With just two days before President Obama is expected to order 34,000 additional troops to the war-weary nation of Afghanistan, he got a gift from a U.S. Senate committee.
On Sunday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report that the Obama administration is almost certain to spin as a strong suggestion that Congress should back the president’s plan in Afghanistan. Not only does the report blame the Bush administration for letting Osama bin Laden slip through the fingers of the U.S. military, but it says the situation in Afghanistan is far worse today because of that failure eight years ago.
Bin Laden was cornered in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains in December 2001 and could have been apprehended if troops had converged on the region, the report says. The al-Qaeda leader, sensing his defeat, had even written his last will and testament, the report says. But there were not enough troops deployed to seal in the terrorist leader, and he was able to escape to tribal areas of Pakistan, it says.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top U.S. commander Gen. Tommy Franks held back the necessary forces for a "classic sweep-and-block maneuver" that could have prevented bin Laden's escape, according to the Senate committee. "It would have been a dangerous fight across treacherous terrain, and the injection of more U.S. troops and the resulting casualties would have contradicted the risk-averse, 'light footprint' model formulated by Rumsfeld and Franks," the report said.
The report also refuted former Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that bin Laden’s location at the time was uncertain. "[T]he review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants underlying this report removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora," the report said.
The release of the report coincides with Obama’s scheduled announcement about his strategy in Afghanistan. Obama will be in West Point, N.Y., on Tuesday for a nationally televised address regarding his decision on a request by his commanding general in Afghanistan for up to 40,000 additional troops.
Sources close to the president say he will announce that he will deploy 34,000 troops to the region.
"Our inability to finish the job in late 2001 has contributed to a conflict today that endangers not just our troops and those of our allies, but the stability of a volatile and vital region," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.