MARCO WERMAN: We may not know where bin Laden is, but we know where he was. In December, 2001, he led about a thousand fighters of al Qaida in a battle in the mountains of Tora Bora. But bin Laden escaped to Pakistan. So, apparently did his deputy and the leader of the Afghan Taliban. A new report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revisits that crucial moment in the war. The chief investigator for the committee's Democratic staff prepared the study. He is Douglas Frantz, and he's in Washington. Doug Frantz, you have spent a lot of time on the trail of Osama bin Laden. Walk us through what you discovered about the Tora Bora battle back in 2001.
DOUGLAS FRANTZ: Sure, I'm glad to, Marco, and thanks very much for having me on. I think it's quite clear, and this report isn't the first place where this conclusion has been reached, that the United States military commanders and the Defense Secretary at the time, Donald Rumsfeld, wanted to have a very light footprint in Afghanistan. They didn't want to stir up what they worried would be a protracted insurgency. And so they had fewer than a hundred American soldiers camped out around the base of the Tora Bora mountains, and they relied on very unreliable Afghan militias and Pakistani soldiers who really never showed up to go after bin Laden, and to block any exit that he had.
WERMAN: Right. And in this report, what conclusions do you draw as to what could have been done to capture or kill Osama bin Laden?
FRANTZ: I think what's significant here in this report is that we gather together a lot of different sources including, most significantly for me, Marco, is a 2007 official history put together by the United States Special Operations Command down in Florida, which oversees the Green Berets and the Delta Force and the Navy Seals and the Marine Special Ops. And they were very instrumental in all of that early Afghan war prosecution. And in their history, the Special Ops commanders make it very clear that Osama bin Laden was in fact at Tora Bora in early to mid December of 2001, and that the United States did not commit the number of troops necessary to get him while he was within our grasp.
WERMAN: Right, that's one view of history, General Tommy Franks, the former US commander, has questioned whether Osama bin Laden was still in Tora Bora in the winter of 2001. What specific evidence did this command in Florida actually come up with that shows that bin Laden was still there?
FRANTZ: Well, I think there are two versions of the history put together by the Special Ops command. One is a classified version which goes more deeply into the reporting on the scene. But even the unclassified version makes it clear, and there's a critical quote in that unclassified version which says, "All sources corroborated bin Laden's presence at Tora Bora." That's all sources corroborated it. I think honestly that Tommy Franks was mistaken in 2004 particularly, when he said that the intelligence didn't prove that bin Laden was at Tora Bora.
WERMAN: How is it that more troops on the ground in 2001 would have been successful at capturing or killing him?
FRANTZ: If Osama bin Laden had been captured or killed, we would not face the enflamed insurgency that is threatening the government of Pakistan. We wouldn't have as powerful a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. I think that eliminating Osama bin Laden from the battlefield, while it would not have eradicated the worldwide extremist threat, would have weakened al Qaida dramatically.
WERMAN: Well, hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Tell me, what is the relevance of this now? How do you think this report relates to the current debate over whether to send more troops to Afghanistan?
FRANTZ: It's relevant in a couple of ways, Marco. One, we need to understand where we've been and who we're fighting as we go forward if, as is expected, the President sends 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan in the coming months. We need to know better who we're fighting and how we got there, and we need to make sure that the mistakes, like the mistake we made at Tora Bora, are not repeated. I think those are two strong lessons going forward.
WERMAN: Doug Frantz is the chief investigator for the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Thank you very much.
FRANTZ: Thanks a lot, Marco.