Category Archives: bin laden

why we lost

A 3-Star General Explains ‘Why We Lost’ In Iraq, Afghanistan

November 09, 2014 5:22 PM ET
Why We Lost:  A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
by Daniel Bolger

“I am a United States Army General, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism.”

Those are the frank opening words of a new book by retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account Of The Iraq And Afghanistan Wars. Bolger continues:

“It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem. To wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.”

In over 500 pages, the retired three-star general describes the conflicting agendas that haunted both campaigns, as well as the difficulty of identifying the enemy and the looming specter of Vietnam.

“The bravery and sacrifice of the people that I was privileged to serve with should be saluted,” he tells NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates. “And the mistakes, the errors made by guys like me have to be accounted for and explained so we can learn and do better in the event we have to do something like this again.”

It’s a timely work, scheduled to be released on Veteran’s Day — a few days after Friday’s announcement that the president has authorized the deployment of 1500 additional troops to Iraq.

Bolger tells Grigsby Bates about the worrying signs he noticed at the very start of the campaigns, and why the conflicts were so challenging for the U.S. military.

Interview Highlights

On his earliest hints that the operations might not be successful

What I saw almost immediately was trouble figuring out who the enemy was. We knew within a day or two of the 9/11 attacks that it was al-Qaida, a terrorist network that had a headquarters element, if you would call it that, or a chairman of the board in Osama Bin Laden. And they were operating out of Afghanistan.

But that’s not who we ended up fighting most of the time. Sure, we went after al-Qaida at times. But we ended up fighting the Taliban, which were Pashtun people in Afghanistan who were trying to run that country. We evicted them in 2001. And we ended up fighting Sunni Arab insurgents in Iraq, who again — although they might make common cause with al-Qaida — those weren’t the guys who attacked us on 9/11.

On the lack of advance information about enemies on the ground

One of the things that we often say in the military is you have to fight for information, or fight for intelligence. So as we developed this picture and it became obvious that we were fighting an insurgent enemy mixed into a civil population that was suspicious of us anyway as outsiders (and that was true in both Afghanistan and Iraq), it really brought up the second point, which is what is the U.S. Military trained to do? And the U.S. Military is trained to carry out short and decisive conventional operations against a uniformed [enemy in formations].

So if you want us to go in and do something along the lines of 1991 Desert Storm, where we go against armored divisions and air force squadrons of the Iraqi forces and destroy them and capture the remainder, that’s what we’re trained to do. It’s very, very difficult to take even the great troops that we have and send them into a village to try and sort out which of the males there … might be insurgents, [or] who might be just people living in the area, [or] who might potentially be government supporters, when you don’t speak the language and you really don’t understand what’s going on in that village very well.

On what gave him confidence during the operations that they might still be successful

We really had two ways we could prosecute this war. The first was essentially to do what we did in Desert Storm. And both Afghanistan and Iraq started with a very short, successful, decisive U.S. initial invasion. And at that point, we had the option — we could have backed out and left it to the local people to sort it out. It might have been sort of ugly and it might have been sort of unsatisfying. But in both cases, we didn’t do that. We decided to stay.

“ We could have backed out and left it to the local people to sort it out. It might have been sort of ugly and it might have been sort of unsatisfying. But in both cases, we didn’t do that. We decided to stay.
– Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger

The only way you can win that is the local people have to take the lead, and they have to have the sure knowledge that they’ve got a long term U.S. commitment to help them in the things they have trouble with.

And when I made that statement at Veterans’ Day [in 2012, expressing confidence in the mission], I was hopeful that the United States would make a long-term commitment to both countries.

It seems like in Iraq, we’re gonna have a degree of commitment more than we probably thought we would in the fall of 2011 [when the U.S. Army withdrew from the country], based on their fight against ISIS and what we’re trying to do to help them now.

Afghanistan, though, I keep hearing the same noises about [how] we’re gonna draw down to just an embassy and a few hundred people there within a year or so.

On what he would have done

Given what I knew then, I would have recommended to do like we did in 1991 and turn it over to the local folks. You know, give them some backing, but not much beyond the embassy or maybe a couple hundred advisers or something. Certainly not hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground for ten years.

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iraq timeline

SUNDAY, JUN 15, 2014 12:00 PM EDT
How the U.S. helped turn Iraq into an al-Qaida haven in just 53 steps

Eleven years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq is on the brink of collapse. We have only ourselves to blame
PETER GELLING, KYLE KIM AND TIMOTHY MCGRATH, GLOBALPOST

How the U.S. helped turn Iraq into an al-Qaida haven in just 53 steps
Militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) people raising their flag at the entrance of an army base in Ninevah Province. Iraq. (Credit: AP)
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Here’s the short version: The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, claiming that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had both weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al Qaeda. He had neither. Today, both Saddam Hussein and the United States are gone from Iraq.  In their place? Al Qaeda.

