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Context of 'October 2001: US Military Downplays Importance of Targeting Bin Laden'

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Army General Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), warns that the United States must prepare for an “asymmetric” attack resembling the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941 that led America to enter World War II. In a speech to the Operations Security Professionals Society, Franks says, “The asymmetric threat is serious and deserves our focused thought and preparation.” (“Asymmetric warfare threats,” according to the Washington Times, “include efforts by weaker powers to defeat stronger ones using attacks that can include weapons of mass destruction, the use of computer-based information warfare, and terrorism.”) Franks continues, “The point is to avoid another Pearl Harbor-like event by recognizing the threat and preparing to meet this growing challenge.” He says the US military will address how to deal with asymmetric threats in its ongoing defense transformation efforts. [Washington Times, 6/22/2001] The 9/11 attacks, which occur less than three months after Franks issues this warning, will be described as an example of “asymmetric” warfare, like what Franks is referring to. [BBC, 2/9/2004; Russett, Starr, and Kinsella, 2009, pp. 12; van Baarda and Verweij, 2009, pp. ix; Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 3/9/2010] They will also be frequently compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor in the days after they occur. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/14/2001] As commander in chief of CENTCOM, Franks is in charge of US military operations in a region that goes from North Africa, across the Arabian Peninsula, to Central Asia and Afghanistan. After 9/11, he will become “one of three men running the Bush administration’s military campaign against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization,” ABC News will report. [CNN, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 1/7/2006] He will lead the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. [United Press International, 8/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On October 8, 2001, Gen. Tommy Franks, Central Command commander in chief, says of the war in Afghanistan, “We have not said that Osama bin Laden is a target of this effort. What we are about is the destruction of the al-Qaeda network, as well as the… Taliban that provide harbor to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.” [USA Today, 10/8/2001] Later in the month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes similar comments, “My attitude is that if [bin Laden] were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist. He’s got a whole bunch of lieutenants who have been trained and they’ve got bank accounts all over some 50 or 60 countries. Would you want to stop him? Sure. Do we want to stop the rest of his lieutenants? You bet. But I don’t get up in the morning and say that is the end; the goal and the endpoint of this thing. I think that would be a big mistake.” [USA Today, 10/24/2001] One military expert will later note, “There appears to be a real disconnect between what the US military was engaged in trying to do during the battle for Tora Bora - which was to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban - and the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers will make a similar comment in April 2002 (see April 4, 2002). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Thomas Franks, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld speak in private. Bush asks the Defense Secretary what kind of plan the Pentagon has for invading Iraq. “What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan? I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret,” Bush says. When Rumsfeld says its current plan is outdated, Bush instructs him to devise a new one. “Let’s get started on this,” Bush says. “And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to.” Bush requests that discussion about Iraq remain low-key. “I knew what would happen if people thought we were developing a potential war plan for Iraq,” Bush later explains to journalist Bob Woodward. Bush does not share the details of his conversation with Condoleezza Rice, only telling her that Rumsfeld will be working on Iraq. [Associated Press, 4/16/2004; New York Times, 4/17/2004; Washington Post, 4/17/2004; CBS News, 4/18/2004 Sources: George Bush and other top officials interviewed by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward] When General Tommy Franks—who already has his hands full with the operation in Afghanistan—learns that the administration is considering plans to invade Iraq, he utters “a string of obscenities.” [Associated Press, 4/16/2004 Sources: Top officials interviewed by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward] General Franks will meet with Bush and brief him on the plan’s progress on December 28 (see December 28, 2001).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Thomas Franks, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

At the request of President Bush (see November 21, 2001), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telephones Gen. Tommy Franks with instructions to work on war plans for Iraq. “General Franks, the president wants us to look at options for Iraq,” the general will later recall being told. In his memoirs, Franks will write: “‘Son of a bitch,’ I thought. ‘No rest for the weary.’” Franks will brief Bush on the progress of his work a month later (see December 28, 2001). [Franks, 2004; Salon, 5/19/2005 Sources: Thomas Franks] Over the next few months, Bush will ask for and receive increasingly detailed briefings from Franks about the forces that would be needed if the US were to move against Iraq. The need to prepare for an invasion of Iraq, according to insiders interviewed by the Atlantic Monthly, hinders the US effort against bin Laden and the Taliban. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

