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War in Afghanistan

Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath

Project: War in Afghanistan
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According to author Ron Suskind, some time in November the US makes a deal with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan will seal off the passages to Pakistan from the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan where Taliban and al-Qaeda forces are expected to gather. In return, the US will give Pakistan nearly a billion dollars in new economic aid. Pakistan will fail to effectively seal the border in the next month (see December 10, 2001) and almost the entire force in Tora Bora will escape into Pakistan. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58]

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Pakistan-Afghan Relations, Pakistan Involvement, US Military Strategies and Tactics, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

Bin Laden gave a speech in front of about 1,000 supporters on November 10, 2001 in the town of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] On the night of November 13, a convoy of 1,000 or more al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters escapes from Jalalabad and reaches the fortress of Tora Bora after hours of driving and then walking. Bin Laden is believed to be with them, riding in one of “several hundred cars” in the convoy. The US bombs the nearby Jalalabad airport, but apparently does not attack the convoy. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The Northern Alliance captures Jalalabad the next day. [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

Hazrat Ali.Hazrat Ali. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, warlords in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, both later claim that they are first approached in the middle of November by US officers and asked to take part in an attack on Tora Bora. They agree. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] By late November, the US-allied warlords assemble a motley force of about 2,500 Afghans supported by a fleet of old Russian tanks at the foot of the Tora Bora mountains. They are poorly equipped and trained and have low morale. The better-equipped Taliban and al-Qaeda are 5,000 feet up in snow-covered valleys, forests, and caves. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] On December 3, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor overhears Ali in a Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hotel making a deal to give three al-Qaeda operatives safe passage out of the country. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The US chooses to rely mainly on Hazrat Ali’s forces for the ground offensive against Tora Bora. Ali supposedly pays one of his aides $5,000 to block the main escape routes to Pakistan. But in fact this aide helps Taliban and al-Qaeda escape along these routes. Afghan villagers in the area later even claim that they took part in firefights with fighters working for Ali’s aide who were providing cover to help al-Qaeda and Taliban escape. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Author James Risen later claims, “CIA officials are now convinced that Hazrat Ali’s forces allowed Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants to flee Tora Bora into Pakistan. Said a CIA source, ‘We realized those guys just opened the door. It wasn’t a big secret.’” While the US will never publicly blame Ali for assisting in the escape, the CIA will internally debate having Ali arrested by the new Afghan government. But this idea will be abandoned and Ali will become the new strongman in the Jalalabad region. [Risen, 2006, pp. 168-169] CIA official Michael Scheuer later will comment, “Everyone who was cognizant of how Afghan operations worked would have told Mr. Tenet that [his plan to rely on Afghan warlords] was nuts. And as it turned out, he was.… The people we bought, the people Mr. Tenet said we would own, let Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Michael Scheuer, Hazrat Ali, Al-Qaeda, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

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

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

November 16, 2001: Tora Bora Battle Begins

A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region.A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Gary Bernsten]Heavy US bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban and al-Qaeda mountainous stronghold near the Pakistani border, begins. A large convoy containing bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Tora Bora about three day earlier. The son of a tribal elder later recalls, “At first, we thought that the US military was trying to frighten the Arabs out, since they were only bombing from one side.” Rather than send in US ground forces in large numbers, the US chooses to supply two local warlords and have their fighters do most of the fighting while heavy bombing continues. Within days, a small number of US special forces are brought in to assist the local warlords. One of the warlords chosen, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, was actually living in exile in France and has to be flown to Afghanistan. He is “known to many as a ruthless player in the regional smuggling business.” Between 1,500 to 2,000 of bin Laden’s fighters are in Tora Bora when the battle begins. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] There are two main mountain passes out of Tora Bora and into Pakistan. From the beginning on this day, eyewitnesses report that the US bombs only one pass. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] The fighting and bombing will continue through early December (see December 5-17, 2001) while bin Laden and most of his forces escape via the other pass (see November 28-30, 2001).

