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Battle of Tora Bora

1 Battle

The Battle of Tora Bora was a military engagement that

took place in Afghanistan from December 6, 2001 to December 17, 2001, during the opening stages of the War in
Afghanistan launched by the United States following the
September 11 attacks. The U.S. and its allies believed
that Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, was hiding in the mountains at Tora Bora.
The allied forces overran Taliban and al-Qaeda positions
and heard bin Ladens voice in intercepted radio transmissions several times, but they failed to kill or capture
him. Bin Laden escaped to the Federated Tribal Areas of
Pakistan, where he would stay for nearly a decade before
being located and killed by Navy SEALs of the United
States Navy Special Warfare Development Group in May

US air strikes on Tora Bora, November or December 2001

Tora Bora (Pashto: , black cave) is a cave

complex situated in the White Mountains of eastern
At the end of 2001, al-Qaeda ghters were still holding
Afghanistan, near the Khyber Pass.
out in the mountains of the Tora Bora region. Aerial
In 2001, the United States and its allies suspected the
bombardment ensued, including the use of large bombs
complex was being used by al-Qaeda and was the locaknown as daisy cutters.[1][2][3][4][5]
tion of the commander Osama bin Laden's headquarters.
It was variously described as a multi-storied cave complex On December 3, 2001, a group of 20 U.S. CIA Naharnessing hydroelectric power from mountain streams, tional Clandestine Service (NCS) and 5th Special Forces
or a lower-rise dwelling with hotel-like corridors capable Group (Airborne) (SFG[A]) ODA572 team members,
of sheltering more than 1,000 people. It was said to con- code-named Jawbreaker, were inserted by helicopter in
tain a large cache of ammunition, such as Stinger missiles Jalalabad, Afghanistan to begin an operation against
left over from the 1980s. Based on a description leaked them. On December 5, 2001, Afghan Northern Alfrom government source, national US newspapers carried liance ghters wrested control of the low ground below
a cartoon drawn of the complex. Donald Rumsfeld, Sec- the mountain caves from al-Qaeda ghters. The Jawretary of Defense, displayed the cartoon in a discussion breaker team and SF teams equipped with laser markers
(known as laser designators in the U.S. military) called in
of Tora Bora on Meet the Press in October 2001.
Air Force bombers to take out targets; non-stop heavy air
In the early 1980s, the United States CIA ocers had
strikes including laser-guided bombs and missiles lasted
assisted the mujahideen in extending and shoring up the
for 72 hours.[6] The al-Qaeda ghters withdrew to higher
caves in Operation Cyclone to use for resistance during
fortied positions and dug in for the battle. Approxithe Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The US then supmately a week later, 70 special forces operators from the
ported their eort, and it was not until several years later
Army Delta Force's A Squadron, Navy DEVGRU, and
that the Taliban formed and took control of the counAir Force STS arrived overland by vehicle to support the
try, enforcing fundamentalist rule. Several cave areas
bombing campaign with ground forces. Two British SBS
were used in much earlier periods, as the dicult terrain
Commandos were embedded with A Sqn Delta, and have
formed a natural defensive position and had been used
described the battle as erce but one sided. During the
by tribal warriors ghting foreign invaders since ancestral
hours of darkness, the al-Qaeda ghters would light res,
which would reveal their specic location and aid laserThe British journalist Abdel Bari Atwan, author of The designated targeting for air-launched weapons.
Secret History of Al Qaeda (2006), had visited Bin Laden
The Northern Alliance ghters continued a steady adat Tora Bora in 1996. He wrote that at the time, bin Laden
vance through the dicult terrain, backed by air strikes
lived in a humble cave with basic heating equipment.
and U.S. and British Special Forces. Facing defeat, alQaeda forces negotiated a truce with a local Afghan
militia commander to give them time to surrender their

