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Afghan Campaign's Blueprint Emerges

It was a strained coalition of sometimes common interests, Tenet said. On top of that, its most charismatic leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, had been assassinated by two suicide bombers posing as journalists on Sept. 9, in what was believed to be an al Qaeda operation. Without Massoud, the Northern Alliance was more fractured and leaderless than ever.

But with the CIA teams and tons of money, the alliance could be brought together into a cohesive fighting force, Tenet said.

The president and war cabinet members knew the CIA was giving very limited financial and technical covert support to the Northern Alliance -- several million dollars a year -- under a previous intelligence order. The agency's paramilitary teams had periodically met clandestinely with alliance leaders over the past four years. Tenet said he could insert paramilitary teams inside Afghanistan with each warlord. Along with Special Forces teams from the U.S. military, they would provide "eyes on the ground" for further U.S. military action. American technological superiority could give the Northern Alliance a significant edge.

The CIA had been on the ground in Afghanistan for years and had engaged in developing a more aggressive approach toward bin Laden and the Taliban prior to Sept. 11. The Pentagon, by contrast, had not been asked or encouraged to do any new planning as part of this pre-Sept. 11 process. As a result, Pentagon thinking about fighting bin Laden was far more conventional -- to the frustration of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- at a time when Bush was looking for the unconventional.

Tenet was followed by Cofer Black, head of the CIA's counterterrorism center. Black, 52, a veteran covert operator, was one of the agency's legends, credited with helping in the 1994 capture of Carlos the Jackal, one of the most notorious international terrorists prior to bin Laden. Tall, well-dressed and almost hulking, Black was a bit of a throwback to the agency's earlier, more colorful days. Though Tenet was called George by almost everyone in the CIA, Black addressed him as "Mr. Director."

If Tenet had been businesslike in his presentation that morning, Black was theatrical in describing the effectiveness of covert action. Animated and enthusiastic about the plan's potential and the agency's capabilities, he kept popping up and down from his chair as he made his points, gesturing wildly, throwing paper onto the floor as he described putting forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

Black wanted the mission to begin as soon as possible, and he didn't have any doubt that it would succeed.

"You give us the mission," he said, "we can get 'em." At one point he threw his fist in the air.

"We'll rout 'em out," he said, echoing the president's public language about smoking out the terrorists from their caves.

"They'll have flies on their eyeballs," he said -- an image of death that left a lasting impression with a number of war cabinet members. Black became known in Bush's inner circle as "the flies-on-the-eyeballs guy."

It was a memorable performance, and it had a huge effect on the president, according to his advisers. For two days Bush had expressed in the most direct way possible his determination to track down and destroy the terrorists responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11. Now, for the first time, he was being told without reservation that there was a way to do this, that he did not have to wait indefinitely, that the agency had a plan.

Black's enthusiasm was infectious, and perhaps overly optimistic. It would never be quite as quick or as simple as he made it sound, but at that moment it was what the president wanted to hear. Bush was tired of rhetoric, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell thought; the president wanted to kill somebody.

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