Decision Points

Excerpts

Afghanistan

As I knew from my visits during Dad’s time in office, Camp David is one of the greatest privileges afforded to the president. Nestled in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, about seventy miles from Washington, the 200-acre site is a thirty-minute ride from the White House. It feels much more removed than that. The retreat is run by the Navy and protected by the Marines. It consists of rustic cabins, a gym and swimming pool, a bowling alley, a chipping green, and scenic trails through the woods for hiking and biking. The atmosphere fosters reflection and clear thinking.

The presidential cabin is known as Aspen. Its interior is simple but comfortable. The wooden structure has three bedrooms, a perfect size for our family; a sunlit living room where I watched football with my brother Marvin and friends; and a stone fireplace beside which Laura and I liked to read at night.

About a quarter mile down the hill is Laurel, a large lodge with a spacious dining area, a small presidential office, and a wood- panelled conference room that Jimmy Carter used when he negotiated the Camp David Peace Accords.

That was where my national security team gathered on Saturday morning, September 15, to start developing the battle plan for Afghanistan. The mood was sombre, serious and focused. With me at the big oak table were the top national security officials from across the government*. Together they had decades of crisis management experience.
*
• Vice President Dick Cheney
• Secretary of State Colin Powell
• Defence Secretary Don Rumsfeld
• Deputy Secretary Defence Paul Wolfowitz
• Attorney General John Ashcroft
• FBI Director Bob Mueller
• Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill
• CIA Director George Tenet
• Deputy Director CIA John McLaughlin
• Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Hugh Shelton
• Vice Chairman Dick Myers
• White House Chief of Staff Andy Card;
• National Security Adviser Condi Rice
• Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley
• White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales
• Chief of Staff to the Vice President I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

The first key presentation that morning came from CIA Director George Tenet. Six months earlier, at my direction, George and the National Security Council had started developing a comprehensive strategy to destroy the al Qaeda network. In the four days between 9/11 and the Camp David meeting, the CIA team had beefed up their plan. George proposed that I grant broader authority for covert actions, including permission for CIA to kill or capture al Qaeda operatives without asking for my sign-off each time. I decided to grant the request.

The heart of the CIA plan was a new offensive in Afghanistan, where 9/11 had been planned. The roots of the terrorist presence in Afghanistan traced back to 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded and installed a communist puppet regime. Afghan tribes, along with a band of hard core Islamic fighters known as the Mujahideen, rose up against the foreign occupation. With assistance from the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the rebels inflicted fifteen thousand casualties and drove out the Soviets in 1989. Two years later, the super power collapsed.

Free of the communist occupiers, the Afghan people had a chance to rebuild their country. But the U.S. government no longer saw a national interest in Afghanistan, so it cut off support. America’s non-involvement helped create a vacuum. Tribal warriors who had defeated the Soviets turned their guns on one another. Ultimately the Taliban, a group of Islamic fundamentalists, seized power. They imposed a fanatical, barbaric brand of Islam that prohibited girls from going to school, required men to grow beards of a certain length, and forbade women from leaving their homes without a male relative a an escort. The simplest pleasures-singing, clapping and flying kites-were banned.

The Taliban‘s rules were enforced by brutal religious police. A 1998 State Department report described a woman struggling to carry two small children and a load of groceries on a street in Mazar-i-Sharif. When her body length burqa slipped from her face, she was beaten with a car antenna. Petty thieves were taken to the national soccer stadium to have their limbs hacked off.

Homosexuals were stoned to death, as anyone suspected of adultery. Shortly after the Taliban seized Kabul, they kidnapped the former president of Afghanistan from his UN compound. After beating and castrating him, they hung his body from a lamppost. In Bamiyan province, home to the minority Hazaras, the Taliban massacred at least 170 innocent civilians in January 2001. Later that year they dynamited two cherished 1500-year-old Buddha sculptures.

There were some who received warm hospitality from the Taliban. Shortly after taking power, the radical mullahs offered sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda. Between 1996 and 2001, bin Laden established camps in Afghanistan that trained an estimated ten thousand terrorists. In return, bin Laden drew on his personal fortune to fund the Taliban. By 9/11, Afghanistan was not only a state sponsor of terror, but a state sponsored by terror.

While the Taliban’s ideology was rigid, its control of the country was not. In a small section of northern Afghanistan, a group of tribal commanders called the Northern Alliance held the allegiance of the local population. On September 9, 2001, bin Laden operatives assassinated the Northern Alliance’s beloved leader, Ahmad Shah Masoud. His murder galvanised the Alliance to cooperate with America. We shared an enemy and a determination to end Taliban rule.

