By Rod Miller, columnist
There is no doubt that the United States was justified invading Afghanistan’s sovereign territory to eliminate Osama bin Laden. He had masterminded and executed the 9/ll attack from his sanctuary there while he enjoyed Taliban protection. It was absolutely the right move to collect his scalp.
While rubble from the Twin Towers was still smoldering, President Bush promised the country and the world that the perpetrators would be brought to swift justice.
We began the operation shortly after 9/11 by bombing the bejeezus out of Taliban airfields, communication centers and command infrastructure. You watched all of this unfold on television, in that eerie green-lit footage of smart bombs and cruise missiles finding their targets.
The smoke had scarcely cleared before a few 12-man teams of U.S. Special Forces and a sprinkling of CIA paramilitary warriors were inserted into the country, opening up a family-sized can of industrial-strength whoop-ass on the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Less than fifty days after the first American boot hit the ground, U.S. forces, partnered with Northern Alliance warlords, had retaken most major cities, driven Al Qaeda back into Pakistan and broken the back of the Taliban. Bin Laden and his minions were pinned down in caves near the Pakistani border in Tora Bora in the Hindu Kush.
The Taliban, whom ironically the U.S. had armed and trained to fight the Soviets after the “79 invasion were ready to negotiate a cease-fire and return to secular government. The to-do list of military objectives in response to 9/11 was nearly completed.
All this was done by a few hundred American warriors, and with surprisingly few casualties among the good guys. The operation to avenge 9/11 was almost complete. All that remained was to prevent bin Laden from escaping into Pakistan, then bring him to justice.
But, when U.S. commanders on the ground requested a company of Army Rangers be airlifted to the border to keep bin Laden from getting away, Rumsfeld refused. Putting more troops in country would have gone against Rumsfeld’s personal doctrine of a “leaner and meaner” military that relied more on smart munitions than troop concentrations.
This FUBAR decision by Rumsfeld allowed bin Laden to escape to fight another day. Political leadership had thwarted a military objective and one of the most dangerous terrorists in history was once again roaming the world.
In the blink of an eye, our reason to be in Afghanistan vanished.
Compounding this egregious error, neo-cons within the Bush administration and in think tanks convinced Bush and Rumsfeld that, since bin Laden had escaped, the U.S. should stick around in Afghanistan and do some experimental nation building. This deadly experiment is just coming to a messy end after 20 years, a trillion dollars and the deaths of 2500 American soldiers.
After two decades of the U.S. military training the Afghan forces, and U.S. attempts to establish a western-style democracy in a place that has never really been a nation, a resurgent Taliban has sliced through our efforts like a hot knife through soft butter.
All of this mess can be laid squarely at the feet of Donald Rumsfeld who lacked the wisdom or will to eliminate bin Laden when he had the chance. Rumsfeld died before history could grade his experiment a red “F”.
But perhaps we can draw a couple of lessons from Rumsfeld’s deadly fiasco. The first lesson being, “when you get the shot, pull the trigger.” The second, and more important lesson, for the U.S. would be, “not everyone in the world wants to live like us, and we have no business trying to impose our way of life on others.”
School is till in session, and the final bell hasn’t rung yet. I hope we are paying attention.