weapons. In retrospect, however, some critics believe that
the truce was a device to allow important al-Qaeda gures, including Osama bin Laden, to escape.[7]
On December 12, 2001, the ghting ared again, possibly
initiated by a rear guard buying time for the main forces
escape through the White Mountains into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Tribal forces backed by U.S. special
operations troops and air support pressed ahead against
fortied al-Qaeda positions in caves and bunkers scattered throughout the mountainous region. Twelve British
SBS commandos, and one British Royal Signals Specialist
from 63 Signals squadron (now known as 18SFUK), accompanied the U.S. special operations forces in attacking
the cave complex at Tora Bora. Special Forces Operators
of the German KSK took part in the battle as well. They
were reportedly responsible for protecting the anks in
the mountains and conducted reconnaissance missions.[9]
The U.S. focus increased on the Tora Bora. Local tribal
militias, paid and organized by Special Forces and CIA
SAD paramilitary, numbering over 2,000 strong, continued to mass for an attack as heavy bombing continued of
suspected al-Qaeda positions.[10]
Matthew Forney of Time Magazine reported on December 11, 2001 that the allied forces did not nd massive bunkers but small outposts and a few minor training camps. He said reporters were allowed to see the
rough bunkers deep in the mountains, which were still
remarkable. [11]


Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives ... but Mr. bin Laden was never within
our grasp.[16] "
Franks retired in 2003, but had commanded U.S. forces
in Afghanistan at the time.
Many enemy ghters made their escape in the rough terrain and slipped away into the tribal areas of Pakistan to
the south and east. Allied forces estimated that around
200 of the al-Qaeda ghters were killed during the battle, along with an unknown number of anti-Taliban tribal
ghters. No coalition deaths were reported.[16]
In 2009, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations under John Kerry's chairmanship reviewed
the failed attempt to capture or kill Osama bin Laden
in the mountains of Tora Bora and placed the blame
with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General
Tommy Franks for not assembling enough U.S. troops
to seal the mountainous area during the operation. After studying the matter, the Committee came to a conclusion that Osama bin Laden most likely was present at
Tora Bora and his subsequent escape prolonged the war
in Afghanistan.[16]

2 Furys account

By December 17, 2001, the last cave complex had been

taken and their defenders overrun.[12] US forces continued searching the area into January, but did not nd any
signs of bin Laden or the al-Qaeda leadership. According to his book published in 2005, the former CIA ocer, Gary Berntsen, led the CIA team (consisting primarily of CIA Paramilitary Ocers from Special Activities
Division) in Afghanistan tasked with locating bin Laden
during the armed conict.[13]
In his book Jawbreaker (2005), Berntsen said that his
team had pinpointed bin Ladens location. He wrote
that a number of al-Qaeda detainees later conrmed
that bin Laden had escaped into Pakistan via an easterly route through snow-covered mountains to the area of
Parachinar, Pakistan. He believed that bin Laden could
have been captured at the time if the United States Central Command had committed the troops which Berntsen
had requested.[13] In a 2005 interview, the former CIA ofcer Gary Schroen concurred with Berntsens opinion.[14]
Pentagon documents suggest bin Laden escaped at Tora

The rst US team to enter the Tora Bora mountain range

A former Delta Force commander, using the pen name

Dalton Fury, who fought at Tora Bora, wrote that bin
Laden escaped into Pakistan on or around December 16,
2001. Fury gives three reasons for why he believes bin
Laden was able to escape: (1) the US mistakenly thought
that Pakistan was eectively guarding the border area,
In an October 2004 opinion article in The New York (2) NATO allies refused to allow the use of air-dropped
Times, General Tommy Franks wrote,
GATOR mines, which would have helped seal bin Laden
and his forces inside the Tora Bora area, and (3) overWe don't know to this day whether Mr.
reliance on native Afghan military forces as the main
bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001.
force deployed against bin Laden and his ghters. Fury
Some intelligence sources said he was; others
states that, as it was Ramadan, the Afghan forces would
usually leave the battleeld in the evenings to break their
indicated he was in Pakistan at the time...Tora

