Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was cornered by US forces in the Afghan mountains of Tora Bora just months after 9/11 and could have been killed or captured, but the military top brass decided not to attack him with the massive force at their disposal, a Senate report says.
The report, by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asserts that the failure to kill or capture Osama bin Laden in December 2001 has had lasting and disastrous consequences and his escape laid the foundation for today's Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.
"Cornered in some of the most forbidding terrain on earth, he (bin Laden) and several hundred of his men endured relentless pounding by American aircraft, as many as 100 air strikes a day. Bin Laden was expected to die.
"(But) requests were turned down for US troops to block the mountain paths leading to sanctuary a few miles away in Pakistan. The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army was kept on the sidelines.
"When we went to war... the objective was to destroy Al Qaeda and kill or capture its leader... (But) our inability to finish the job in late 2001 has contributed to a conflict today that endangers not just our troops... but the stability of a volatile and vital region," the report says.
Senator John Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee, has long argued that the Bush administration missed a chance to get the Al Qaeda leader and his top deputies when they were holed up in the mountainous area of Afghanistan only three months after September 11.
And, his report, titled "Tora Bora revisited: How we failed to get Bin Laden and why it matters today," has laid the blame for the state of Afghanistan and Pakistan today at the feet of the military leaders who served former President George W Bush, notably Donald Rumsfeld, the then US defence secretary, and senior military commander General Tommy Franks.
"Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat. But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide."The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism," the report says.