In the campaign’s final days, Kerry continues to claim that Bush “outsourced” the job of going after bin Laden in Tora Bora (search) to Afghan warlords. But the Democrat’s charge rankles not only retired Gen. Tommy Franks, a strong Bush supporter on the campaign trail, but also Army special forces soldiers who say they searched for bin Laden in Tora Bora’s treacherous mountains.
“It was wrong to outsource the job of capturing them [bin Laden and his lieutenants] to Afghan warlords who a week earlier were fighting against us, instead of using the best-trained troops in the world who wanted to avenge America for what happened in New York and Pennsylvania and Washington,” Kerry said Saturday at a rally in Appleton, Wis.
“It was wrong to divert our forces from Afghanistan so that we could rush to war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace,” he said.
Bush casts Kerry’s comments as a blow to those in the military.
“This is an unjustified and harsh criticism of our military commanders in the field,” Bush said at a campaign stop in Greeley, Colo. “This is the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking."
The back-and-forth echoed familiar themes throughout the presidential campaign but it took on new importance after the bin Laden videotape appeared Friday. In it, bin Laden took responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and spoke to the American people when he said the nation’s security was in their hands.
Franks, the military commander who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan (search) and Iraq and who after he left the Army spoke at the Republican National Convention to support Bush’s re-election, says Kerry is wrong.
“The Afghans weren't left to do the job alone,” Franks wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “Special forces from the United States and several other countries were there, providing tactical leadership and calling in air strikes. Pakistani troops also provided significant help — as many as 100,000 sealed the border and rounded up hundreds of Qaeda and Taliban fighters.”
Franks also took aim at one of Kerry’s main arguments — that Bush erred in going to war with Iraq because it took resources away from Afghanistan and the War on Terror.
“Neither attention nor manpower was diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq. When we started Operation Iraqi Freedom we had about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, and by the time we finished major combat operations in Iraq last May we had more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan,” Franks wrote.
Several Army special forces soldiers who served in Afghanistan told FOX News that numerous teams were deployed to the Tora Bora area to root out bin Laden and his allies. Plus, they said that Kerry was ignoring their contributions in battle.
“If you want to win a war in someone else’s backyard, you have to use locals who know the area,” one soldier told FOX News.
Another soldier told FOX News that Kerry’s promise to increase the size of the special forces was an empty one.
"He also has no idea on what it takes to double [the number of troops in] special forces. I spent 13 years in special forces and we have been trying to do just that. The only way that special forces can be doubled is to drop the qualification standards. If that happens then we all loose. The quality will be zero,” the soldier said.
On Sunday, Kerry said that if elected, the American people would see a “flurry of activity and leadership with respect to our national security interests that they’ve never seen.”
But when asked in an interview with The Associated Press to explain how he would capture bin Laden and how he would get out of the war in Iraq, the Massachusetts senator declined to go into specifics. All he would say is “I will get other people to the table.”
Surrogates for the two presidential campaigns attempted to put the bin Laden tape into a political context over the weekend. Not surprisingly, Bush aides said the tape helped Kerry while Kerry officials said it aided Bush.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said that bin Laden made the tape to help Kerry get elected.
"Usama bin Laden would not give out a video report 72 hours before the election unless he wanted to influence it,” Thompson, a former Republican governor from Wisconsin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an interview.
Bin Laden "knows that John Kerry will not be a persistent individual that is after him, that is going to be out to destroy him, like he is out to destroy America," Thompson said. "We need to make sure that America is safe."
But Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said he doubted the tape would have much of an effect but if it did, Bush would get the advantage.
“It's just another reminder of the fact that we're at war and we're fighting terrorists, and that's the only card that the president has in his hand,” Rendell, a Democrat, said on “FOX News Sunday.” “But it's obvious to me that bin Laden is trying to help George Bush, because George Bush is the best recruiter that Al Qaeda has.”