Entity Tags: United States, Al-Qaeda, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

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

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation

US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001.US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001. [Source: Earnie Grafton / Agence France-Presse]A force of about 1,200 US marines settles in the countryside around Kandahar, Afghanistan. This will make up nearly the entire US force actually on the ground in the country during the war to remove the Taliban from power. Over the previous week, CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton had been in contact with Gen. Tommy Franks and other military leaders at CENTCOM, arguing that “the back door was open” in Tora Bora and the troops should go there instead. But Franks responded that the momentum of the CIA’s effort to corner bin Laden could be lost waiting for the troops to arrive. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58] The marines will end up being largely unused in the Kandahar region while bin Laden will escape from Tora Bora. In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden, will claim that Franks “was either badly misinformed by his own people or blinded by the fog of war. I’d made it clear in my reports that our Afghan allies were hardly anxious to get at al-Qaeda in Tora Bora.” [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] The Afghan allies the US relies on to find bin Laden will actually help him escape (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Hank Crumpton, Thomas Franks, US Department of the Marines, Gary Berntsen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation

A US Special Forces soldier stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, later (anonymously) claims that the US has bin Laden pinned in a certain Tora Bora cave on this day, but fails to act. Special Forces soldiers allegedly sit by waiting for orders and watch two helicopters fly into the area where bin Laden is believed to be, load up passengers, and fly toward Pakistan. No other soldiers have come forward to corroborate the story, but bin Laden is widely believed to have been in the Tora Bora area at the time. [Fayetteville Observer, 8/2/2002] Newsweek separately reports that many locals “claim that mysterious black helicopters swept in, flying low over the mountains at night, and scooped up al-Qaeda’s top leaders.” [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day this story is reported, months after the fact, the media also will report a recent spate of strange deaths at the same military base in Fayetteville. Five soldiers and their wives died since June 2002 in apparent murder-suicides. At least three were Special Forces soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan. [Independent, 8/2/2002] Other reports indicate that bin Laden crosses the border into Pakistan by foot instead (see November 28-30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation

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

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, Pakistan Involvement, US Invasion, Occupation

Abdullah Tabarak.Abdullah Tabarak. [Source: Public domain]As US forces close in on Tora Bora, bin Laden’s escape is helped by a simple ruse. A loyal bodyguard named Abdallah Tabarak takes bin Laden’s satellite phone and goes in one direction while bin Laden goes in the other. It is correctly assumed that the US can remotely track the location of the phone. Tabarak is eventually captured with the phone while bin Laden apparently escapes. Tabarak is later put in the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Interrogation of him and others in Tora Bora confirm the account. [Washington Post, 1/21/2003] This story indicates bin Laden was still at least occasionally using satellite phones long after media reports that the use of such phones could reveal his location (see February 9-21, 2001). The US will consider Tabarak such a high-value prisoner that at one point he will be the only Guantanamo prisoner that the Red Cross will be denied access to. However, in mid-2004 he will be released and returned to his home country of Morocco, then released by the Moroccan government by the end of the year. Neither the US nor the Moroccan government will offer any explanation for his release. The Washington Post will call the release of the well-known and long-time al-Qaeda operative an unexplained “mystery.” [Washington Post, 1/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Abdallah Tabarak, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath

Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. [Source: Confidential source via Robin Moore]According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA continues to press President Bush to send US troops to surround the caves in Tora Bora where bin Laden is believed to be hiding. It is about a 15 square-mile area. The CIA issued similar warnings a few weeks earlier (see Late November 2001). Suskind relates: “A fierce debate was raging inside the upper reaches of the US government. The White House had received a guarantee from [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf in November that the Pakistani army would cover the southern pass from the caves (see November 2001). Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld felt the Pakistani leader’s assurance was sound. Classified CIA reports passed to Bush in his morning briefings of early December, however, warned that ‘the back door is open’ and that a bare few Pakistani army units were visible gathering near the Pakistani border.… Musharraf, when pressed by the White House, said troop movements were slow, but not to worry-they were on their way.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74] But again, no US troops are sent, and Pakistani troops fail to arrive in time. Bin Laden eventually will escape into Pakistan (see Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, CIA Intel, Military Operations

