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July 12, 2005

To The Last Man

The body of the last man from Recon Team 3 has been found:

The fourth SEAL, who survived, evaded superior numbers until he escaped. Sixteen more Special Operations soldiers died in an attempt to reinforce the recon team when their MH-47 was shot down. The US response to the loss of the recon team was not to run but insert hundreds of troops into the area to find the missing men and possibly to complete the unfinished mission. The Al Qaeda might ask themselves what manner of men these are, who fight to the death rather than surrender, and who though injured evade over high and cold mountains until they have outdistanced their unwounded pursuers. It's not an idle question.

One of Osama Bin Laden's strategic assumptions when he wrote contemptuously of the US in his 1996 fatwa was that he was facing cowards.

Where could bin Laden have gotten this idea? Perhaps the 9/11 Commission report might shed some light?

In 1996, as an organizational experiment undertaken with seed money, the CTC created a special “Issue Station” devoted exclusively to Bin Ladin. Bin Ladin was then still in Sudan and was considered by the CIA to be a terrorist financier. The original name of the station was “TFL,” for terrorist financial links. The Bin Ladin (UBL) Station was not a response to new intelligence, but reflected interest in and concern about Bin Ladin’s connections.

The CIA believed that Bin Ladin’s move to Afghanistan in May 1996 might be a fortunate development. The CIA knew the ground in Afghanistan, as its officers had worked with indigenous tribal forces during the war against the Soviet Union. The CIA definitely had a lucky break when a former associate of Bin Ladin walked into a U.S. embassy abroad and provided an abundance of information about the organization. These revelations were corroborated by other intelligence. By early 1997, the UBL Station knew that Bin Ladin was not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It knew that al Qaeda had a military committee planning operations against U.S. interests worldwide and was actively trying to obtain nuclear material. Although this information was disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about Bin Ladin was not widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit told us they felt their zeal attracted ridicule from their peers.

In 1997 CIA headquarters authorized U.S. officials to begin developing a network of agents to gather intelligence inside Afghanistan about Bin Ladin and his organization and prepare a plan to capture him. By 1998 DCI Tenet was giving considerable personal attention to the UBL threat.

The CIA’s Afghan assets reported on about half a dozen occasions before 9/11 that they had considered attacking Bin Ladin, usually as he traveled in his convoy along the rough Afghan roads. Each time, the operation was reportedly aborted. Several times the Afghans said that Bin Ladin had taken a different route than expected. On one occasion security was said to be too tight to capture him. Another time they heard women and children’s voices from inside the convoy and abandoned the assault for fear of killing innocents, in accordance with CIA guidelines.

As time passed, morale in the UBL unit sagged. The former deputy chief told the Joint Inquiry that they felt like they were “buying time,” trying to stop UBL and “disrupting al Qaeda members until military force could be used.” In June 1999 National Security Adviser Berger reported to President Clinton that covert action efforts against Bin Ladin had not been fruitful.

Many CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations Pavitt, have criticized policymakers for not giving the CIA authorities to conduct effective operations against Bin Ladin. This issue manifests itself in a debate about the scope of the covert actions in Afghanistan authorized by President Clinton. NSC staff and CIA officials differ starkly here.

Senior NSC staff members told us they believed the president’s intent was clear: he wanted Bin Ladin dead. On successive occasions, President Clinton issued authorities instructing the CIA to use its proxies to capture or assault Bin Ladin and his lieutenants in operations in which they might be killed. The instructions, except in one defined contingency, were to capture Bin Ladin if possible.

Senior legal advisers in the Clinton administration agreed that, under the law of armed conflict, killing a person who posed an imminent threat to the United States was an act of self-defense, not an assassination. As former National Security Adviser Berger explained, if we wanted to kill Bin Ladin with cruise missiles, why would we not want to kill him with covert action? Clarke’s recollection is the same.

But if the policymakers believed their intent was clear, every CIA official interviewed on this topic by the Commission, from DCI Tenet to the official who actually briefed the agents in the field, told us they heard a different message. What the United States would let the military do is quite different, Tenet said, from the rules that govern covert action by the CIA. CIA senior managers, operators, and lawyers uniformly said that they read the relevant authorities signed by President Clinton as instructing them to try to capture Bin Ladin, except in the defined contingency. They believed that the only acceptable context for killing Bin Ladin was a credible capture operation.

“We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him,” a former chief of the UBL Station said. Working-level CIA officers said they were frustrated by what they saw as the policy restraints of having to instruct their assets to mount a capture operation. When Northern Alliance leader Massoud was briefed on the carefully worded instructions for him, the briefer recalls that Massoud laughed and said, “You Americans are crazy. You guys never change.”

1993... NYC, the World Trade Center is attacked...unanswered by Washington.
Somalia... American pilot dragged through the streets of Mogadishu...unanswered by Washington.
October, 2000: The USS Cole... unanswered by Washington.

What lesson did al Qaeda draw from our response?

...your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where- after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order- you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal.

You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the "chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu.

September 11th, 2001. World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Flight 93 attacked. Nearly 3000 Americans of all races, religions, and creeds...dead.

Answered by Washington.

But George W. Bush is a reckless, warmongering imperialist who is provoking an otherwise-peaceful adversary (we must avoid the careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgments)who would undoubtedly leave us alone if we'd just mind our own business.

I am sorry. At this point I am no doubt expected to go off on one of my legendary rants.

Sometimes there are no words. Even for me.

CWCID to the ruthless CardinalPark for the Wretchard link.

Posted by Cassandra at July 12, 2005 02:59 PM

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You know, Cass, while I don't have the incisive strategic mind (although I am a mean chess and poker player), the seed and nugget of thought went through my mind of not leaving a man behind.

While that was the jist of the seed, I am so glad to see that you had not just the nugget but went with it.

Excellent post. Once again, grand slam.

Posted by: Cricket at July 12, 2005 04:45 PM

Cricket, I don't have a clue - most times about 2 seconds after I hit Post I have this panicky feeling that I've just done something really dumb...again. Probably because I have.

You guys are very kind to let me rant. I guess it keeps my head from exploding. One of these days I'll wise up and let someone else do the talking.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 12, 2005 05:01 PM

I enjoyed your post. Thank goodness he is safe. They train mind, body and soul.

Posted by: Trey [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 13, 2005 01:34 AM

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