day-long fasts. He suggested this allowed the al-Qaeda US and Canadian forces returned and checked several
forces a chance to regroup, reposition, or escape.[17]
caves in the area, nding remains of al-Qaeda ghters,
In an October 2008 interview on 60 Minutes, Fury said but not of bin Laden. Fury thought that bin Laden was
that his Delta Force team and CIA Paramilitary O- injured during the bombing of the cave, but was hidden,
out of the area into Pakcers traveled to Tora Bora after the CIA had identied given medical care, and assisted
bin Ladens location. Furys team proposed an operation
to attack bin Ladens suspected position from the rear,
over the 14,000 foot-high mountain separating Tora Bora
from Pakistan. He said unidentied ocials at higher
headquarters rejected his proposal. Fury suggested dropping GATOR mines in the passes leading away from Tora
Bora, but this was also denied. Fury and his team approached the suspected position from the front and were
within 2,000 meters, but withdrew because of uncertainty
over the number of al-Qaeda ghters and a lack of support from allied Afghan troops.[18]

3 Guantanamo captives accounts

of the battle
U.S. authorities have justied the continued detention of
several dozen Afghan Guantanamo captives by the suspicion they had participated in the battle of Tora Bora, had
been present during the battle, or had passed through the
area of the battle before or after it concluded, or helped
Osama bin Laden to escape.[20]
In September 2007, Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batar, a
Yemeni medical doctor held as an enemy combatant by
the United States, was reported to have described the conditions during the battle:[21]
Most of all the total guns in the Tora
Bora area was 16 Kalashnikovs and there are
200 people.[21] He also said, He [Osama bin
Laden] came for a day to visit the area and we
talked to him and we wanted to leave this area.
He said he didn't know where to go himself and
the second day he escaped and was gone.[21]

Delta force operators disguised as Afghan civilians.

4 Aftermath

A short time later, the Afghan military forces declared

a cease re with al-Qaeda. In his 2008 book, Kill bin
Laden, Fury described the following. His team planned
to advance again on the al-Qaeda forces, but after the
cease-re, Afghan soldiers drew their weapons on the US
soldiers. After 12 hours of negotiations, the Afghans
stood down, but bin Laden and his bodyguards had left.
Fury reports that his team intercepted and interpreted radio calls by bin Laden in the afternoon of December 13,
2001. He said to his ghters, the time is now, arm your
women and children against the indel. Then, after a few
hours of bombing, bin Laden broke radio silence again,
saying: Our prayers were not answered. Times are dire
and bad. We did not get support from the apostate nations who call themselves our Muslim brothers. Things
might have been dierent. Fury said that Bin Ladens
nal words to his ghters that night were I'm sorry for American and British soldiers and ocers wore native Shalwar
getting you involved in this battle, if you can no longer kameez dress to nd Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora, 2001.
resist, you may surrender with my blessing.[19]
During his interview on 60 Minutes to discuss his book,
Fury said that his team saw a group whom they believed
to be bin Laden and his bodyguards entering a cave. The
team called down several bombing attacks on the site, and
believed that they had killed bin Laden. Six months later,

Following Tora Bora, U.S. and U.K. forces and their

Afghan allies consolidated their position in the country.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda forces did not give up and
went into hiding. A Loya jirga or grand council of major Afghan factions, tribal leaders, and former exiles, an

interim Afghan government, was established in Kabul under Hamid Karzai. Mullah Saifur Rehman, a Taliban
fugitive in Paktia province, began rebuilding some of his
militia forces in support of the anti-US ghters. They totaled over 1,000 by the beginning of Operation Anaconda
in March 2002. The insurgents planned to use the region
as a base for launching guerrilla attacks and possibly a
major oensive in the style of the mujahedin during the

death of Osama bin Laden, who was living in a compound in the city of Abbottabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
province, Pakistan. He was killed by a US Navy SEAL
raid on the urban compound.