Groups of reporters watch US bombing in the Tora Bora region.Groups of reporters watch US bombing in the Tora Bora region. [Source: CNN]Only about three dozen US soldiers take part in the Tora Bora ground offensive (see December 5-17, 2001). Author Peter Bergen will later comment, “If Fox and CNN could arrange for their crews to cover Tora Bora it is puzzling that the US military could not put more boots on the ground to find the man who was the intellectual author of the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, there were probably more American journalists at the battle of Tora Bora than there were US troops.” [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Peter Bergen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Media Coverage and Responses, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation

Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis.Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis. [Source: US Navy]About 4,000 US marines have arrived in Afghanistan by now. Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of these troops, is convinced his forces can seal the Tora Bora area to trap bin Laden there. Around this date, Mattis argues strongly to his military superiors at Centcom that his troops should fight at Tora Bora, but he is turned down. The New York Times will later report that the Bush administration will eventually secretly conclude “that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines—along with their failure to commit US ground forces to Afghanistan generally—was the gravest error of the war.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: James N. Mattis, US Central Command

Category Tags: Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics

US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region.US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Banded Artists Productions] (click image to enlarge)Around December 5, 2001, about three-dozen US special forces position themselves at strategic spots in the Tora Bora region to observe the fighting. Using hand-held laser target designators, they “paint” targets to bomb. Immediately the US bombing becomes more accurate. With this improved system in place, the ground battle for Tora Bora begins in earnest. However, as the Christian Science Monitor later notes, “The battle was joined, but anything approaching a ‘siege’ of Tora Bora never materialized.” No other US troops take part, and US-allied afghans fight unenthusiastically and sometimes even fight for the other side (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Tora Bora battle will end with a victory for the US-allied forces by December 17, 2001 (see December 17, 2001). However, the Daily Telegraph will later report, “In retrospect, and with the benefit of dozens of accounts from the participants, the battle for Tora Bora looks more like a grand charade.” Eyewitnesses express shock that the US pinned in Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, thought to contain many high leaders, on three sides only, leaving the route to Pakistan open. An intelligence chief in Afghanistan’s new government says, “The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it. In addition, there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters had the Americans acted decisively. Al-Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had promised to seal off the Pakistani side of the border near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in return for considerable US economic aid (see November 2001). But Musharraf spent two weeks negotiating with tribal chieftains on the border before starting the deployment. Around December 10, two brigades begin to take up positions along the border. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002] However, Pakistan does not seal several important parts of the border. The regions of North and South Waziristan, Dir, Chitral, and Balochistan have no Pakistani army presence whatsoever. Bin Laden and many other al-Qaeda leaders likely escape into Waziristan, where they begin to rebuild al-Qaeda (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The CIA intercepts communications between Pakistani officers warning not to harass any foreign fighters entering Waziristan. Several US officers will later tell Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid that they suspect Pakistan deliberately failed to guard these regions in order to allow the fighters to escape. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 148] On December 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says of this border region, “It’s a long border. It’s a very complicated area to try to seal, and there’s just simply no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] But armed gunmen storm the Indian Parliament on December 13, and a group based in Pakistan and allied with al-Qaeda is blamed (see December 13, 2001). Tensions suddenly rise between India and Pakistan, and Musharraf halts troop deployments to the Afghan border. The border near Tora Bora still is not adequately guarded by Pakistan when the battle of Tora Bora ends on December 17. Less than 100 stragglers entering Pakistan around December 19 are captured by Pakistani forces, but a number of these subsequently escape. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: United States, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Pakistan-Afghan Relations, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, Pakistan Involvement, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics

Haji Zaman Ghamsharik  speaking to reporters on December 16, 2001.Haji Zaman Ghamsharik speaking to reporters on December 16, 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]US-allied warlord Haji Zaman Ghamsharik makes radio contact with some al-Qaeda commanders in Tora Bora and offers a cease-fire so bin Laden can negotiate a surrender. The other US-allied warlord, Hazrat Ali, is also in secret talks with al-Qaeda and acquiesces to the deal. The US military is reportedly furious, but the fighting stops for the night. US intelligence later concludes that about 800 al-Qaeda fighters escape Tora Bora that night during the cease fire. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other rival Afghan commanders in the area later accuse Ghamsharik of accepting a large bribe from al-Qaeda so they can use the cease fire to escape. [New York Times, 9/30/2002] There are other accounts that the US-allied warlords helped instead of hindered al-Qaeda (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, Hazrat Ali, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics

