Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) insisted on Sunday that, had it not been for the Bush administration's failure to catch Osama bin Laden in 2001, there likely would be no debate about sending more troops to Afghanistan.
Addressing a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee report claiming bin Laden was nearly captured by U.S. forces at Tora Bora, Levin argued that had the capture taken place, "there would be a good chance we would not have forces or need to have forces [in Afghanistan]."
"This has been kind of well known for some time," Levin added. "We took our eye off the ball instead of moving in on him at Tora Bora, the previous administration decided to move its forces to Iraq. It was a mistake then. I think this report of the Foreign Relations committee just sort of reinforces that."
Released on Sunday, the SFRC report [pdf] provides a harsh indictment of the Bush administration's actions in the early stages of the search for bin Laden.
"Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat," reads the executive summary. "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 world-wide. 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, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today's protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan. Al Qaeda shifted its locus across the border into Pakistan, where it has trained extremists linked to numerous plots, including the July 2005 transit bombings in London and two recent aborted attacks involving people living in the United States. The terrorist group's resurgence in Pakistan has coincided with the rising violence orchestrated in Afghanistan by the Taliban, whose leaders also escaped only to re-emerge to direct today's increasingly lethal Afghan insurgency."
Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," Levin also stressed that any increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan had to be accompanied by an equal commitment within the country to bolster its own security.
"I think there's greater question on why the additional troops would help increase the size of the Afghan army," Levin said. "When I was in Afghanistan, I was told that the greatest need in Afghanistan is for more Afghan troops."
"I favor additional trainers, I favor a surge in equipment," the Michigan Democrat added, "but the key here is an Afghan surge, not an American surge."