op-eds

 

        Since the book's publication, several Op-Eds written by General DeLong and Noah Lukeman have appeared in major national publications, including The New York Times (Sunday), The Wall Street Journal and The Dallas Morning News, among others. Below find the Op-Eds that appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

 

 

The Wall Street Journal

November 1, 2004 

COMMENTARY 

Setting the Record Straight on Tora Bora

By MICHAEL DELONG
November 1, 2004; Page A15

In recent days, John Kerry has repeatedly accused President Bush of having "outsourced the job" in Tora Bora to kill Osama bin Laden. Knight Ridder reporters concluded that in Tora Bora we "relied on three Afghan warlords" to catch bin Laden, "ignored" warnings from our own officers about incorrect methodology, and that we also relied on the Afghan warlords as our blocking forces, thus letting more than 1,000 al Qaeda fighters escape. As the No. 2 general at CentCom in charge of the Afghanistan War, I can say with certainty that all of these allegations are incorrect. And it is past time someone set the record straight on what really happened in Tora Bora.
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We strategized Tora Bora in essentially the same way we strategized the rest of the Afghanistan war: by using a combination of our elite Special Forces and CIA Agents, embedded with native Afghan troops. We chose this approach in waging the Afghan war for many reasons: it minimized the number of U.S. troops put in harm's way; it drew on the strengths of the native Afghans who had been fighting in that terrain for years and who were adept at traversing the mountainous terrain on horseback; and it helped avoid the same mistake the Soviets made in Afghanistan. They had opted for a large troop presence and ended up with thousands of their troops killed.

The fact that we took Afghanistan in a matter of weeks -- a feat which tens of thousands of Soviet troops were unable to accomplish in a matter of years -- proves that our strategy was exactly the right approach for Afghanistan. This was essentially the same strategy we employed at Tora Bora. Thus, to say that we "outsourced" the job when we relied primarily on American Special Forces and American CIA agents is absurd.

This is especially the case in Tora Bora. I said "essentially" the same strategy because in Tora Bora we did shift tactics. Instead of letting the Afghan warlords have command (as they had for the rest of the Afghan war), we put U.S. Special Forces in command. These Special Forces conceived and executed the attack on Tora Bora, while the Afghan warlords took orders from us. We never "relied" on them: we were 100% in charge. Few people realize that Tora Bora began as a ground war, led by U.S. troops; bombing only followed later. Despite what some have said, no caves were too deep for our reach. We bombed nonstop for three weeks. We received many leads on bin Laden's whereabouts, and had U.S. troops rush in only to find dry holes.

The Knight Ridder reporters claim that we let 1,200 U.S. Marines sit idly by in an air base 80 miles away from Tora Bora while the Afghans did the fighting for us. This is also not the case. Gen. Tommy Franks, working with the Special Forces commander and consulting with the secretary of defense, all agreed that tactically it would be best not to use those 1,200 troops. It was a deliberate decision, because using them would have meant killing hundreds -- if not thousands -- of Afghan civilians, hostile to a heavy U.S. presence. A strong Afghan warlord presence was essential. We could have sent more U.S. forces in and killed everybody -- but we may very well still not have gotten bin Laden, and we would have definitely forever put the South at odds with us. Indeed, if we pursued such a strategy, the ramifications would be so great that it is quite possible there would be no stable Afghan government today.

The same holds true for the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where bin Laden likely escaped (if indeed he was there to begin with). The Knight Ridder reporters claim that we relied on the Afghan warlords to block the border for us. Again, this is incorrect. We relied on the Pakistani Frontier Forces -- once again, because we had to. The U.S. could not go in to the border region with a heavier presence without sparking a war with the locals; indeed, the regular Pakistani army could not even go in there without sparking a war. The border area had to be blocked by Pakistani Frontier Forces if we didn't want to risk murdering thousands of civilians and making Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's position untenable with his people. Such actions would have meant losing a strong U.S. ally in Gen. Musharraf, an ally who has facilitated the killing or capturing of the largest percentage of al Qaeda in the world since 9/11.

Finally, most people fail to realize that it is quite possible that bin Laden was never in Tora Bora to begin with. There exists no concrete intel to prove that he was there at the time. Most importantly, capturing bin Laden was not our No. 1 priority. Our mission was to topple the Taliban regime and rid Afghanistan of al Qaeda. If we caught bin Laden it would have been a major plus -- but it was not our No. 1 objective.

One must remember that Tora Bora was a military operation and its execution was a tactical decision, which means that it was never run by the president, and never should have been -- which makes this one less reason to hold the president directly accountable on this issue. If anyone should be accountable, it should be us. And we are more than satisfied with the way we handled the Afghan war -- including Tora Bora. If we had to do it again, we'd do it exactly the same way.

 

 

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