George’s plan called for deploying CIA teams to arm, fund and join forces with the Northern Alliance. Together they would form the initial thrust of the attack. By mating up our forces with the local opposition, we would avoid looking like a conqueror or occupier. America would help the Afghan people liberate themselves.

We would not act alone. Colin Powell had done an impressive job rallying countries to our coalition. Some, such as Great Britain and Australia, offered to deploy forces. Others, including Japan and South Korea, pledged humanitarian aid and logistical support. South Korea later sent troops. Key Arab partners, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, shared sensitive intelligence on al Qaeda operations.

The most pivotal nation we recruited was Pakistan. No country wielded more influence in Afghanistan than its eastern neighbour. On 9/11, Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognised the Taliban. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the other two,

Some in Pakistan may have sympathised with the Taliban’s ideology. But the primary motive was to counterbalance India. Pakistan’s bitter archival. So long as Pakistan held the loyalty of Afghanistan’s government, it would never be encircled.

Pakistan had a troubled history with the United States. After our close cooperation in the Cold War, Congress suspended aid to Pakistan-including coveted F-16s America had promised to sell them–out of concern over the government’s nuclear weapons program. In 1998, Pakistan conducted a secret nuclear test, incurring further sanctions. A year later General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the democratically elected government in a coup. By 2001, America had cut off virtually all aid to Pakistan.

On September 13, Colin Powell called President Musharraf and made clear he had to decide whose side he was on. He presented a list of non-negotiable demands, including condemning the 9/11 attacks, denying al Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan, sharing intelligence, granting us overflight rights and breaking diplomatic relations with the Taliban.

Musharraf faced intense internal pressure. Turning against the Taliban was unthinkable for hardliners in his government and intelligence service. I called Musharraf from Camp David during a break in the war council meeting. I want to thank you for listening to our sad nation’s requests, and I look forward to working with you to bring these people to justice, I said.

The stakes are high, Musharraf told me. We are with you.

Our relationship with Pakistan would prove complex. But in four days we had turned Afghanistan’s pivotal neighbour from a supporter of the Taliban to a partner in removing them from power.

In the fall of 2006, I ordered a troop increase that would boost our force levels from twenty-one thousand to thirty-one thousand over the next two years. I called the 50% increase a silent surge. to help the Afghan government extend its reach and effectiveness, we more than doubled funding for construction. We increased the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which brought together military personnel and civilian experts to ensure that security gains were translated into meaningful improvements in everyday life. We also increased the size of the Afghan National Army, expanded our counter narcotics effort, improved intelligence efforts along the Pakistan border, and sent civilian experts from the U.S. government to help Afghan ministries strengthen their capacity and reduce corruption.

I urged our NATO allies to match our commitment by dropping caveats on their troops and adding more forces. Several leaders responded, including Stephen Harper of Canada, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, the British and Canadians fought especially bravely and suffered significant casualties, America was fortunate to have them at our side and we honour their sacrifice as our own.

Other leaders told me bluntly that their parliaments would never go along. It was maddening. Afghanistan was supposed to be a war the world had agreed was necessary and just. And yet many countries were sending troops so heavily restricted that our generals complained they just took up space. NATO had turned into a two-tiered alliance, with some countries willing to fight and many not.

The adjustments in our strategy improved our ability to take on the insurgents. Yet the violence continued. The primary cause of the trouble did not originate in Afghanistan, or, as some suggested. In Iraq. It came from Pakistan.

For most of my presidency, Pakistan was led by President Pervez Musharraf. I admired his decision to side with America after 9/11. He held parliamentary elections in 2002, which his party won, and spoke about enlightened moderation as an alternative to Islamic extremism. He took serious risks to battle al Qaeda. Terrorists tried to assassinate him at least four times.

In the months after we liberated Afghanistan, I told Musharraf I was troubled by reports of al Qaeda, Taliban forces fleeing into the loosely governed, tribal provinces of Pakistan-an area often compared to the Wild West. I’d be more than willing to send our Special Forces across the border to clear out the areas, I said. He told me that sending American troops into combat in Pakistan would be viewed as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. A revolt would likely ensue. His government would probably fall. The extremists could take over the country, including its nuclear arsenal.

