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Context of 'November 26, 2001: US Marines Land in Kandahar instead of Tora Bora'

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Maj. Brock Gaston.Maj. Brock Gaston. [Source: State Department]CIA official Gary Berntsen and a US Army Special Forces major known as Brock (an apparent reference to Maj. Brock Gaston) lead a six-person team with the mission to enter Afghanistan and capture one of bin Laden’s top aides. The exact target is not specified; the team is expected to take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves. The team passes through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, then meets up with Northern Alliance forces in the part of Afghanistan still under their control. But from the very beginning they encounter resistance from a CIA superior officer who is based in a nearby country and is in charge of CIA relations with the Northern Alliance. Known publicly only by his first name Lawrence, he apparently had a minor role in the Iran-Contra affair and has a personal dispute with Gaston. The team stays at Ahmad Shad Massoud’s Northern Alliance headquarters high in the Afghan mountains for about two weeks. However, they never have a chance to cross into Taliban territory for their mission because Lawrence is sending back a stream of negative messages to CIA headquarters about the risks of their mission. A debate ensues back at headquarters. Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorist Center, and his assistant Hank Crumpton support continuing the mission. But CIA Director George Tenet and his assistant Jim Pavitt cancel the mission on March 25. Upon returning to the US, Berntsen, Gaston, Black, and Crumpton formally call for Lawrence’s dismissal, but to no effect. Berntsen will later comment that Black and Crumpton “had shown a willingness to plan and execute risky missions. But neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bill Clinton had the will to wage a real fight against terrorists who were killing US citizens.” [CNN, 12/15/2001; Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64]

Entity Tags: James Pavitt, Brock Gaston, Cofer Black, Gary Berntsen, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George J. Tenet, Hank Crumpton, Lawrence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Gary Bernsten.Gary Bernsten. [Source: CNN]Veteran CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a CIA undercover team, codenamed Jawbreaker, to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan (see September 26, 2001). In a 2005 book, also called Jawbreaker, Berntsen will describe how his team monitored multiple intelligence reports tracking bin Laden on a path through Jalalabad to Tora Bora (see November 13, 2001). He will claim that at the start of December 2001, one of his Arabic-speaking CIA agents finds a radio on a dead al-Qaeda fighter during a battle in the Tora Bora region. This agent hears bin Laden repeatedly attempt to rally his troops. On the same radio, that agent and another CIA agent who speaks Arabic hear bin Laden apologizing to his troops for getting them trapped and killed by US aerial bombing. Based on this information, Berntsen makes a formal request for 800 US troops to be deployed along the Pakistani border to prevent bin Laden’s escape. The request is not granted. Berntsen’s lawyer later claims, “Gary coordinated most of the boots on the ground. We knew where bin Laden was within a very circumscribed area. It was full of caves and tunnels but we could have bombed them or searched them one by one. The Pentagon failed to deploy sufficient troops to seal them off.” Although the area is heavily bombed, bin Laden is able to escape (see Mid-December 2001). [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64; London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005; Financial Times, 1/3/2006] A Knight Ridder investigative report will later conclude, “While more than 1,200 US Marines [sit] at an abandoned air base in the desert 80 miles away, Franks and other commanders [rely] on three Afghan warlords and a small number of American, British, and Australian special forces to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from escaping across the mountains into Pakistan.” Military and intelligence officials warn Franks that the two main Afghan commanders cannot be trusted. This turns out to be correct, as the warlords accept bribes from al-Qaeda leaders to let them escape. [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] In 2005, Berntsen will call himself a supporter of Bush and will say he approves of how CIA Director Porter Goss is running the CIA, but he will nonetheless sue the CIA for what he claims is excessive censorship of his book. [London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Gary Berntsen, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001.US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001. [Source: Earnie Grafton / Agence France-Presse]A force of about 1,200 US marines settles in the countryside around Kandahar, Afghanistan. This will make up nearly the entire US force actually on the ground in the country during the war to remove the Taliban from power. Over the previous week, CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton had been in contact with Gen. Tommy Franks and other military leaders at CENTCOM, arguing that “the back door was open” in Tora Bora and the troops should go there instead. But Franks responded that the momentum of the CIA’s effort to corner bin Laden could be lost waiting for the troops to arrive. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58] The marines will end up being largely unused in the Kandahar region while bin Laden will escape from Tora Bora. In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden, will claim that Franks “was either badly misinformed by his own people or blinded by the fog of war. I’d made it clear in my reports that our Afghan allies were hardly anxious to get at al-Qaeda in Tora Bora.” [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] The Afghan allies the US relies on to find bin Laden will actually help him escape (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Hank Crumpton, Thomas Franks, US Department of the Marines, Gary Berntsen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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