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Context of 'December 14, 2004: President Bush Gives George Tenet and Others the Medal of Freedom'

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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

A White House meeting in March 2003. From left to right: Cheney, Tenet, and Bush. A White House meeting in March 2003. From left to right: Cheney, Tenet, and Bush. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin meet in the White House with President George Bush and Bush’s top advisers for a “dress rehearsal” ahead of a public presentation that will accuse Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction. Bush is disappointed with Tenet and McLauglin’s presentation, which is based on communications intercepts, satellite photos, diagrams, and other intelligence. “Nice try,” one official will later recall Bush saying. “I don’t think this quite—it’s not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from.” Bush reportedly says to Tenet. “I’ve been told all this intelligence about having WMD, and this is the best we’ve got?” According to a White House leak to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, Tenet responds, “It’s a slam dunk case,” Bush then reportedly asks, “George, how confident are you?” To which the intelligence head responds, “Don’t worry, it’s a slam dunk.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2004; PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006 Sources: Carl W. Ford, Jr.] But this account is later disputed by Tenet. According to Tenet, he told the president that he could provide more intelligence to strengthen the public case. It would be easy—“a slam dunk.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 359-367; CBS News, 4/29/2007]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, John E. McLaughlin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Jay Garner.Jay Garner. [Source: US Army]The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) is created by the Pentagon to direct the post-war administration of Iraq, and signed into existence by President Bush. Its head, retired Army General Jay Garner, ostensibly reports to Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith (see Fall 2002), but Garner will later say that once he is in Iraq proper, General Tommy Franks of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) “will be my boss.” ORHA is later renamed the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). David Kay, a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and a former UN weapons inspector, had initially been selected to head the office, but he declined the invitation. Associates of Kay tell the New York Times that Kay felt the new agency seemed relatively uninterested in the task of promoting democracy. [New York Times, 2/23/2003; New York Times, 4/2/2003; Roberts, 2008, pp. 126, 134] Garner is considered an excellent selection, having led the relief effort for the Kurds of northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. But he faces an uphill battle, as ORHA’s functionality is plagued from the outset by a severe lack of time, uncertain funding, and incessant interdepartmental strife, particularly between the State and Defense Departments. Most ORHA workers will not have reported for duty by the time the invasion begins. And attempts to recruit experts from other agencies will be blocked by Feith and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who impose strict ideological and bureaucratic restrictions on Garner’s selections for his staff. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 126, 134]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, US Department of State, George W. Bush, Jay Garner, Thomas Franks, David Kay

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

May 23, 2003: Paul Bremer Dissolves Iraqi Army

Paul Bremer, head of the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, issues Order 2 formally dissolving the Iraqi Army and other vestiges of the old Ba’athist state. [CNN, 5/23/2003; Coalition Provisional Authority, 5/23/2003] The order, drafted by Douglas Feith’s office in the Pentagon and approved by the White House, triggers mass protests among the estimated 300,000 to 500,000 former Iraqi soldiers who are left without a job and who are given only a small, one-time, $20 emergency payment. [New York Times, 5/24/2003; Agence France Presse, 5/26/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 225] Together with the de-Ba’athification program, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army leads to some 500,000 people losing their source of income. [Los Angeles Times, 6/5/2003]
Criticism - The action will be highly criticized as a major blunder of the war. The decision was made by Walter Slocombe, a security adviser to Bremer, who proclaims that “We don’t pay armies we defeated.” A colonel on Jay Garner’s staff (see January 2003) will later say: “My Iraqi friends tell me that this decision was what really spurred the nationalists to join the infant insurgency. We had advertised ourselves as liberators and turned on these people without so much as a second thought.” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2005]
Garner's Reaction - Garner himself will later speak on the subject, telling a Vanity Fair reporter: “My plan was to not disband the Iraqi Army but to keep the majority of it and use them. And the reason for that is we needed them, because, number one, there were never enough people there for security. [A US military commander told him the US Army was guarding a lot of places it had not planned to guard.] So we said, OK, we’ll bring the Army back. Our plan was to bring back about 250,000 of them. And I briefed [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld. He agreed. [Deputy Defense Secretary] Wolfowitz agreed. [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice agreed. [CIA Director] George [Tenet] agreed. Briefed the president on it. He agreed. Everybody agreed. So when that decision [to disband] was made, I was stunned.”
Iraqi Colonel's Reaction - US and UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer will later say of the decision: “One Iraqi colonel told me, ‘You know, our planning before the war was that we assumed that you guys couldn’t take casualties, and that was obviously wrong.’ I looked at him and said, ‘What makes you think that was wrong?’ He goes, ‘Well, if you didn’t want to take casualties, you would have never made that decision about the Army.’” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Jay Garner, George W. Bush, Scott Wallace, Paul Wolfowitz, Walter Slocombe, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith, L. Paul Bremer, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Duelfer, Bush administration (43), Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer (see May 1, 2003) asserts his independence from US government oversight, a stance assisted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Bremer is formally slated to report to Rumsfeld, but says Rumsfeld has no direct authority over him. Instead, Bremer insists, he reports directly to the White House. Rumsfeld, usually jealously protective of his bureaucratic prerogatives, tells National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice: “He doesn’t work for me. He works for you” (see Late September, 2003). But Bremer is not willing to report to either Rice or the National Security Council (NSC) either. The White House had already announced that it had no intention of playing a large role in guiding the reconstruction of Iraq, and the NSC’s Executive Steering Group, set up in 2002 to coordinate war efforts, has been dissolved. Finally, Bremer flatly refuses to submit to Rice’s oversight. As a result, Bremer has already made fundamental policy shifts on his own authority that are at odds with what Pentagon planners had intended (see May 16, 2003 and May 23, 2003), with what many feel will be—or already have caused—disastrous consequences. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 128-129]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Bush administration (43), National Security Council, L. Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

