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Context of 'Late October-Early December 2001: Gen. Franks Ignores CIA Request to Deploy Unused US Troops to Get Bin Laden'

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Veteran CIA officer Gary Schroen and his team of CIA operatives known as “Jawbreaker” is helicoptered into the Panjshir Valley of northeastern Afghanistan. This area, about 70 miles north of Kabul, is controlled by the Northern Alliance. The team of about 10 operatives carries communications equipment so they can directly communicate with CIA headquarters back in the US. Schroen also carries a suitcase containing $3 million in non-sequential $100 bills. That same evening, Schroen meets with Muhammed Arif Sawari, known as Engineer Aref, head of the Northern Alliance’s intelligence service. He gives Aref $500,000 and promises much more money and support soon. The Jawbreaker team will remain the only US forces on the ground in Afghanistan until about the middle of October. [Washington Post, 11/18/2002] Before the Jawbreaker team deploys, J. Cofer Black, the CIA’s Washington coordinator for Jawbreaker, gave the men instructions that author Jeremy Scahill will later call “direct and macabre.” Black told the men: “I don’t want bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead.… They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden’s head to the president. I promised him I would do that” (see September 19, 2001). Schroen will later say it was the first time in his career he had been ordered to assassinate an enemy rather than attempt a capture. [Nation, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Cofer Black, Northern Alliance, Muhammed Arif Sawari, Gary C. Schroen, Central Intelligence Agency, Jeremy Scahill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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

Bin Laden gave a speech in front of about 1,000 supporters on November 10, 2001 in the town of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] On the night of November 13, a convoy of 1,000 or more al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters escapes from Jalalabad and reaches the fortress of Tora Bora after hours of driving and then walking. Bin Laden is believed to be with them, riding in one of “several hundred cars” in the convoy. The US bombs the nearby Jalalabad airport, but apparently does not attack the convoy. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The Northern Alliance captures Jalalabad the next day. [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will reveal that the late 2001 Afghanistan war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda is fought by only about 500 US fighters, plus their Afghan allies. He says the US force is made up of “110 CIA officers, 316 Special Forces personnel, and scores of Joint Special Operations Command raiders creating havoc behind enemy lines… .” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 255] There are many other US forces in Afghanistan which are not used at the time. For instance, 1,200 Marines remain in a military base in Afghanistan and do not take part in combat (see Late October-Early December 2001).

Entity Tags: Joint Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, US Special Forces

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown.Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown. [Source: National Geographic]Richard Blee, head of the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and a former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is made chief of the CIA’s new station in Kabul. Blee replaces Gary Berntsen, who had effectively led the CIA’s war effort against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Berntsen is unhappy with being replaced, saying: “It felt as though someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water in my face. I couldn’t believe they were doing this in the middle of the most important battle of the war.” The battle of Tora Bora begins around this time and, although the US thinks it has Osama bin Laden cornered there, he somehow manages to escape (see November 16, 2001, November 26, 2001 and Early December 2001).
Replacement Decision Is Not Well Received - Berntsen’s staff members are also unhappy with the decision, and slap their hands over their heads and groan when they find out about it. They tell Berntsen, “No disrespect to Rich, but when you leave, we leave.” Berntsen will attribute Blee’s selection to his closeness to CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and will also hint that Blee strongly desired the job. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 296-7, 306] Berntsen pushed hard for US troops to be deployed to catch bin Laden (see Late October-Early December 2001), but it is not known whether Blee is in favor of using US troops or not. Blee will also instigate the transfer of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi from the FBI to Egypt shortly after arriving; this is the first such transfer of a major figure after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001).
Blee's Replacement - Blee is apparently replaced as chief of the Sunni Extremist Group by someone known only as Hendrik V. (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)). Hendrik V. will later be replaced by an official known as “Marty M.” before March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251] That is almost certainly Marty Martin, someone said to lead the search for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004 (see (Shortly After October 29, 2004)).

