Exclusive: CIA Commander: We Let bin Laden Slip Away

MSNBC/Newsweek have quotes from the latest authour of ‘ex-CIA staffer tell-all’ story..

…in a forthcoming book, the CIA field commander for the agency’s Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, says he and other U.S. commanders did know that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Qaeda and Taliban members. 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. “He was there,” Berntsen tells NEWSWEEK. Asked to comment on Berntsen’s remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks. “We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001,” Franks wrote in an Oct. 19 New York Times op-ed. “Bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Berntsen says Franks is “a great American. But he was not on the ground out there. I was.”

This idea was oft cited by Kerry during the election campaign last year, what agenda Bersten has remains to be seen – but on the face of it, I am inclined to believe him rather than Rumsfeld.

2 thoughts on “Exclusive: CIA Commander: We Let bin Laden Slip Away”

  1. The agenda is “CIA yes, military no”. This debate is really annoying to your average American who’d rather imagine that the various agencies of his government can work together. But, army vs navy has been around forever, and so it is with this debate.

    There are a couple of key questions: (1) was bin Laden there and (2) if yes, what was the best means of capturing/killing him. I suspect the answer to (1) is Yes, but I’m not sure the CIA is the best positioned to answer (2). When these guys talk about letting him get away, they are not the ones flying the helicopters (less reliable at high elevations) or positioning the forces for the engagements. We also don’t know if allies (Afghan/Palistani) let us down, which would be sensitive and possibly not revealed even if true.

    One thing that seems true to me now, but I didn’t appreciate at the time is that killing bin Laden was of little value. The key was to capture him. He’s more of a figurehead than a key strategist. Burying him in a mountain cave would have accomplished little. Either his body would never have been found or he’d have become Che Guevera to disaffected Muslims the world over. Bin Laden should, if possible, be taken alive or neutralized to such an extent that his living is irrelevant and his eventual death is not sexy.

    It’s also entirely possible that the military bungled the job. This has happened many, many times in US history. I suspect we won’t really know for a long time, if ever.

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