This is a story of two gut-wrenching escapes that crippled our grueling
war against terror, perhaps irrevocably. I want to return soon to
Latino-themed topics, but the significance of these critical events for
our nation can not go unnoted.
Perfectly executed and separated by almost ten years, history will view
the two escapes as bookends of our futile effort in Afghanistan. I’ll
remind you about the first event in a minute, the second happened Monday
near Kandahar when almost 500 captive Taliban fighters, including some
hardened leaders tunneled out of a maximum security facility right under
the noses of their probably complicit Afghan guards.
Coming on the eve of the big pullback by U.S. and NATO forces planned
for this summer, the jailbreak exposes once again the glaring weaknesses
of our Afghan partners. They are corrupt and incompetent. Pray for
success in the supposed secret peace talks between the shaky Karsai
government in Kabul and Taliban leadership because there is almost no
chance now of a military victory.
There, I’ve said it for the first time. We can’t win in Afghanistan.
Our magnificent Armed Forces have lately been kicking the crap out of the Taliban on the battlefield. I’ve seen these American warriors in action many times, most recently last year with the 6th Marines and the 101st Airborne Division. They are awe-inspiring.
But for every insurgent they kill, another sneaks across the border from
Pakistan to take his place. For every one we capture, the possibility
of eventual escape looms large.
What passes for an Afghan national army and police force has been
noteworthy lately for turncoats who blow up their fellow soldiers and
ours on a distressingly regular basis.
What passes for our allied government is a motley, self-serving,
opium-dealing collection of crooks, who blatantly rob their national
bank and various aid projects of hundreds of millions of U.S. tax
dollars. That our boys are fighting and dying for the Afghan Tammany
Hall is heart-breaking.
If partisan war correspondents like me had the courage or insight to see it, the war in Afghanistan started unraveling almost immediately after it started with the first great escape; in Tora Bora. It was the December 2001 and Osama Bin Laden had just evacuated his base with his entire inner circle. As we cheered on live TV showing the world what American resolve looks like our high-altitude bombers pounded the bunkers and caves of the architect of the 9/11 attacks. But even as they did, their target our arch-enemy snuck out the back door.
It should have been haunting, humiliating news but its impact on
American self-esteem was muted by the prevailing we can do no wrong
patriotism that followed the brutal attacks on the Pentagon and World
Trade Center; and by the newness of war, always popular in the
beginning. Buoyed by our counter-attack, no one wanted to view Bin
Laden’s escape as anything more than a temporary setback. We’ll get him
it is just a matter of time.
There was also the fact that it took years for historians and mainstream
media even to believe our initial exclusive account that the terror
mastermind had gotten away. It was just a surmise they said, a thesis;
after all who even knew for sure that Osama was in Tora Bora to begin
History has since verified our account, but I’ve often wondered if the
initial chase to catch him would have been more urgent if the story had
appeared first in the New York Times or on CBS News?
We were blessed with two resources our competition did not have: our own
VHF intercepts of Arab-speaking al Qaeda fighters, which our fabulous
producer Akbar Shinwari translated for us; and Hasrat Ali, the local
leader of what was then grandiosely called the Eastern Alliance; an ad
hoc militia drawn from local Pashto tribes.
Like the rag tag rebel army in Libya a decade later, the Alliance was
frustrating to watch in action, retreating at the first sign of
resistance. It was disheartening to see a single mortar round causing
hundreds of fighters to run away in panic.
Because the fighting came in the midst of the month-long Ramadan
holiday, they also refused to fight past sunset when they were allowed
to break their mandatory day-long fast and eat.
Less than a year later, my crew and I re-traced the probable route Bin laden and his party traveled. It took us about half a day to walk into Pakistan from Tora Bora. The journey was easy and the direction obvious.
You’ve heard the refrain on countless talk shows: how could a caravan led by a six foot five inch Arab on kidney dialysis, traveling with his extended family, walk out from under the noses of the world’s most formidable military? It was easy. We had no troops on the ground and the United States will endure the consequences for years to come.There are effective actions we can take to insure that terrorists never set up camp in Afghanistan again; with drones and other punishing weapons. With Bin Laden’s enduring freedom, assuming he still lives, and this week’s flashy Kandahar escape caper, it is time to bring the boys home.