whole bunch of lieutenants who have been trained and they’ve got bank accounts all over some 50 or 60 countries. Would you want to stop him? Sure. Do we want to stop the rest of his lieutenants? You bet. But I don’t get up in the morning and say that is the end; the goal and the endpoint of this thing. I think that would be a big mistake.” [USA Today, 10/24/2001] One military expert will later note, “There appears to be a real disconnect between what the US military was engaged in trying to do during the battle for Tora Bora - which was to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban - and the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers will make a similar comment in April 2002 (see April 4, 2002). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Thomas Franks, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld speak in private. Bush asks the Defense Secretary what kind of plan the Pentagon has for invading Iraq. “What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan? I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret,” Bush says. When Rumsfeld says its current plan is outdated, Bush instructs him to devise a new one. “Let’s get started on this,” Bush says. “And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to.” Bush requests that discussion about Iraq remain low-key. “I knew what would happen if people thought we were developing a potential war plan for Iraq,” Bush later explains to journalist Bob Woodward. Bush does not share the details of his conversation with Condoleezza Rice, only telling her that Rumsfeld will be working on Iraq. [Associated Press, 4/16/2004; New York Times, 4/17/2004; Washington Post, 4/17/2004; CBS News, 4/18/2004 Sources: George Bush and other top officials interviewed by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward] When General Tommy Franks—who already has his hands full with the operation in Afghanistan—learns that the administration is considering plans to invade Iraq, he utters “a string of obscenities.” [Associated Press, 4/16/2004 Sources: Top officials interviewed by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward] General Franks will meet with Bush and brief him on the plan’s progress on December 28 (see December 28, 2001).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Thomas Franks, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

At the request of President Bush (see November 21, 2001), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telephones Gen. Tommy Franks with instructions to work on war plans for Iraq. “General Franks, the president wants us to look at options for Iraq,” the general will later recall being told. In his memoirs, Franks will write: “‘Son of a bitch,’ I thought. ‘No rest for the weary.’” Franks will brief Bush on the progress of his work a month later (see December 28, 2001). [Franks, 2004; Salon, 5/19/2005 Sources: Thomas Franks] Over the next few months, Bush will ask for and receive increasingly detailed briefings from Franks about the forces that would be needed if the US were to move against Iraq. The need to prepare for an invasion of Iraq, according to insiders interviewed by the Atlantic Monthly, hinders the US effort against bin Laden and the Taliban. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Myers making his comments at a press conference.Myers making his comments at a press conference. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” He adds, “Obviously, that’s desirable,” but then he hints it won’t be desirable to do so soon, saying, “I just read a piece by some analysts that said you may not want to go after the top people in these organizations. You may have more effect by going after the middlemen, because they’re harder to replace. I don’t know if that’s true, or not, and clearly we would like to eventually get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In early 2005, the recently retired Executive Director of the CIA will explicitly state that it is better to let bin Laden remain free (see January 9, 2005).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Neoconservative commentator William Kristol does not join other conservatives in lambasting Specialist Thomas Wilson for asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an uncomfortable question about inadequate body armor (see December 8, 2004 and December 9, 2004). Instead, Kristol excoriates Rumsfeld for his apparently flippant response, “You go to war with the army you have.” The Army has “performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has,” Kristol writes, but, he continues, “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary [President] Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.” He calls Rumsfeld’s response “arrogant buck-passing” and slams Rumsfeld for his apparant callousness, quoting the secretary as telling the troops: “[I]f you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.” Kristol retorts sarcastically: “Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.” Rumsfeld has not performed well since the war began, Kristol writes, constantly resisting calls to increase troop numbers and then unfairly blaming field commanders such as General Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid for not requesting more troops. “All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments,” Kristol writes. “Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?” He concludes, “These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: William Kristol, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of the Army, Thomas Wilson

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s recently departed Executive Director, says in an interview that the world may be better off if bin Laden remains at large. Krongard had been Executive Director, the CIA’s third most senior position, from 1998 until six weeks before this interview. He states, “You can make the argument that we’re better off with him [at large]. Because if something happens to bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror.” The London Times notes that, “Several US officials have privately admitted that it may be better to keep bin Laden pinned down on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than make him a martyr or put him on trial.” However, Krongard is the only senior official to say so publicly, and this position completely contradicts the rhetoric of the Bush administration, which has consistently claimed that catching bin Laden remains a top priority. [London Times, 1/9/2005]

Entity Tags: A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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