CBS graphic illustrating interview with General Anthony Zinni.CBS graphic illustrating interview with General Anthony Zinni. [Source: CBS News]Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni was the chief of the US Central Command until 2000, and, until just before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration’s special envoy to the Middle East. Now he has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war efforts in Iraq. Zinni gives an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes, in part to promote his new biography, Battle Ready, co-authored by famed war novelist Tom Clancy.
'Dereliction of Duty' among Senior Pentagon Officials - Zinni says that senior officials at the Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on down, are guilty of what he calls dereliction of duty, and he believes it is time for “heads to roll.” Zinni tells correspondent Steve Kroft: “There has been poor strategic thinking in this. There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to ‘stay the course,’ the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it’s time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it’s been a failure.” In his book, Zinni writes: “In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence, and corruption.… I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. I think there was dereliction in lack of planning.”
'The Wrong War at the Wrong Time' - Zinni calls Iraq “the wrong war at the wrong time,” and with the wrong strategy. Before the invasion, Zinni told Congress (see October 31, 2002): “This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on. And I don’t feel it needs to be done now.” The generals never wanted this war, Zinni says, but the civilians in the Pentagon and the White House did. “I can’t speak for all generals, certainly,” he says. “But I know we felt that this situation was contained (see Summer 2002-2003). Saddam was effectively contained.… And I think most of the generals felt, let’s deal with this one at a time. Let’s deal with this threat from terrorism, from al-Qaeda.”
Much Larger Force Required - Zinni was heavily involved in planning for any invasion of Iraq, going back to at least 1999 (see April-July 1999). Zinni always envisioned any such invasion as being implemented with enough ground forces to get the job done quickly and cleanly. Rumsfeld had different ideas—the invasion could be carried off with fewer troops and more high-tech weaponry. Zinni wanted around 300,000 troops: “We were much in line with General Shinseki’s view. We were talking about, you know, 300,000, in that neighborhood.” Would a larger force have made a difference? Kroft asks. Zinni replies, “I think it’s critical in the aftermath, if you’re gonna go to resolve a conflict through the use of force, and then to rebuild the country.” Rumsfeld should have anticipated the level and ferocity of violence that erupted in the aftermath of the toppling of the Hussein government, but, Zinni says, he did not, and worse, he ignored or belittled those such as Shinseki and a number of foreign allies who warned him of the possible consequences. Instead, Zinni notes, Rumsfeld relied on, among other sources, fabricated intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (see September 19-20, 2001).
'Seat of the Pants Operation' - The entire reconstruction effort was, in Zinni’s mind, a seat-of-the-pants affair. “As best I could see, I saw a pickup team, very small, insufficient in the Pentagon with no detailed plans that walked onto the battlefield after the major fighting stopped and tried to work it out in the huddle,” he says, “in effect to create a seat-of-the-pants operation on reconstructing a country.” Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer is “a great American who’s serving his country, I think, with all the kind of sacrifice and spirit you could expect. But he has made mistake after mistake after mistake.” Bremer’s mistakes include “Disbanding the army (see May 23, 2003). De-Baathifying (see May 16, 2003), down to a level where we removed people that were competent and didn’t have blood on their hands that you needed in the aftermath of reconstruction—alienating certain elements of that society.” Zinni reserves most of the blame for the Pentagon: “I blame the civilian leadership of the Pentagon directly.”
Heads Should Roll, Beginning with Rumsfeld's - Zinni continues: “But regardless of whose responsibility I think it is, somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most.” The first one to go, Zinni says, is Rumsfeld: “Well, it starts with at the top. If you’re the secretary of defense and you’re responsible for that.”
Neoconservatives at Fault - Next up are Rumsfeld’s advisers, whom Kroft identifies as the cadre of neoconservatives “who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel.” Zinni says: “Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.” Kroft identifies that group as including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle; National Security Council member Elliott Abrams; and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Zinni calls them political ideologues who have hijacked US policy in Iraq: “I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody—everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do.” Like so many others who criticized them, Zinni recalls, he was targeted for personal counterattacks. After publishing one article, he says: “I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it.”
Fundamental Conceptual Flaws - Zinni says the neoconservatives believed they could remake the Middle East through the use of American military might, beginning with Iraq. Instead, the US is viewed in the region as “the modern crusaders, as the modern colonial power in this part of the world.”
Changing Course - Zinni has a number of recommendations. He advises President Bush and his senior officials to reach out much more strongly to the United Nations, and to US allies, and secure the UN’s backing. Do these other countries “want a say in political reconstruction? Do they want a piece of the pie economically? If that’s the cost, fine. What they’re gonna pay for up front is boots on the ground and involvement in sharing the burden.” Many more troops are needed on the ground, and not just American troops, he says, enough to seal off the borders, protect the road networks.
Exit Strategy - Zinni says that planning for an exit is necessary because it is inevitable that the US will want to withdraw, and that time will come sooner rather than later. “There is a limit,” he says. “I think it’s important to understand what the limit is. Now do I think we are there yet?”
Speaking Out - He is speaking out, he says, because it is his duty to do so: “It is part of your duty. Look, there is one statement that bothers me more than anything else. And that’s the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning, and troops were dying as a result. I can’t think anyone would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what’s the difference between a faulty plan and strategy that’s getting just as many troops killed?” [CBS News, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Anthony Zinni, Eric Shinseki, Ahmed Chalabi, Al-Qaeda, US Department of the Army, Steve Kroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Tom Clancy, US Department of Defense, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, US Central Command, Joint Chiefs of Staff, L. Paul Bremer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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