US General Tommy Franks tells Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that US planes patrolling the Iraq “no-fly” zones should begin “spurts of activity followed by periods of inactivity.” “We want the Iraqis to become accustomed to military expansion, and then apparent contraction,” he later recalls telling the secretary. “As Phase I is completed, we could flow steadily for the next sixty days, while continuing spikes of activity to lend credence to our deception. During the sixty days we would increase kinetic strikes in the no-fly zones to weaken Iraq’s integrated air defenses.” [Franks, 2004, pp. 530; Raw Story, 6/30/2005 Sources: Thomas Franks]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

General Tommy Franks, the head of US Central Command, visits Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas and briefs him on the progress of his Iraq war plan. Bush requested an updated plan from the Defense Department on November 21 (see November 21, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/17/2004 Sources: Top officials interviewed by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Myers making his comments at a press conference.Myers making his comments at a press conference. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” He adds, “Obviously, that’s desirable,” but then he hints it won’t be desirable to do so soon, saying, “I just read a piece by some analysts that said you may not want to go after the top people in these organizations. You may have more effect by going after the middlemen, because they’re harder to replace. I don’t know if that’s true, or not, and clearly we would like to eventually get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In early 2005, the recently retired Executive Director of the CIA will explicitly state that it is better to let bin Laden remain free (see January 9, 2005).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

When asked at a news conference in Tampa about what kind of military force would be needed to invade Iraq, Gen. Tommy Franks answers, “That’s a great question and one for which I don’t have an answer, because my boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan to do that.” Two years later, Franks will be on the record saying Rumsfeld instructed him to draw war plans up in November 2001 (see November 27, 2001). [Washington Post, 5/24/2002; CBS News, 4/18/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

US military units in the Gulf, as well as those in the US preparing for deployment, contract local welders and steel fabricators to retrofit their light-armored vehicles with makeshift armor known as “Hillbilly” or “Haji” armor. [MSNBC, 4/15/2003; Washington Post, 12/26/2003; Daily Press, 9/26/2004]

Timeline Tags: US Military, Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

An unnamed intelligence source tells reporter Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Donald “Rumsfeld is in a death fight with [CIA Director George Tenet] to get control” of intelligence programs. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone has reportedly created a single office overseeing the organization, planning, and execution of military intelligence missions. Cambone also oversees assets, including one program called “Gray Fox.” This is said to be a secret intelligence organization that specializes in large-scale “deep penetration” missions overseas. It is said to specialize in tapping communications and laying the groundwork for overt military operations. The Post reports that Rumsfeld appears to be winning the turf battle. [Washington Post, 4/20/2003, pp. A01]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Central Intelligence Agency, Stephen A. Cambone, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The US Army’s official guidance on the issue of “hardening” soft-skinned Humvees and other lightly-armored vehicles includes a recommendation for soldiers to put sandbags on the floorboards to reduce the impact of explosions. Since the summer, the soldiers’ preferred solution to the problem of unprotected vehicles has been to hire local contractors to add steel to the bodies of their vehicles (see March 2003 and After). [MSNBC, 4/15/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: US Military, Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections

A reinforced door on an Army truck at a base at Ar-Ramadi, Iraq.A reinforced door on an Army truck at a base at Ar-Ramadi, Iraq. [Source: Public domain via the Department of Defense]During a visit by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, Specialist Thomas Wilson asks Rumsfeld why soldiers have to improvise armor for themselves out of scrap metal. Wilson, a National Guardsman from Tennessee, is referring to so-called “hillbilly armor” or “hajj armor” (see March 2003 and After). He asks Rumsfeld, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” His question meets with shouts of approval and applause from the assembled 2,300 soldiers; an obviously discomfited Rumsfeld responds: “It isn’t a matter of money, it isn’t a matter on part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” Colonel John Zimmerman of the Tennessee National Guard says: “What we basically have is what we call hillbilly steel, hillbilly armor. It’s real frustrating for these soldiers.” Zimmerman says 95 percent of his unit’s 300 trucks do not have appropriate armor. Specialist Blaze Crook says he was appalled when he saw the condition of a vehicle he is slated to ride in. “It’s got huge windows on the front of my truck,” he says. “It’s basically like a window of opportunity to get shot, or shrapnel or anything like that to come through. It just doesn’t make me feel good that I’m riding up there without the proper armor.” Kurt Hendler, a reservist with the Navy’s Seabees construction force, says he and his colleagues are using steel plates intended for road repairs to retrofit trucks and Humvees with better armor. “We cover up the doors and put on some three-inch plate to protect the passenger and driver’s side from IED [improvised explosive device] attacks, sniper fire, and any other small-arms fire,” he says. [ABC News, 12/8/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later call Rumsfeld’s answer “a defining moment of his career—and not a positive one.” He will add, “[H]is comments helped solidify an already-accepted media narrative: the administration was sending troops that were ill equipped to fight the IED threat from terrorists and insurgents; worse still, administration officials were either unaware of the problems, unable to fix them, or totally unconcerned.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 250] Wilson will come under scathing attack from right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh when it is learned that he was given his question to ask by a reporter (see December 9, 2004).

