Just today we have three examples of revelations about Bush-era policies abroad, some confirmations of what we already knew, and some fresh horrors.
For example, longtime secret war in Pakistan!
American special forces have conducted multiple clandestine raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas as part of a secret war in the border region where Washington is pressing to expand its drone assassination programme.
A former Nato officer said the incursions, only one of which has been previously reported, occurred between 2003 and 2008, involved helicopter-borne elite soldiers stealing across the border at night, and were never declared to the Pakistani government.
“The Pakistanis were kept entirely in the dark about it. It was one of those things we wouldn’t confirm officially with them,” said the source, who had detailed knowledge of the operations.
Such operations are a matter of sensitivity in Pakistan. While public opinion has grudgingly tolerated CIA-led drone strikes in the tribal areas, any hint of American “boots on the ground” is greeted with virulent condemnation.
After the only publicly acknowledged special forces raid in September 2008, Pakistan’s foreign office condemned it as “a grave provocation” while the military threatened retaliatory action.
These weren’t even successful raids, judging from the continued presence of Al Qaeda in Pakistan. And they strained the relationship with the Pakistani government, a distrust that continues to this today.
Among the more mundane disclosures today – Lithuania confirmed CIA prisons within their borders:
The CIA used at least two secret detention centres in Lithuania after the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the US, a Lithuanian inquiry has found.
The report by a Lithuanian parliamentary committee says that in 2005 and 2006 CIA chartered planes were allowed to land in Lithuania.
It says that no Lithuanian officials were allowed near the aircraft, nor were they told who was on board.
Other sites have been reported to be in Poland and Romania, but this is among the first to be confirmed.
And Peter Bergen has the definitive account of how an understaffed military let Osama bin Laden escape at Tora Bora in late 2001.
What really happened at Tora Bora? Not long after the battle ended, the answer to that question would become extremely clouded. Americans perceived the Afghan war as a stunning victory, and the failure at Tora Bora seemed like an unfortunate footnote to an otherwise upbeat story. By 2004, with George W. Bush locked in a tough reelection battle, some U.S. officials were even asserting, inaccurately, that bin Laden himself may not have been present at the battle.
The real history of Tora Bora is far more disturbing. Having reconstructed the battle–based on interviews with the top American ground commander, three Afghan commanders, and three CIA officials; accounts by Al Qaeda eyewitnesses that were subsequently published on jihadist websites; recollections of captured survivors who were later questioned by interrogators or reporters; an official history of the Afghan war by the U.S. Special Operations Command; an investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and visits to the battle sites themselves–I am convinced that Tora Bora constitutes one of the greatest military blunders in recent U.S. history. It is worth revisiting now not just in the interest of historical accuracy, but also because the story contains valuable lessons as we renew our push against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The failures of the Bush Administration is in no way a reason to become satisfied at the actions of the Obama Administration. It is occasionally worth looking back, however, just to understand what a disaster this last decade has been.