Entity Tags: Marty Martin, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, Hendrik V., Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001.US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001. [Source: Romeo / Gacad Agence France-Presse]According to author Ron Suskind, on this date bin Laden makes a broadcast on his shortwave radio from somewhere within Tora Bora, Afghanistan. He praises his “most loyal fighters” still fighting in Tora Bora and says “forgive me” for drawing them into a defeat. He says the battle will continue “on new fronts.” Then he leads a prayer and leaves Tora Bora. Suskind says, “With a small band, he escaped on horseback toward the north. The group, according to internal CIA reports, took a northerly route to the province of Nangarhar—past the Khyber Pass, and the city of Jalalabad—and into the province of Konar. That day and the next, much of the remaining al-Qaeda force of about 800 soldiers moved to the south toward Pakistan.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74-75 Sources: Ron Suskind] A radio had been captured by US allied forces some days earlier, allowing the US to listen in to bin Laden’s communications (see Late October-Early December 2001). In another account, a professional guide and former Taliban official later claims to have led bin Laden and a group of about 30 at this time on a four day trip into Pakistan and then back into a different part of Afghanistan. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Still other accounts have bin Laden heading south into Pakistan at this time instead (see Mid-December 2001). An article in the British Daily Telegraph entitled “Bin Laden’s voice heard on radio in Tora Bora” will appear the very next day, detailing some of these communications. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A videotape obtained by the CIA shows bin Laden at the end of the Tora Bora battle. He is walking on a trail either in Afghanistan and heading toward Pakistan, or already in Pakistan. Bin Laden is seen instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie undetected at night. A US bomb explodes in the distance. Referring to where the bomb was dropped, he says, “We were there last night.” The existence of this videotape will not be reported until late 2006. [Washington Post, 9/10/2006] In September 2005, the New York Times will report that, “On or about Dec. 16, 2001, according to American intelligence estimates, bin Laden left Tora Bora for the last time, accompanied by bodyguards and aides.… Bin Laden and his men are believed to have journeyed on horseback directly south toward Pakistan.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other accounts have him heading north into other parts of Afghanistan around this time instead (see December 15, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections

President Bush awards Tenet the Medal of Freedom.President Bush awards Tenet the Medal of Freedom. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush gives the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet, former Iraq war leader General Tommy Franks, and former Iraq functionary Paul Bremer. The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor the president can bestow. Bush comments, “This honor goes to three men who have played pivotal roles in great events and whose efforts have made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty.” [Associated Press, 12/14/2001; Washington Post, 12/14/2004] However, the awards will come in for some criticism, as Tenet, CIA director on 9/11, wrongly believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (see December 21, 2002), Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army (see May 23, 2003), and Franks, responsible for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, failed to assign enough troops to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, thereby enabling him to escape (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Washington Post, 12/14/2001] John McLaughlin, Tenet’s deputy director, will later say that Tenet “wishes he could give that damn medal back.” [New York Times, 10/2/2006] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that this “well-intentioned gesture designed to create positive impressions of the war seemed to backfire.” Instead of holding these three accountable for their role in the deepening Iraq crisis, Bush hails them as heroes. McClellan will observe: “Wasn’t this supposed to be an administration that prided itself on results and believed in responsibility and accountability? If so, why the rush to hand out medals to people who had helped organize what was now looking like a badly botched, ill-conceived war?” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 250-251] David Wade, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says, “My hunch is that George Bush wasn’t using the same standard when honoring Tenet and Bremer that was applied to previous honorees.” Previous recipients include human rights advocate Mother Teresa, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and Pope John Paul II. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says he “would have reached a different conclusion” on Tenet. “I don’t think [he] served the president or the nation well.” [Associated Press, 12/14/2001] Reporter Steve Coll will later comment: “I presume that for President Bush, it was a signal that he wasn’t making Tenet a scapegoat. It would be the natural thing to do, right? You’ve seen this episode of ‘I, Claudius.’ You know, you put the knife in one side and the medal on the other side, and that’s politics.” And author James Bamford will say: “Tenet [retired], and kept his mouth shut about all the things that went on, about what kind of influence [Vice President Dick] Cheney might have had. They still have a CIA, but all the power is now with his team over at the Pentagon. They’re gathering more power every day in terms of intelligence. So largely, Cheney won.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The three medals were given to the men who had lost Osama bin Laden (General Tommy Franks), botched the Iraq occupation (Paul Bremer), and called prewar intelligence on Saddam’s WMDs a ‘slam dunk’ (George Tenet). That the bestowing of an exalted reward for high achievement on such incompetents incited little laughter was a measure of how much the administration, buoyed by reelection, still maintained control of its embattled but not yet dismantled triumphalist wartime narrative.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 158]

Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Steve Coll, L. Paul Bremer, Scott McClellan, Thomas Franks, James Bamford, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Frank Rich, George J. Tenet, Carl Levin, David Wade

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation

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