This week, an Al Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the country’s second-largest city — Mosul — and several other towns. Latest reports have the militant group at the gates of Baghdad.

With US-trained Iraqi security forces now frantically fleeing the arrival of the ISIL militants — who are so extreme even Al Qaeda couldn’t hang with them, causing the two groups to split — and a central government in total disarray, it’s looking bleak. Someone call the Coalition of the Willing!

So how did it all go so wrong? In these 53 steps.

1. May 28, 1990: Saddam Hussein says oil overproduction in Kuwait is “economic warfare”

2. Aug. 2, 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait

3. Aug. 6, 1990: UN imposes economic sanctions on Iraq

4. Jan. 17, 1991: US launches air operations to liberate Kuwait (and its oil)

5. Feb. 24, 1991: US deploys ground war in Kuwait

6. Feb. 26, 1991: Saddam Hussein orders withdrawal from Kuwait

7. Feb. 28, 1991: US President George W. Bush Sr. says Kuwait is now free

8. April 3, 1991: UN extends sanctions on Iraq for next 10-plus years. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children die as a result of ballooning poverty, malnutrition and disease

9. June 26, 1993: Bill Clinton launches cruise missile attack on Baghdad in retaliation for failed assassination attempt on Bush Sr.

10. Dec. 16, 1998: US and UK launch four-day bombing campaign against sites in Iraq thought to be housing weapons of mass destruction

11. Dec. 19, 1998: Clinton is impeached for lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky

12. Sept. 11, 2001: The 9/11 attacks kill almost 3,000 people. 15 of the 19 Al Qaeda militants are from Saudi Arabia. US launches war in Afghansitan, where Al Qaeda is believed to be based

13. Oct. 1, 2002: CIA report alleges Iraq is in possession of WMDs, launching build-up to war

14. Feb. 5, 2003: US Secretary of State Colin Powell tells UN that Iraq has WMDs and Al Qaeda links

15. March 19, 2003: Bush Jr. launches Iraq invasion

16. May 1, 2003: Bush declares “Mission Accomplished”

17. July 2, 2003: Turns out mission not yet accomplished. Bush declares, “Bring ‘em on.”

18. Aug. 19, 2003: It’s brought. UN headquarters attacked in Baghdad, killing 17 people. Al Qaeda claims responsibility

19. Jan. 28, 2004: It’s official: no WMDs in Iraq. Bush maintains Iraq War made the world safer

20. Feb. 10, 2004: Iraqis invite Al Qaeda militants to help fight US occupation

21. April 21, 2004: Spate of suicide bombings hits police stations

22. April 27, 2004: Images of US torture at Abu Ghraib prison air on 60 minutes. Shit hits fan

23. Jan. 12, 2005: Search for WMDs fails, is officially declared over

24. Sept. 9, 2005: Powell says he regrets pre-war UN speech

25. June 8, 2006: Al Qaeda leader killed in US air raid

26. Aug. 21, 2006: Bush acknowledges Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 attacks

27. Sept. 12, 2006: Media reports reveal that US spy agencies believe Iraq War increased terror threat

28. Oct. 4, 2006: A 2005 memo made public reveals that Al Qaeda said prolonging Iraq War is in its interest

29. Jan. 10, 2007: Bush announces escalation of Iraq war

30. May 20, 2007: CIA officials say Iraq War has become big “moneymaker” for Al Qaeda

31. June 11, 2007: US forces arm Sunni militias, known as the Sunni Awakening, to fight Al Qaeda

32. Aug. 8, 2007: Roadside bombs reach all-time high

33. March 10, 2008: Pentagon-funded study finds no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda

34. Sept. 5, 2008: Outgoing Gen. David Petraeus says Al Qaeda remains dangerous threat in Iraq

35. Feb. 16, 2010: Sectarian tensions soar

36. April 19, 2010: US raid kills top 2 Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq

37. May 10, 2010: 71 dead in widespread attacks blamed on Al Qaeda

38. July 23, 2010: Four Al Qaeda suspects escape from Iraqi prison

39. July 29, 2010: Iraqi insurgents plant “Al Qaeda” flag in Baghdad

40. Aug. 31, 2010: Obama announces end of combat mission in Iraq

41. Sept. 27, 2010: Report says Al Qaeda in Iraq, which many thought had been “defeated,” is actually responsible for wave of terror attacks over the summer, causing the highest casualties in more than two years

