by Michael Hirsh
from MSNBC Website
recovered through WayBackMachine Website
The president called his opponent's allegation
"the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking." Bush asserted that U.S.
commanders on the ground did not know if bin Laden was at the mountain
hideaway along the Afghan border.
Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora - intelligence operatives had tracked him - and could have been caught.
Asked to comment on Berntsen's remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks.
In his book - titled "Jawbreaker" - the decorated career CIA officer criticizes Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department for not providing enough support to the CIA and the Pentagon's own Special Forces teams in the final hours of Tora Bora, says Berntsen's lawyer, Roy Krieger. (Berntsen would not divulge the book's specifics, saying he's awaiting CIA clearance.)
That backs up other recent accounts, including that of military author Sean Naylor, who calls Tora Bora a "strategic disaster" because the Pentagon refused to deploy a cordon of conventional forces to cut off escaping Qaeda and Taliban members.
Maj. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman, says the problem at Tora Bora,
Berntsen's book gives, by contrast, a heroic portrayal of CIA activities at Tora Bora and in the war on terror. Ironically, he has sued the agency over what he calls unacceptable delays in approving his book - a standard process for ex-agency employees describing classified matters.
Jennifer Millerwise, a CIA spokeswoman, says Berntsen's,
And how they purposely let thousands of other Al
'Qaeda fighters, and possibly some of Osama Bin Laden's immediate family
members be airlifted through a secure air corridor from Konduz, Afghanistan
You'll see what I mean. It's easy.
January 28, 2002
Trapped with them were Pakistani Army officers, intelligence advisers, and volunteers who were fighting alongside the Taliban. (Pakistan had been the Taliban’s staunchest military and economic supporter in its long-running war against the Northern Alliance.)
Many of the fighters had fled earlier defeats at Mazar-i-Sharif, to the
west; Taloqan, to the east; and Pul-i-Khumri, to the south. The road to
Kabul, a potential point of retreat, was blocked and was targeted by
American bombers. Kunduz offered safety from the bombs and a chance to
negotiate painless surrender terms, as Afghan tribes often do.
The next day, President Bush said,
Even before the siege ended, however, a puzzling series of reports appeared in the Times and in other publications, quoting Northern Alliance officials who claimed that Pakistani airplanes had flown into Kunduz to evacuate the Pakistanis there. American and Pakistani officials refused to confirm the reports.
On November 16th, when journalists asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about the reports of rescue aircraft, he was dismissive.
At a Pentagon news conference on Monday, November 26th, the day after Kunduz fell, General Richard B. Myers, of the Air Force, who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked about the reports.
The General did not directly answer the question but stated,
Pakistani officials also debunked the rescue reports, and continued to
insist, as they had throughout the Afghanistan war, that no Pakistani
military personnel were in the country. Anwar Mehmood, the government
spokesman, told newsmen at the time that reports of a Pakistani airlift were
“total rubbish. Hogwash.”
The Americans also said that what was supposed to be a limited evacuation apparently slipped out of control, and, as an unintended consequence, an unknown number of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters managed to join in the exodus.
Last week, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld did not respond to a request
The initial American aim in Afghanistan had been not to eliminate the Taliban’s presence there entirely but to undermine the regime and Al Qaeda while leaving intact so-called moderate Taliban elements that would play a role in a new postwar government. This would insure that Pakistan would not end up with a regime on its border dominated by the Northern Alliance. By mid-November, it was clear that the Northern Alliance would quickly sweep through Afghanistan.
There were fears
that once the Northern Alliance took Kunduz, there would be wholesale
killings of the defeated fighters, especially the foreigners.
A CIA analyst said that it was his understanding that the decision to permit the airlift was made by the White House and was indeed driven by a desire to protect the Pakistani leader.
The airlift “made sense at the time,” the CIA analyst said.
According to this person,
According to a former high-level American defense official, the airlift was approved because of representations by the Pakistanis that,
Once under way, a senior American defense adviser said, the airlift became chaotic.
Recalling the last-minute American evacuation at the end of the Vietnam War, in 1975, the adviser added,
He meant South Vietnamese nationals.
The Bush Administration may have done more than simply acquiesce in the rescue effort: at the height of the standoff, according to both a CIA official and a military analyst who has worked with the Delta Force, the American commando unit that was destroying Taliban units on the ground, the Administration ordered the United States Central Command to set up a special air corridor to help insure the safety of the Pakistani rescue flights from Kunduz to the northwest corner of Pakistan, about two hundred miles away.
The order left some members of the Delta Force deeply frustrated.
The airlift also angered the Northern Alliance, whose leadership, according to Reuel Gerecht, a former Near East operative for the CIA, had sought unsuccessfully for years to “get people to pay attention to the Pakistani element” among the Taliban.
The Northern Alliance was eager to capture “mainline Pakistani military and intelligence officers” at Kunduz, Gerecht said.
Just as Pakistan has supported the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s arch-rival India has supported the Northern Alliance. Operatives in India’s main external intelligence unit - known as RAW, for Research and Analysis Wing - reported extensively on the Pakistani airlift out of Kunduz. (The Taliban and Al Qaeda have declared the elimination of India’s presence in the contested territory of Kashmir as a major goal.)
RAW has excellent access to the Northern Alliance and a highly sophisticated ability to intercept electronic communications. An Indian military adviser boasted that when the airlift began “we knew within minutes.”
In interviews in New Delhi, Indian national-security and intelligence officials repeatedly declared that the airlift had rescued not only members of the Pakistani military but Pakistani citizens who had volunteered to fight against the Northern Alliance, as well as non-Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda.
