Exclusive: CIA Commander: We Let bin Laden Slip Away
Aug. 15, 2005 issue - During the 2004 presidential campaign, George W. Bush
and John Kerry battled about whether Osama bin Laden had escaped from Tora
Bora in the final days of the war in Afghanistan. Bush, Kerry charged, "didn't
choose to use American forces to hunt down and kill" the leader of Al Qaeda.
The president called his opponent's allegation "the worst kind of
Monday-morning quarterbacking." Bush asserted that U.S. commanders on the
ground did not know if bin Laden was at the mountain hideaway along the Afghan
But in a forthcoming book, the CIA field commander for the agency's
Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, says he and other U.S. commanders
did know that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Qaeda and Taliban
members. Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed
up at Tora BoraÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âintelligence operatives had tracked himÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âand could have been
caught. "He was there," Berntsen tells NEWSWEEK. Asked to comment on
Berntsen's remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed
on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks. "We don't
know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001,"
Franks wrote in an Oct. 19 New York Times op-ed. "Bin Laden was never within
our grasp." Berntsen says Franks is "a great American. But he was not on the
ground out there. I was."