In that case, I told him, his soldiers needed to take the lead. For several years, the arrangement worked. Pakistani forces netted hundreds of terrorists, including al Qaeda leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Abu Faraj al Libbi. Musharraf also arrested A.Q. Khan, the revered father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, for selling components from the country’s program on the black market. As Musharraf often reminded me, Pakistani forces paid a high price for taking on the extremists. More than fourteen hundred were killed in the war on terror.

In return for Pakistan’s cooperation, we lifted the sanctions, designated Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, and helped fund its counterterrorism operations. We also worked with Congress to provide $3 billion in economic aid and opened markets to more Pakistani goods and services,

Over time it became clear that Musharraf either would not or could not fulfil all his promises. Part of the problem was Pakistan’s obsession with India. In almost every conversation we had, Musharraf accused India of wrongdoing. Four days after 9/11, he told me the Indians trying to equate us with terrorists and trying to influence your mind. As a result, the Pakistan military spent most of its resources preparing for war with India. Its troops were trained to wage a conventional battle with its neighbour, not counterterrorism operations in the tribal areas. The fight against the extremists came second.

A related problem was that Pakistani forces pursued the Taliban much less aggressively than they pursued al Qaeda. Some in the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, retained close ties to Taliban officials. Others wanted an insurance policy in case America abandoned Afghanistan and India tried to gain influence there. Whatever the reason, Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan took refuge in Pakistan’s tribal regions and populated cities like Peshawar and Quetta. In 2005 and 2006, these sanctuaries aided the rise of the insurgency.

In March 2006, I visited President Musharraf in Islamabad. Our meeting followed a stop in India, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and I signed an agreement clearing the way for nuclear cooperation between the two countries. The deal was the culmination o our efforts to improve relations between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy. I believe India, home to roughly a billion people and an educated middle-class, has the potential to be one of America’s closest partners. The nuclear agreement was a historic step because it signalled the country’s new role on the world stage.

The nuclear deal naturally raised concerns in Pakistan. Our ambassador, a remarkable veteran Foreign Service officer named Ryan Crocker, argued strongly that we should spend the night in Islamabad as a sign of respect. No president had done that since Richard Nixon thirty-seven years earlier. The Secret Service was anxious, especially after a bombing near the U.S. consulate in Karachi the day before we arrived. But symbolism matters in diplomacy, and I wanted to signal that I valued our relationship. At the airport, a decoy motorcade drove to the embassy, mostly empty. My chief of protocol, Ambassador Don Ensenat, took my place in the presidential limo, while Laura and I flew secretly via Black Hawk helicopter.

In contrast to the rigid security precautions, President Musharraf organised a relaxed and enjoyable visit. He and his wife Sehba, received us warmly at their version of the White House, known as Aiwan-e-Sadr. We met with survivors of the previous October’s 7.6 magnitude earthquake in northern Pakistan, which killed more than seventy-three thousand people. America had provided $500 million in relief. Our Chinook helicopters became known as angels of mercy. The experience reinforced a lesson: one of the most effective forms of diplomacy is to show the good heart of America to the world.

Later in the day, I went to the embassy courtyard to watch some cricket, Pakistan’s national pastime. There I met national team captain Inzaman-ul-Haq, the Pakistani equivalent of Michael Jordan. To the delight of school children at hand, I took a few whacks with the cricket bat. I didn’t master the game but did pick up some of the lingo. At the elegant state dinner that night, I opened my toast by saying, I was fooled by a googly,* otherwise I would have been a better batsman.

*A spinning pitch that is hard to hit, similar to a screwball in baseball.

My meetings with President Musharraf focused on two overriding priorities. One was his insistence on serving as both president and top general, a violation of the Pakistan constitution. I pushed him to shed his military affiliation and govern as a civilian. He promised to do it. But he wasn’t in much of a hurry.

I also stressed the importance of the fight against extremists. We’ve got to keep these guys from slipping into your country and back into Afghanistan, I said.

I give you our assurances that we will cooperate with you against terrorism, Musharraf said. We are totally on board.

The violence continued to grow. As the insurgency worsened, Hamid Karzai became furious with Musharraf. He accused the Pakistani president of destabilising Afghanistan. Musharraf was insulted by the allegation. By the fall of 2006, the two were barely on speaking terms. I decided to step in with some serious personal diplomacy. I invited Karzai and Musharraf to dinner at the White House in September 2006. When I welcomed them in the Rose Garden, they refused to shake hands or even look at each other. The mood did not improve when we sat down for dinner in the Old Family Dining Room. Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, Steve Hadley, and I watched as Karzai and Musharraf traded barbs. At one point, Karzai accused Musharraf of harbouring the Taliban.