Major General Paul Eaton, who retired last month after being in charge of training new Iraqi military personnel, says the Bush administration’s strategy to use those new Iraqi troops to replace departing American troops was crippled from the beginning. Eaton says that the replacement program was never given the planning, funding, or staffing it needed to progress. The first year of the occupation was a critical time, Eaton says, and the US and Iraqi military might be much closer to President Bush’s goal of Iraqi forces “standing up” as US forces “stand down” had so much of that first year not been lost. Former military officials interviewed by the New York Times agree with Eaton’s assessment, as do a number of civilian officials involved in US operations in Iraq at the time. Eaton was replaced as the senior US official in charge of training Iraqi troops by Lieutenant General David Petraeus. Eaton began his yearlong stint on May 9, 2003, and now recalls: “I was very surprised to receive a mission so vital to our exit strategy so late. I would have expected this to have been done well before troops crossed the line of departure. That was my first reaction: ‘We’re a little late here.’” Eaton was told that training Iraqi troops was fifth on the priority list for Iraqi security forces, behind a civil defense corps, police, border guards, and guards for government and commercial facilities. “We set out to man, train, and equip an army for a country of 25 million—with six men,” Eaton recalls. He worked into the fall of 2003 with what he calls “a revolving door of individual loaned talent that would spend between two weeks and two months.” He never received even half of the 250 professional staff members he was promised. Between the chaos that ensued immediately after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the decision by Coalition Provisional Agency head L. Paul Bremer to dissolve the Iraqi army (see May 23, 2003), and the insurgency that arose shortly thereafter, Eaton and his small staff were never able to build the army they had hoped. Perhaps the worst blow was the wholesale dissolution of the Iraqi army. This left Eaton to train an entire military force essentially from scratch, without any Iraqi noncommissioned officers. New York Times reporter Thom Shanker observes, “Training an army without noncommissioned officers to serve as drill sergeants is like pitching a tent without poles.” [New York Times, 2/11/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), David Petraeus, Thom Shanker, L. Paul Bremer, Paul Eaton, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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