US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001.US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001. [Source: Romeo / Gacad Agence France-Presse]According to author Ron Suskind, on this date bin Laden makes a broadcast on his shortwave radio from somewhere within Tora Bora, Afghanistan. He praises his “most loyal fighters” still fighting in Tora Bora and says “forgive me” for drawing them into a defeat. He says the battle will continue “on new fronts.” Then he leads a prayer and leaves Tora Bora. Suskind says, “With a small band, he escaped on horseback toward the north. The group, according to internal CIA reports, took a northerly route to the province of Nangarhar—past the Khyber Pass, and the city of Jalalabad—and into the province of Konar. That day and the next, much of the remaining al-Qaeda force of about 800 soldiers moved to the south toward Pakistan.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74-75 Sources: Ron Suskind] A radio had been captured by US allied forces some days earlier, allowing the US to listen in to bin Laden’s communications (see Late October-Early December 2001). In another account, a professional guide and former Taliban official later claims to have led bin Laden and a group of about 30 at this time on a four day trip into Pakistan and then back into a different part of Afghanistan. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Still other accounts have bin Laden heading south into Pakistan at this time instead (see Mid-December 2001). An article in the British Daily Telegraph entitled “Bin Laden’s voice heard on radio in Tora Bora” will appear the very next day, detailing some of these communications. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath

US intelligence and Pentagon officials admit having lost track of Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in the Northwest of Afghanistan. “The chatter stopped,” says John Stufflebeem. According to commanders of the Northern Alliance, as many as 500 al-Qaeda members might still be at large. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/18/2001] The same day, Rumsfeld says he has heard that there were 30 or 31 persons being held in custody around Tora Bora as of December 16. It is unclear whether any high-ranking al-Qaeda members are among them. Meanwhile, a detention center is being built at Kandahar. [Associated Press, 12/17/2001]

Entity Tags: John Stufflebeem, Donald Rumsfeld, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation

Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001.Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001. [Source: Getty Images]US-allied forces declare that the battle of Tora Bora has been won. A ten-day ground offensive that began on December 5 has cleared out the remaining Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Tora Bora. The Afghan war is now widely considered to be over. However, many will later consider the battle a failure because most of the enemy escapes (see December 5-17, 2001), and because the Taliban will later regroup. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Christian Science Monitor later reports that up to 2,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda were in the area when the battle began. The vast majority successfully fled, and only 21 al-Qaeda fighters were finally captured. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] US intelligence analysts later estimate that around 1,000 to 1,100 al-Qaeda fighters and an unknown number of leaders escaped Tora Bora, while Pakistani officials estimate 4,000 fighters plus 50 to 80 leaders escaped (see October 2004). [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Ron Suskind will suggest in 2006 that there were just over 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban in the area, and of those, 250 were killed or captured. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 75 Sources: Ron Suskind] Bin Laden left the area by December 15, if not earlier (see December 15, 2001 and Mid-December 2001). It is believed that al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also escaped the area around the same time. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

The Washington Post reports, “The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit US ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda,” allowing bin Laden to escape. The newspaper claims that while the administration has failed to acknowledge the mistake publicly, “inside the government there is little controversy on the subject.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2002] The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denies this, and states he did not know at the time of the assault, “nor do I know today of any evidence that he was in Tora Bora at the time or that he left Tora Bora at the time or even where he is today.” [USA Today, 4/18/2002] Apparently, Rumsfeld soon forces the removal of Cofer Black from his position of head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division, because Rumsfeld thinks Black leaked information for this damning Washington Post article (see May 17, 2002).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, US Military Strategies and Tactics, Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath

In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Battle of Tora Bora and Aftermath, US Military Strategies and Tactics

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