42. Oct. 16, 2010: Members of US-backed Sunni Awakening return to Al Qaeda ranks

43. Aug. 15, 2011: 42 bombings rock country, killing 89 people

44. Dec. 18, 2011: Last convoy of US troops leaves Iraq

45. March 20, 2012: Dozens of bombs kill 52 across Iraq

46. July 23, 2012: More bombings, 107 killed

47. March 19, 2013: Al Qaeda plants car bomb, kills 56 civilians

48. April 15, 2013: Wave of bombings kills 75, wounds 350 across the country

49. May 15, 2013: Series of deadly bombings and shootings kill at least 450, injure 732

50. July 22, 2013: Suicide bombers drive car bomb through Abu Ghraib prison, freeing hundreds of convicts, mostly senior Al Qaeda members

51. Jan. 2, 2014: Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province falls to Al Qaeda-linked militants now known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL

52. May 28, 2014: A month after elections, attacks kill more than 70 across the country

53. June 10, 2014: ISIL, an Al Qaeda splinter group, seizes Mosul, Iraq’s second-lagest city, and Tikrit as US-trained security forces flee. ISIL marches on to Baghdad

al-qaeda expands its reach

Al Qaeda is Extending its Reach

Al Qaeda is gaining strength and steadily improving its abilities to recruit, train and position operatives to mount attacks inside the United States, the top U.S. intelligence official told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

The official, Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, told lawmakers that both Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remained in control of the terror group and that Al Qaeda was improving “the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.” – the recruiting of jihadis to attack American targets.

More Western recruits, he said, were traveling to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region for training.

McConnell also gave more details about Al Qaeda’s gathering strength in the mountains of Pakistan than appeared in a national intelligence assessment about the terrorism threat last summer.

Concern about Al Qaeda among American spies led top officials to travel to Pakistan in recent weeks to request permission for more unilateral American action in the tribal areas.

Still, McConnell’s somber tone hinted at more alarming developments in that rugged border zone than had been widely understood.

The report also said that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a group in Iraq that has sworn allegiance to the terror network, was beginning to export militants for attacks in other countries.

At the same hearing, General Michael Hayden, head of the CIA, confirmed the identities of three men who the agency taped as they were being waterboarded – an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

Hayden said the men were Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks; a senior Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, and another suspected operative, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is thought to be linked to the bombing of the U.S. naval ship Cole in 2000.

Hayden said they had been waterboarded in 2002 and 2003 because the CIA knew little about Qaeda operations and feared that “catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable.”

Both those considerations, he said Tuesday, have since changed.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, whose department is investigating the CIA’s destruction of the interrogation tapes, has refused to rule out future use of waterboarding. But McConnell, in his testimony, said that under new procedures, Hayden would need McConnell, Mukasey, and ultimately the president to sign off on any request to waterboard.

The warning of an improved Qaeda ability to attack America appeared to echo warnings contained in the intelligence estimate released last July, and to be based partly on the group’s growing ability to use its regenerated presence in the tribal regions of northwestern Pakistan to plan attacks elsewhere.

“While increased security measures at home and abroad have caused Al Qaeda to view the West, especially the U.S., as a harder target,” McConnell’s said in a 47-page report released Tuesday, “we have seen an influx of new Western recruits into the tribal areas since mid-2006.”

McConnell took heart from the fact that there had been no major terrorist attacks in much of the world in the past year, and he suggested that Al Qaeda’s global image was “beginning to lose some of its luster.”

“There was no major attack against the United States or most of our European, Latin American, East Asia allies and partners,” the report said.

McConnell noted the unraveling of terror plots in Germany and Denmark. And he ranked the recent killing in a missile attack in Pakistan of Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Qaeda military commander, as the most serious blow to the group’s leadership since December 2005, when its external operations chief, Hamza Rabia, was killed.

Hayden also said that U.S. intelligence had led directly to “the foiling of a planned bombing in a crowded market in Southeast Asia last summer that would have led to mass casualties.”

But the report warned that Al Qaeda remained a serious threat. It also said that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a mostly homegrown group in Iraq that has sworn allegiance to the terror network, was beginning to export militants for attacks in other countries.

The report cited intelligence suggesting that fewer than 100 of the group’s militants had moved from Iraq to establish cells in other countries.

On North Korea, the intelligence analysts judged “with at least moderate confidence” that Pyongyang is continuing its uranium enrichment efforts and questioned its sincerity in ongoing disarmament negotiations.

But it said that the North “probably views its capabilities as being more for deterrence and coercive diplomacy than for war-fighting and would consider using nuclear weapons only under certain narrow circumstances.”

During the testimony, McConnell attempted to recalibrate the spy agencies’ view of Iran’s nuclear program, telling senators that the public portion of a National Intelligence Estimate released in December placed too much significance on Iran’s having halting secret work on nuclear weapons design in 2003.

On Tuesday, McConnell said weapons design was “probably the least significant part of the program” and that Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment means it could still pose a nuclear threat.