The Taliban fled for the hills. Bin Laden, it seemed, would be cornered. Indeed, on Dec. 15, CIA operatives listening on a captured jihadist radio could hear bin Laden himself say "Forgive me" to his followers, pinned down in their mountain caves near Tora Bora.
As it happened, however, the hunt for bin Laden was unraveling on the very same day. As recalled by Gary Berntsen, the CIA officer in charge of the covert team working with the Northern Alliance, code-named Jawbreaker, the military refused his pleas for 800 Army Rangers to cut off bin Laden's escape. Maj. Gen. Dell Dailey, the Special Ops commander sent out by Central Command, told Berntsen he was doing an "excellent job," but that putting in ground troops might offend America's Afghan allies.
They've been making the claim that bin Laden is irrelevant ever since.
"Everybody wants to know where Osama bin Laden is. The next question is, who cares?" says one Defense Department official, reflecting an attitude widespread in Pentagon corridors.
Since that quote was made (in 2002), the impotent man has been involved in terrorist attacks against Tunisia, Bali, Mombasa, Casablanca, Istanbul, Egypt, London and Madrid and members of his organization have been intercepted planning attacks in Denmark, Scotland and Germany.
Maybe president Bush should be more concerned about his own inadequacy.