The presidential conventions largely avoided commentary on war even though we paused this week to remember 911. We’re electing a Commander-in-Chief to continue the Afghanistan war we won in 2001 and monitor intelligence data for possible strikes against terrorism in countries such as Iran. We should know what we need as a commander.
In 2001 Afghan armies guided by U.S. special forces and air support defeated Al Qaeda and Taliban forces, captured twenty Al Qaeda sites and installed President Karzai, the Afghani tribal leaders’ choice. Although Bin Laden escaped by bribing our Afghan allies, Henry A. Crumpton, President George W. Bush’s commander for the war, wrote, “We had accomplished this is less than three months, with 110 CIA operatives and perhaps 200 U.S. Special Forces on the ground.
If the CIA was successful, why are we still fighting in Afghanistan?
Answers are in a fast-paced book by Crumpton titled, The Art of Intelligence. On 911 he was serving a U.S. ambassador in an unidentified Muslim country. Days later he received a late-night call from CIA headquarters. “We are going into Afghanistan. [We] want you to organize and lead the war. Director Tenant has approved it.”
Crumpton had been deputy director for the CIA’s global counterterrorism intelligence gathering prior to 911, intelligence used to warn the Clinton and Bush administrations Al Qaeda was preparing for attacks on U.S. soil. Once 911 occurred, Tenant and staff requested authority and resources to lead the war in Afghanistan because the CIA had the best intelligence, relationships with Afghan leaders, and operational forces to attack quickly. Bush authorized the CIA instead of any military service.
Crumpton believes the CIA should provide intelligence for policy makers without becoming a military force. For example, the day after 911, he briefed his ambassador on Bin Laden’s strategy. “He wants the U.S. waging war in Muslim lands so … the Muslim masses will view us as invaders allied with corrupt Muslim regimes. This, Bin Laden believes, will rally Muslim people to him. The conflict is against Al Qaeda, a non-state actor. We must form alliances with other non-state actors. Our Muslim allies are the most important allies that we have.”
That informed ambassador, Crumpton wrote, “Managed our national security relationship with our ally brilliantly.”
Commander Crumpton declared three objectives: “destroy Al Qaeda leadership, deny them safe havens and alter the political-social-economic conditions the enemy could exploit.” He believed Bush intended to undertake a Marshall plan for Afghanistan afterward.
The CIA approach to the attack was unique, but logical. “We would not be invaders. It would never work. We would be insurgents, supporting Afghan insurgents, the ultimate target being Al Qaeda leadership, especially Bin Laden.”
Crumpton recruited eight-person teams linked with U.S. special forces teams who worked with four tribal commanders. At first his recruiting administrator complained about very few CIA candidates with the right skills. Crumpton reminded him one group speaks Afghan languages, understands the terrain, hates Al Qaeda, and loves to fight. “The Afghans, of course.”
Tragically, Afghanistan Marshall plan resources never materialized when focus shifted to Iraq. Early in Crumpton’s planning, a White House official said Vice President Cheney wanted to know about the relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. Crumpton responded, “That is the dumbest, [expletive] question I have ever heard.” At a National Security Conference reviewing the upcoming Afghanistan attack, Crumpton says, “Things got weird. With no prelude, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz launched into a monologue. ‘Iraq. We must focus on Iraq.’
Crumpton wrote, “There was nothing in our intelligence collection or analysis that implicated Iraq in 911. On the contrary, Saddam Hussein was a secular despot with no affinity for Al Qaeda ideology or Al Qaeda as an ally of convenience. He saw Al Qaeda as more of a threat than an ally.”
As I see it, this election is very much about choosing a Commander-In-Chief and his policy advisors. We need to understand their policies and predilections toward war.