May 3, Editors Note: Due to recent events, we’ve decided to share this article again, as it offers important background information.
Following both the embassy bombings of 1998 and the subsequent bombing of the USS Cole in October of 2000, Secretary Cohen and I made impassioned pleas to go after the Taliban—their headquarters, their infrastructure. We knew that we had the ability to totally take them “out of business”, so to speak. What we had was bin Laden and his terrorist organization that the Taliban’s ruling leadership—Mullah Omar—was allowing to operate at will—to live there, and train there, and conduct his terrorist operations there. The CIA confirmed they were doing it, and everybody in that NSC knew it.
Both times that Secretary Cohen and I made our pleas, Secretary of State Albright pushed back and said no, the Taliban constitutes a legitimate sovereign government and we need to respect that—we need to demarche them first and give them a chance to correct their ways.
I don’t care what logo is embossed on the letterhead, as far as I’m concerned a demarche is basically a letter of reprimand, a slap on the wrist telling them that we believe you are supporting terrorism and we are not going to put up with it any longer.
According to Secretary Albright, what Cohen and I were suggesting was declaring war on a nation state, and her position was in spite of Tenet’s evidence to the contrary, the Taliban weren’t the ones who were attacking us, that was bin Laden—and this all played out not ten seconds after George Tenet tracked through exactly how bin Laden and the Taliban were working hand-in-hand!
I could not grasp how these diplomats could let these murderers off the hook with a letter from the principal’s office. To my way of thinking, the demarche should have been delivered to Mullah Omar First Class, up his ass, on the warhead of a TLAM missile!
Under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban were the controlling government in Afghanistan; and they were the ones who were providing sanctuary for Usama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda organization. They allowed them to train there, to live there, and basically they were part of each other’s operations. Al-Qaeda-trained fighters were integrated with the Taliban army; and it was an al-Qaeda suicide bomber who, on September 9, 2001, solidified the Taliban’s political position by assassinating their primary military opponent, Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. In return, the Taliban provided bin Laden and his followers a safe haven, disregarding United States government requests for extradition.
Finding appropriate targets to bomb was not a problem in the case of the Taliban. Since they operated with an organized infrastructure, it was easy. They had buildings and government offices, and Omar operated right out of the official Capitol in downtown Kabul. We had specific coordinates for his Kandahar residence, too. By the time we did finally bomb it (after I retired in October of 2001), he was long gone and has been in hiding ever since. The $10 million reward for information leading to his capture hasn’t seemed to do any good, either. We had plenty of opportunities to get him, but a conscious choice was made not to do so—the obvious question becomes, why? The answer is not one that can found on either the civilian or military floors of the Pentagon, but rather across the river in Foggy Bottom.