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Context of 'November 16, 2001: Some Al-Qaeda and Taliban Leaders Reportedly Escape Afghanistan'

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A Tora Bora cave used by al-Qaeda forces in December 2001.A Tora Bora cave used by al-Qaeda forces in December 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]According to Newsweek, approximately 600 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including many senior leaders, escape Afghanistan on this day. This is the first day of heavy bombing of the Tora Bora region (see November 16, 2001). There are two main routes out of the Tora Bora cave complex to Pakistan. The US bombs only one route, so the 600 are able to escape without being attacked using the other route. Hundreds will continue to use the escape route for weeks, generally unbothered by US bombing or Pakistani border guards. US officials later privately admit they lost an excellent opportunity to close a trap. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] On the same day, the media reports that the US is studying routes bin Laden might use to escape Tora Bora [Los Angeles Times, 11/16/2001] , but the one escape route is not closed, and by some accounts bin Laden and others escape into Pakistan will use this same route several weeks later (see November 28-30, 2001). High-ranking British officers will later privately complain, “American commanders had vetoed a proposal to guard the high-altitude trails, arguing that the risks of a firefight, in deep snow, gusting winds, and low-slung clouds, were too high.” [New York Times, 9/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

It is believed bin Laden makes a speech before a crowd of about 1,000 followers in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan. This village is on the route from Tora Bora to the Pakistani border, about eight to ten hours by walking. In his last known public appearance, bin Laden encourages his followers to leave Afghanistan, so they could regroup and fight again. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] It is believed he crosses the border into Pakistan a few days later (see November 28-30, 2001; November 28, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bin Laden made his last known public appearance on November 25, 2001, giving a speech in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border (see November 25, 2001). According to later interviews with many locals in the area, it is believed he and four loyalists cross the Pakistan border between November 28 and 30. [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] According to another account, bin Laden crosses the border at this time by helicopter instead (see November 28, 2001). His voice continues to be heard until December 10 on short wave radio transmissions in the Tora Bora enclave he had proportedly left. According to later interviews with loyalists, he calls from Pakistan to Tora Bora to urge his followers to keep fighting. But according to some eyewitness accounts, bin Laden is still in Tora Bora to make the radio transmissions, then leaves with about 30 followers by horseback. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Helaluddin Helal, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister in 2002 and 2003, later claims that he becomes convinced at this time that Pakistani ISI officers are protecting bin Laden. He says that he passes intelligence reports on the location of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but nothing is done in response. “We would tell them we had information that al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were living in specific areas. The Pakistanis would say no, you’re wrong, but we will go and check. And then they would come back and say those leaders are not living there. [The Pakistanis] were going to these places and moving the al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/9/2007] Some al-Qaeda leaders are captured during this time, but there are also reports that Taliban leaders are living openly in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001 and 2002-2006).

Entity Tags: Helaluddin Helal, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

NATO Commander Gen. James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, says that the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to profit from the sale of opium in Afghanistan. He says: “We’re losing ground. It affects the insurgency because there’s increasing evidence that a lot of funding goes from the narcotics traffickers to the criminal elements, to what’s left of al-Qaeda, to the Taliban and anyone else that wants to create mischief.” [ABC News, 9/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, James L. Jones

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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