Entity Tags: Thomas Wilson, Tennessee National Guard, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Rumsfeld, Blaze Crook, Scott McClellan, John Zimmerman, Kurt Hendler

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot by a recent question from a US soldier in Kuwait about he and his fellow soldiers being forced to use scrap metal as so-called “hillbilly armor” for their vehicles (see December 8, 2004). The media now learns that the question, posed by Specialist Thomas Wilson, was given to Wilson by a newspaper reporter embedded with his unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard unit preparing for deployment in Iraq. Reporter Lee Pitts, of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, tells colleauges in an e-mail that he wanted to ask the question himself but was denied a chance to speak to Rumsfeld at the so-called “Pentagon town hall meeting.” Instead, Pitts says, he asked Wilson to pose the question. Pitts says he has been trying for weeks without success to “get this story out.” “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” Pitts writes. He says that when he learned that only soldiers would be allowed to ask Rumsfeld questions, he talked with Wilson and another soldier, and they “worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.” Pitts says he “found the sergeant in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.” Pitts writes that when Wilson asked his question, “the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question.” Rumsfeld’s apparently callous response—“you go to war with the army you have”—has caused a flurry of outraged responses (see December 15, 2004). Meanwhile, Wilson is weathering intense criticism for his question from some right-wing pundits and commentators. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh accuses him of “near insubordination” for daring to ask Rumsfeld such a pointed question. The New York Post claims that Wilson and Pitts “set up” Rumsfeld with the question. (Rumsfeld himself will compliment a later question about “negative press coverage” as obviously “not being planted by the media.”) Even though President Bush says he doesn’t blame Wilson for asking the question—“If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same question”—Limbaugh and others are joined by Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita in criticizing Wilson and Pitts. “Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita says. “The secretary provides ample opportunity for interaction with the press. It is better that others not infringe on the troops’ opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command.” [Poynter Online, 12/9/2004; CNN, 12/10/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the subject of Wilson’s question is not news at all; news reports of troops being sent into Iraq with broken weapons and damaged vehicles have circulated throughout the print media for well over a year. What is newsworthy, Rich will write, is that a soldier publicly called Rumsfeld out on the policy of sending troops into combat with substandard equipment. Also newsworthy is the fact that Rumsfeld’s claim that the only thing standing in the way of all soldiers receiving adequate equipment is “production and capability” is a lie. Manufacturers of vehicle armor, weapons, and other essential equipment say that they could easily increase production if the Pentagon were to ask them to do so. [Rich, 2006, pp. 157]

Entity Tags: Tennessee National Guard, Frank Rich, Donald Rumsfeld, Chattanooga Times Free Press, George W. Bush, Lawrence Di Rita, Thomas Wilson, Rush Limbaugh, Lee Pitts

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Neoconservative commentator William Kristol does not join other conservatives in lambasting Specialist Thomas Wilson for asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an uncomfortable question about inadequate body armor (see December 8, 2004 and December 9, 2004). Instead, Kristol excoriates Rumsfeld for his apparently flippant response, “You go to war with the army you have.” The Army has “performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has,” Kristol writes, but, he continues, “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary [President] Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.” He calls Rumsfeld’s response “arrogant buck-passing” and slams Rumsfeld for his apparant callousness, quoting the secretary as telling the troops: “[I]f you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.” Kristol retorts sarcastically: “Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.” Rumsfeld has not performed well since the war began, Kristol writes, constantly resisting calls to increase troop numbers and then unfairly blaming field commanders such as General Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid for not requesting more troops. “All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments,” Kristol writes. “Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?” He concludes, “These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: William Kristol, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of the Army, Thomas Wilson

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s recently departed Executive Director, says in an interview that the world may be better off if bin Laden remains at large. Krongard had been Executive Director, the CIA’s third most senior position, from 1998 until six weeks before this interview. He states, “You can make the argument that we’re better off with him [at large]. Because if something happens to bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror.” The London Times notes that, “Several US officials have privately admitted that it may be better to keep bin Laden pinned down on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than make him a martyr or put him on trial.” However, Krongard is the only senior official to say so publicly, and this position completely contradicts the rhetoric of the Bush administration, which has consistently claimed that catching bin Laden remains a top priority. [London Times, 1/9/2005]

Entity Tags: A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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