Despite claims in the media, Senator John Kerry did not praise the Bush administration's decision to use Afghan warlords to try to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001. Washington Post op-ed columnist Charles Krauthammer, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and FOX News Sunday host Chris Wallace all misrepresented what Kerry said on CNN's Larry King Live on December 14, 2001.
A transcript of Larry King Live from that day shows that when Kerry said that U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan was being pursued "pretty effectively," he was not commenting on the use of Afghan warlords, but disagreeing with a caller who suggested the U.S. should use napalm or flamethrowers in the Afghan caves. The use of Afghans to hunt down bin Laden never came up.
From the December 14, 2001, edition of Larry King Live:
CALLER: Hello. Yes, I would like to ask the panel why they don't use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan?
KING: Senator Kerry?
CALLER: My golly, I think they could smoke him [Osama bin Laden] out.
KING: Senator Kerry?
KERRY: Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.
KING: [California] Congressman [Randy] Cunningham, what do you think of that question?
CUNNINGHAM: I think Senator Kerry is right on the mark. To use a flamethrower, you've got to get right into the area, close in. And plus, it doesn't penetrate that deep in those tunnels. You've got to go in there after him. So I think you have to neutralize that threat. And then you can get him out in a lot of different, various ways, including what the gentleman spoke about.
KING: [Retired] General [George] Joulwan, what are your thoughts?
JOULWAN: Well, I think what you are seeing here are laser-designated bombs going in that are highly effective. In fact, I think much more effective than napalm will be, given the extent of these tunnels. You may see some of this when the troops get in there; you have troops on the ground. But right now, I think the laser-designated bombs are doing a great job.
Yet this is what Chris Wallace asked Kerry campaign senior adviser Robert M. Shrum on the October 31 edition of FOX News Sunday:
WALLACE: Let's go back to this question of bin Laden and fighting the war on terror. Has Kerry been consistent about that whole action and the way in which the bin Laden issue in Tora Bora was handled? The reason I ask is back in 2001 he was asked about the question of letting Afghan warlords try to capture bin Laden, and this is what he had to say: "[I]t is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way."
In his October 30 New York Times op-ed column, David Brooks wrote the following:
Back in December 2001, when bin Laden was apparently hiding in Tora Bora, Kerry supported the strategy of using Afghans to hunt him down. He told Larry King that our strategy "is having its impact, and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way."
And Charles Krauthammer wrote the following in his October 29 Washington Post op-ed column:
KRAUTHAMMER: Outsourced? The entire Afghan war was outsourced. How does Kerry think we won it? How did Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul, and Kandahar fall? Stormed by thousands of American GIs? They fell to the "warlords" we had enlisted, supported and directed. It was their militias that overran the Taliban.
"Outsourcing" is a demagogue's way of saying "using allies." (Isn't Kerry's Iraq solution to "outsource" the problem to the "allies" and the United Nations?) And in Afghanistan it meant the very best allies: locals who had a far better chance of knowing which cave to storm without getting blown up. As Kerry himself said on national television at the time of Tora Bora (Dec. 14, 2001): "What we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will" -- i.e., not throwing American lives away in tunnels and caves in alien territory. "I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way."