Washington: Ignoring al Qaeda`s presence in
Pakistan and invading Iraq instead was the biggest "strategic
mistake" America has made post-9/11 as it wrongly pinned its
hope on "our man" Pervez Musharraf to fight on its side in
the war against terror, says a former top CIA analyst.
As the US prepared to mark the 10th anniversary of the
9/11 terror attacks, Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow at the
Brookings Institution, said that America made "major errors"
and allowed the war on terrorism to go on.
"This was the war that should have ended years ago. The
9/11 attacks revealed a ruthless and agile enemy, one
demanding unrelenting focus and smarts. Instead, we made major
errors," Riedel is quoted as saying in an article on the think
"Trusting Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan`s President, to
fight on our side against (Osama) bin Laden and the Taliban
was another strategic failure. ’Our man` in Islamabad turned
out to be helping the Taliban regroup while bin Laden hid out
in his front yard, living in plain sight of Pakistan`s most
elite military academy for years," Riedel says.
"And when Musharraf faltered, we still tried to prop him
up. Our desperate attempt to save Musharraf failed to keep the
dictator in power, further alienated the Pakistani people,
and, tragically, ended with al Qaeda`s assassination of
Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister and Pakistan`s best
hope," Riedel writes in a stinging commentary on the former
Pakistani military ruler, who is now a fugitive.
Washington also made "strategic mistakes" and the biggest
was to ignore al Qaeda in Pakistan and invade Iraq, which, at
that point, posed no serious threat, he says.
"The Bush administration underestimated Osama bin Laden`s
resilience, trusted the Generals of Pakistan and focused on
the wrong battlefield. Bin Laden recognised our misstep early,
and set a trap in Iraq, urging jihadists to travel to this
latest front, even before the invasion," he says.
The US also made tactical mistakes, Riedel says, pointing
out examples such as the CIA failure to raise the alarm about
the two operatives of al Qaeda living in the US before the
attacks. "For reasons still unclear, they avoided serious
attention until airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers
and the Pentagon," he says.
Riedel, who has chaired an inter-agency review of policy
toward Afghanistan and Pakistan for the White House at the
request of President Barack Obama, writes that Pakistan
remains the epicentre of the global `jihad`.
While drone attacks have put pressure on militants, they
also alienate civilians, creating the next generation of
militants. "Drones alone won`t win the war. What we have to do
is assist those Pakistanis who are fighting and dying in this
ongoing battle," he says, citing the killing of Salman Taseer,
the slain Governor of Pakistan`s Punjab province.
"Our enemy is still formidable, and the task isn`t easy.
But this time we have to get it right to avoid spending yet
another decade fighting," Riedel says.