So: Was al Qeada's leader at Tora Bora? According to a widely-reported background briefing by Pentagon officials in mid-December 2001 there was "reasonable certainty" that bin Laden was indeed at Tora Bora, a judgment based on intercepted radio transmissions. Moreover, Luftullah Mashal, a senior official in Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, told me that based on conversations he had with a Saudi al Qaeda financier and bin Laden's chef, both of whom were at the battle, bin Laden was at Tora Bora. And Palestinian journalist, Abdel Bari Atwan, a consistently accurate source of information about al Qaeda, has reported that bin Laden was wounded in the shoulder at Tora Bora. Indeed, in an audiotape released on al Jazeera television last year bin Laden himself recounted his own memories of the battle. "We were about three hundred holy warriors. We dug one hundred trenches over an area of one square mile, so as to avoid the huge human losses from the bombardment." In short, there is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.
That being the case: Did the U.S. military screw up a golden opportunity to capture bin Laden, during the one moment in the past three years that his location was known? There is no debating the fact that US "outsourced" the Tora Bora operation to local Afghan warlords. ...
Why did the United States military--the most powerful armed force in history-- not seal off the Tora Bora region, instead relying only on a handful of US Special Forces on the ground? Historians will no doubt be debating that question for many years, but part of the answer is that the US military was a victim of its own success. Scores of US Special Forces soldiers calling in air-strikes, in combination with thousands of Afghans on the ground, overthrew the Taliban in a few weeks of fighting; a textbook case of unconventional warfare. However, this approach was a failure at Tora Bora where large numbers of Americans on the ground were needed to throw up an effective cordon around al Qaeda's leaders.
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