I want justice... there's an old poster out West, I recall, that said, "Wanted, Dead or Alive" ~ George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States (1/20/2001 to 1/20/2009) referring to the 9/11 attacks "prime suspect" Osama bin Laden on 9/17/2001.
The US military bombed and invaded Afghanistan because that is where Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were located - "guests" of the Taliban Regime which refused to hand him over to the US for prosecution. There isn't much more to the narrative, as far as most people are concerned. Most people will acknowledge that there is some controversy surrounding the decision to invade Iraq, with some calling it a "war of choice" (you can place me firmly in that camp).
However, contrary to the conventional wisdom that Afghanistan was the "good war" (wisdom that our current president agrees with), I believe the evidence strongly suggests that Afghanistan was another "war of choice". If you recall, before the US invaded Afghanistan bush contacted the Taliban and demanded that they turn over bin Laden, implying that the bombing and invasion wouldn't happen if they complied.
The fact is that Taliban did offer to give up bin Laden. Negotiations between the US and the Taliban had been ongoing for 3 years prior to the 9/11/2001 attacks. Unfortunately President Clinton was unable to close the deal. He did, however, put together an "aggressive plan to take the fight to Al-Qaeda".
But bush rejected the Clinton administration's claim that bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were a serious threat. bush said, "I didn't feel a sense of urgency" (as reported by Bob Woodward in his book "Bush at War", 2002). So he tossed the Clinton administration plan and handed off responsibility for formulating a new strategy to VP Cheney. Cheney's counter terrorism task force never met.
Fast forward to the aftermath of the (preventable) attacks of 9/11. With virtually the entire world backing him, bush submitted an ultimatum to the "rulers" of Afghanistan, the country which was "harboring" bin Laden (the words in quotes are in quotes because Afghanistan was not then and is not now actually a country, but rather a collection of independent tribes and villages).
bush demanded, "We know he's guilty, turn him over". The Taliban, not wanting to be bombed or invaded, offered to take bin Laden into custody and send him to a neutral third country for trial. bush "summarily rejected" the offer.
Under the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists" (a joint resolution passed by the United States Congress on 9/18/2001), bush was granted "the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force against those whom he determined planned, authorized, committed or aided the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups".
After the Taliban offered to turn over bin Laden they were no longer "harboring" him, and thus the invasion was not necessary or appropriate. It was at this point that, instead of issuing an ultimatum, negotiations should have begun (or been renewed). A deadline could have been attached, but, IMO simply rejecting the offer outright was a violation of the resolution.
It is human nature to be offended when presented with an ultimatum when you're expecting an offer of negotiation. Saving face is important in Muslim culture, and that they responded negatively to bush's demands shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone in the administration. Any idiot could have deduced that they'd be insulted when they were informed that they would not be allowed to save face, but instead were expected to submit to a humiliating and embarrassing capitulation.
This is why, in my opinion, bush refused to listen to the Taliban's offer. He deliberately insulted them to short circuit negotiations, which would allow him to proceed with an invasion. What we heard from the bush administration was "this is not a negotiation", and that the Taliban needed to "act to meet all of the president's demands now". Why give in to your adversary's demands when they've made it clear they're going to attack anyway?, which is what the bush administration signaled they were going to do by rejecting all offers of negotiation.
The logical conclusion is that bush had decided in advance that he was going to invade Afghanistan, and asking for the Taliban to give up bin Laden was a deceptive manipulation designed to make it appear as though his administration hadn't already decided to go to war.
Even though war with Afghanistan was not what bush actually desired. As noted by bush's official biographer, Mickey Herskowitz, bush was "thinking about invading Iraq in 1999", and that, if he had the chance to invade he would not "waste it". But because it was common knowledge that bin Laden was in Afghanistan and not Iraq, the American public wouldn't accept a war with Iraq... initially.
Case in point, Chief counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, thought Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was joking when "as early as the day after the attacks, Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, even though Al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan".
It was unavoidable; the path to war with Iraq went though Afghanistan. So bush bullied and insulted the Taliban into NOT giving up bin Laden, even though they were desperate to do so (to avoid being bombed). However, a war with Iraq would not be saleable if bin Laden was to actually be captured. So, when US forces came close to catching him at Tora Bora, Rumsfeld sidelined "the vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army", and sent "fewer than 100 U.S. commandos, working with Afghan militias" to track down bin Laden. As a result bin Laden and compatriots "walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan's unregulated tribal area".
This information is from a 11/30/2009 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, "Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed to Get Bin Laden and Why It Matters Today". An article from the UK's Guardian, "Rumsfeld Let bin Laden Escape in 2001, says Senate Report" suggests that Rumsfled's "incompetence" is to blame. Even though the article title contains the word "let", implying that it was on purpose. Obviously this is because it's an article about how bin Laden "escaped", not an article accusing Rumsfeld of treason.
The Senate report does, however, conclude "unequivocally that in mid-December 2001, Mr. bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, were at the cave complex, where Mr. bin Laden had operated previously during the fight against Soviet forces". It also "suggests that a larger troop commitment to Afghanistan might have resulted in the demise not only of Mr. bin Laden and his deputy but also of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban. Mullah Omar, who also fled to Pakistan in 2001, has overseen the resurgence of the Taliban", but that "fewer than 100 American troops committed to the area were not enough to block his escape".
So we're to believe that Rumsfled's "incompetence" is to blame, even though this was his second term as Defense Secretary (he served under President Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977)? Rumsfeld has plenty of experience, yet we were supposed to be worried about electing Barack Obama because of his lack of experience? This theory is completely unbelievable.
This explains why Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-New York), recently told MSNBC host David Shuster that the Bush administration "intentionally let bin Laden get away" in order to justify the Iraq war. When Schuster suggested, "That will strike a lot of people as crazy", Hinchey replied, "I don't think it'll strike a lot of people as crazy. I think it'll strike a lot of people as very accurate".
On 3/13/2002 (87 days after bin Laden "escaped") bush said, "So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him. And, again, I don't know where he is. I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him". Why wasn't bush concerned? bush wasn't concerned about bin Laden because he had escaped into Pakistan and was beyond our reach, and thus the possibility no longer existed that he might be captured, dead or alive, and foil bush's plans for invading Iraq.
->10/07/2001: Afghanistan Invaded.
->12/16/2001: bin Laden escapes during the Battle of Tora Bora.
->03/13/2002: bush says, "I truly am not that concerned about him (bin Laden)".
->03/20/2003: Iraq Invaded.
 Poll: Do you believe that the Bush/Cheney Administration made a conscious decision to let bin Laden get away at Tora Bora? by R. Donald Snyder, Newsvine 11/30/2009.
 Rumsfeld Order Allowed bin Laden's Escape by Gabriel Winant, Salon 11/30/2009.