Lahore, Oct 1: US President George Bush could have caught al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by closing all exit routes, 'but his administration gave priority to the Iraq war' and ignored the possibility of catching Osama, quoted an article published on the Asia Times Online website. Former US officials have reportedly revealed that Bush lacked commitment to catch al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, else he could have deployed US troops to block the exit routes from Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan, where the fugitive was hiding, to Pakistan.
It quoted Army Central Command (ARCENT) commander David Lamm as saying that if the Bush administration's priority had been to capture or kill the Al Qaeda leadership, "it could have moved American troops along the Pakistani border before you went into Afghanistan." Bush's key advisers ruled out any such plan from the start, the article said and added that Rumsfeld and deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz resisted such planning for Afghanistan in the hope that the White House would move quickly on military intervention in Iraq. "Lost in the eagerness to wrap up the Taliban and get on with the Iraq War was any possibility of preventing Osama's escape to Pakistan," added the article.
It further said that as US-led allied troops marched on Kabul in November 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had intelligence that Osama was headed for a cave complex in the Tora Bora mountains close to the border. US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Tommy Franks realised that he would need Pakistani help in blocking the Al Qaeda exit from Tora Bora. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld told a National Security Council meeting that Franks "wants the [Pakistanis] to close the transit points between Afghanistan and Pakistan".
Franks then visited Islamabad to ask the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to deploy troops along the Pakistan-Afghan border near Tora Bora.
"But, Musharraf had said he couldn't do that, because it would spark a 'civil war' with a hostile tribal population," wrote Franks' deputy Lt. Gen. Mike DeLong in his book 'Inside Centcom'.
The then US ambassador Wendy Chamberlin recalled that Musharraf had told Franks that CENTCOM had vastly underestimated what was required to block Osama's exit from Afghanistan. "Musharraf had said -- Look you are missing the point: there are 150 valleys through which Al Qaeda are going to stream into Pakistan," said Chamberlin.
DeLong said in an interview that the marines would not have been able to undertake the blocking mission at the border. "There weren't enough to police 1500 km of border," he said.