Tell me where they are, Musharraf responded testily.
You know where they are! Karzai fired back.
If I did, I would get them, said Musharraf.
Go do it! Karzai persisted.

I started to wonder whether this dinner had been a mistake.

I told Musharraf and Karzai that the stakes were too high for personal bickering. I kept the dinner going for two and a half hours, trying to help them find common ground. After a while, the venting stopped, and the meeting turned out to be productive. The two leaders agreed to share more intelligence, meet with tribes on both sides of the border to urge peace, and stop bad-mouthing each other in public.

As a way to staunch the flow of Taliban fighters, Musharraf informed us that he had recently struck a series of deals with tribes in the border region. Under the agreements, Pakistani forces would leave the areas alone, while tribal leaders would commit to stopping the Taliban from recruiting operatives or infiltrating into Afghanistan.

While well intentioned, the strategy failed. The tribes did not have the will or the capacity to control the extremists. Some estimates indicated that the flow of Taliban fighters into Afghanistan increased fourfold.

Musharraf had promised Karzai and me-both sceptics of the strategy-that he would send troops back into the tribal areas if the deals failed. But instead of focusing on that problem, Musharraf and the Pakistani military were increasingly distracted by a political crisis. In March 2007, Musharraf suspended the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who he feared would rule that he was violating the law by continuing to serve as both president and army chief of staff. Lawyers and democracy advocated marched in the streets. Musharraf responded by:

• declaring a state of emergency
• suspending the constitution
• removing more judges, and
• arresting thousands of political opponents.

Pressure mounted on me to cut ties with Musharraf. I worried that throwing him overboard would add to the chaos. I had a series of frank conversations with him in the fall of 2007.

It looks ugly from here. The image here is that you have lawyers being beaten and thrown into jail, I said. I am troubled by the fact that there is no apparent way forward. I strongly suggested one:

• set a date for free elections,
• resign from the army, and
• lift the state of emergency.

Musharraf made each of these commitments, and kept them. When he scheduled parliamentary elections, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned from exile to compete. She ran on a pro-democracy platform, which made her a target of the extremists. Tragically, she was assassinated on December 27, 2007 at a political rally in Rawalpindi. In February 2008, her followers won the elections soundly. They formed a government, and Musharraf stepped down peacefully. Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower, took his place as President. Pakistan’s democracy had survived the crisis.

Over time, the Pakistani government learned the lesson of the Bhutto assassination. Pakistani forces returned to the fight in the tribal areas-not just against al Qaeda but against the Taliban and other extremists as well. Yet more than a year had been lost, as Pakistan’s attention had been focused on its internal political crisis. The Taliban and other extremist exploited that window of opportunity to increase their tempo of operations in Afghanistan, which drove up the violence and led many Afghans to turn against their government and our coalition. It was essential that we find a way to retake the offensive.

By the middle of 2008, I was tired of reading intelligence reports about extremist sanctuaries in Pakistan. I thought back to a meeting I’d had with Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2006.

Are you guys getting everything you need? I asked.
One SEAL raised his hand and said, No sir.

I wondered what his problem might be.

Mr. President, he said, we need permission to go kick some ass inside Pakistan.
I understood the urgency of the threat and wanted to do something about it. But on this issue, Musharraf’s judgement had been well-founded. When our forces encountered unexpected resistance, they got into a firefight and made international news. U.S. Commandos Attack Pakistan’s Sovereignty, one Pakistani headline said. Islamabad exploded with outrage. Both houses of Parliament passed unanimous resolutions condemning our action. No democracy can tolerate violations of its sovereignty.

I looked for ways to reach into the tribal areas. The Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle was capable of conducting video surveillance and firing laser-guided bombs. I authorised the intelligence community to turn up the pressure on the extremists. Many of the details of our actions remain classified. But soon after I gave the order, the press started reporting more Predator strikes. Al Qaeda’s number-four man, Khalid al-Habib turned up dead. So did al Qaeda leaders responsible for propaganda, recruitment, religious affairs and planning attack overseas. One of the last reports I received described al Qaeda as embattled and eroding in the border region.

We also stepped up our support for Pakistan’s democratic government. We provided money, training, and equipment, and proposed joint counterterrorism operations-all aimed at helping increase Pakistani capabilities. When the financial crisis hit in the fall of 2008, we took steps to make sure Pakistan received the assistance it needed to mitigate the effects of the recession and stay focused on fighting the extremists.

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Courtesy of : Decision Points by George W. Bush, Crown Publishers, New York November 2010

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