The report details events and command decisions made during the December 2001 battle at Tora Bora during which "...it was clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp" and criticizes the decision not to insert a massive force in the area to capture or kill bin Laden. I agree, to a large extent, with those criticisms, more for the psychological message killing or capturing Bin Laden would have sent than for the long-term strategic importance of doing so. I disagree completely with the reports conclusions of the consequences of that failure.
The final section of the report beginning on page 19, titled The Price of Failure claims that failing to close the book on bin Laden is the reason we're still in Afghanistan today.
Osama bin Laden’s demise would not have erased the worldwide threat from extremists. But the failure to kill or capture him has allowed bin Laden to exert a malign influence over events in the region and nearly 60 countries where his followers have established extremist groups. History shows that terrorist groups are invariably much stronger with their charismatic leaders than without them, and the ability of bin Laden and his terrorist organization to recover from the loss of their Afghan sanctuary reinforces the lesson.This is complete and utter hogwash. Islamist extremists of the Al Qaeda ilk don't need bin Laden to be alive in order to propagate their violent ideology within and outside their region. In fact, as much as I'd have liked to see bin Laden's head on a pike (and still would), I'll go so far as to say that bin Laden's current disposition is preferable to having him dead or in US custody.
Eight years after its expulsion from Afghanistan, Al Qaeda has reconstituted itself and bin Laden has survived to inspire a new generation of extremists who have adopted and adapted the Al Qaeda doctrine and are now capable of attacking from any number of places. The impact of this threat is greatest in Pakistan, where Al Qaeda’s continued presence and resources have emboldened domestic extremists waging an increasingly bloody insurrection that threatens the stability of the government and the region. Its training camps also have spawned new attacks outside the region—militants trained in Pakistan were tied to the July 2005 transit system bombings in London and several aborted plots elsewhere in Europe.
There's no shortage of charismatic ideologues in the ranks of the Islamist jihad movement. A dead or captured bin Laden would clear the way for one of them to replace bin Laden, which hasn't happened yet. In death, bin Laden would be a martyr revered above his own idol, Sayyed Qutb, whose writings to this day inspires Islamist extremists all over the world long after his death in 1966.
This report, timed to coincide with President Obama's unveiling of his long-delayed Afghanistan strategy, is nothing more than a politically-timed hit piece on the previous administration designed to give Obama cover with the political left, which opposes continued involvement in Afghanistan. Look for Obama to cite this report extensively when he gives his inevitable speech on his Afghanistan strategy.