India’s national-security adviser, said his government had concluded that
five thousand Pakistanis and Taliban - he called it “a ballpark figure” - had
Indian intelligence had concluded that eight thousand or more men
were trapped inside the city in the last days of the siege, roughly half of
whom were Pakistanis. (Afghans, Uzbeks, Chechens, and various Arab
mercenaries accounted for the rest.) At least five flights were specifically
“confirmed” by India’s informants, the RAW analyst told me, and many more
were believed to have taken place.
That left between four and five thousand men unaccounted for.
According to him, two Pakistani Army
generals were on the flights.
But there was a great deal of anger within the Indian government.
A RAW official said that India had intelligence that Musharraf’s message to the Americans had been that he didn’t want to see
body bags coming back to Pakistan. Brajesh Mishra told me that diplomatic
notes protesting the airlift were sent to Britain and the United States.
Neither responded, he said.
One of India’s most senior intelligence officials also told me,
Kashmir, on India’s northern border, is a predominantly Muslim territory that has been fiercely disputed since Partition, in 1947.
Both India and
Pakistan have waged war to support their claim. Pakistanis believe that
Kashmir should have become part of their country in the first place, and
that India reneged on the promise of a plebiscite to determine its future.
India argues that a claim to the territory on religious grounds is a threat
to India’s status as a secular, multi-ethnic nation. Kashmir is now divided
along a carefully drawn line of control, but cross-border incursions - many of
them bloody - occur daily.
At one point, the
terrorists were only a few feet from the steps to the office of India’s
Vice-President, Krishan Kant. Nine people were killed in the shoot-out, in
addition to the terrorists, and many others were injured. The country’s
politicians and the press felt that a far greater tragedy had only narrowly
India deployed hundreds of thousands of troops along its border with Pakistan, and publicly demanded that Musharraf take steps to cut off Pakistani support for the groups said to be involved.
The crisis escalated, with military men on both sides declaring that they
were prepared to face nuclear war, if necessary. Last week, Colin Powell,
the Secretary of State, traveled to the region and urged both sides to
withdraw their troops, cool the rhetoric, and begin constructive talks about
In a televised address to the nation on January 12th, Musharraf called for an end to terrorism, but he also went beyond the most recent dispute with India and outlined a far-reaching vision of Pakistan as a modern state.
The fundamentalists, he added,
The official also said, however, that Musharraf could not last in office if he conceded the issue of Kashmir to India, and would not want to do so in any case.
In his address, Musharraf was unyielding on that subject.
Milton Bearden, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan who helped run the Afghan war against the Soviet Union in the late nineteen-eighties and worked closely with the I.S.I., believes that the Indian government is cynically using the Parliament bombing to rally public support for the conflict with Pakistan.
Because of its nuclear program, he said,
As for Musharraf, Bearden said,
Bearden went on,
A senior Pakistani diplomat depicted India as suffering from “jilted-lover syndrome” - referring to the enormous amount of American attention and financial aid that the Musharraf government has received since September 11th.
The diplomat told me that the critical question for Pakistan, India, and the rest of South Asia is,
Inevitably, any conversation about tension between India and Pakistan turns to the issue of nuclear weapons.
Both countries have warheads and the means to deliver them. (India’s capabilities, conventional and nuclear, are far greater - between sixty and ninety warheads - while Pakistan is thought to have between thirty and fifty.)
A retired CIA officer who served as station chief in South Asia told me that what he found disturbing was the “imperfect intelligence” each country has as to what the other side’s intentions are.
Milton Bearden agreed that the I.S.I.
and RAW are “equally bad” at assessing each other.
He was referring to a tense moment in 1990, when India moved its Army en masse along the Pakistani border and then sat back while the United States mediated a withdrawal.
He and others in India concluded that Pakistan was not willing to begin a nuclear confrontation.
If that turned out to be a miscalculation and Pakistan initiated the use of nuclear weapons, he said, then India would respond in force.
The Bush Administration official involved in South Asian issues acknowledged that there are some people in India who seem willing to gamble that,
An American intelligence official told me that the Musharraf regime had added to the precariousness of the military standoff with India by reducing the amount of time it would take for Pakistan to execute a nuclear strike. Pakistan keeps control over its nuclear arsenal in part by storing its warheads separately from its missile- and aircraft-delivery systems.
In recent weeks, he said, the time it takes to get the warheads in the air has been cut to just three hours,
Even before the airlift from Kunduz, the Indians were enraged by the Bush Administration’s decision to make Pakistan its chief ally in the Afghanistan war.
He said that although India would do nothing to upset the American campaign in Afghanistan,
(Milton Bearden scoffed at that characterization.
doesn’t have time to two-time anybody,” he said. “He wakes up every morning
and has to head out with his bayonet, trying to find the land mines.")
Al Qaeda is known to have an extensive infrastructure there.
The analyst said that he had concluded that,
Last week, Donald Rumsfeld told journalists that he believed bin Laden was
still in Afghanistan. Two days later, in Pakistan, Musharraf announced that
he thought bin Laden was probably dead - of kidney disease.
India’s grievances - over the Pakistani airlift, the continuing terrorism in Kashmir, and Musharraf’s new status with Washington - however heartfelt, may mean little when it comes to effecting a dramatic change of American policy in South Asia. India’s democracy and its tradition of civilian control over the military make it less of a foreign-policy priority than Pakistan.
The Bush Administration has put its prestige, and American aid money, behind Musharraf, in the gamble - thus far successful - that he will continue to move Pakistan, and its nuclear arsenal, away from fundamentalism. The goal is to stop nuclear terrorism as well as political terrorism. It’s a tall order, and missteps are inevitable. Nonetheless, the White House remains optimistic.
An Administration official told me that, given the complications of today’s politics, he still believed that Musharraf was the best Pakistani leader the Indians could hope for, whether they recognize it or not.