5 Tora Bora fortress

Tora Bora was variously described by the western media to be an impregnable cave fortress housing 2000 men
complete with a hospital, a hydroelectric power plant, ofces, a hotel, arms and ammunition stores, roads large
enough to drive a tank into, and elaborate tunnel and ventilation systems.[25] Both the British and American press
published elaborate plans of the base. When presented
with such plans in an NBC interview on Meet the Press,
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense, said,
This is serious business, theres not one of those, there
In 2009, a U.S. Senate report concluded that the failure are many of those.
to capture bin Laden "[laid] the foundation for todays When Tora Bora was eventually captured by the U.S.,
protracted Afghan insurgency and inaming the inter- British and Afghan troops, no traces of the supposed
nal strife now endangering Pakistan.[23] Al-Qaeda forces 'fortress were found despite painstaking searches in the
began regrouping in the Shahi-Kot mountains of Paktia surrounding areas. Tora Bora turned out to be a system of
Province throughout January and February 2002.
small natural caves housing at most, 200 ghters. While
arms and ammunition stores were found, there were no
traces of the advanced facilities claimed to exist.[28][29]
U.S. forces established their main base at Bagram Air
Base just north of Kabul. They used Kandahar International Airport as an important base for accepting and distributing supplies and personnel. Several outposts were
established in eastern provinces to hunt for Taliban and
Al-Qaeda fugitives. The number of U.S. troops operating in the country would eventually grow to more than
10,000 as eorts against the Taliban and al-Qaeda were

In an interview published by the Public Broadcasting Service, a Sta Sergeant from the U.S. Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 572, who had been in
the Battle of Tora Bora described the caves:

British special force member (right) with Afghan mercenaries in

Tora Bora, 2001.

In December 2009, New Republic published Peter

Bergen's The Battle for Tora Bora[24] In his critique
of the battle, Bergen reconstructed the U.S. allies engagement at Tora Bora. He said that General Tommy
Franks, then U.S. Army chief, refused to deploy 800
Army rangers from nearby bases to assault the complex
of caves where bin Laden was supposedly hiding. Bergen
characterized this as one of the greatest military blunders in recent US history.[24] Bergen says that the US
failure to capture bin Laden at the time provided energy
to the Taliban. It regrouped and became stronger after
U.S. ocials diverted forces for the invasion of Iraq in
March 2003 and war there.
U.S. intelligence agencies continued to track bin Laden.
On May 2, 2011, President Barack Obama conrmed the

Again, with the caves, they weren't these

crazy mazes or labyrinths of caves that they
described. Most of them were natural caves.
Some were supported with some pieces of
wood maybe about the size of a 10-foot by 24foot room, at the largest. They weren't real big.
I know they made a spectacle out of that, and
how are we going to be able to get into them?
We worried about that too, because we see all
these reports. Then it turns out, when you
actually go up there, theres really just small
bunkers, and a lot of dierent ammo storage
is up there. Je, Sta Sgt. ODA 572[30]

6 See also
War in Afghanistan (1978present)
British Special Forces
CIA's Special Activities Division
Operation Anaconda
Osama Bin Laden

Death of Osama Bin Laden

[16] Kerry, John. Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed to Get

Bin Laden and Why It Matters Today. Report to Members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States
Senate, John Kerry, Chairman. One Hundred Eleventh
Congress, First Session, November 30th, 2009. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2009.

U.S. Armys Delta Force

War in Afghanistan (2001present)

[17] Lynch, Stephen, "The Most Dangerous Game: What went

wrong in the hunt for bin Laden", New York Post, October
5, 2008, p. 34


[1] The Mother Of All Bombs - how the US plans to pulverise Iraq. openDemocracy. 2003-03-07. Retrieved

[18] Efran, Shawn (producer), "Army Ocer Recalls Hunt For

Bin Laden", 60 Minutes, CBS News, October 5, 2008
[19] Fury, Dalton. Kill bin Laden, p. 233, 2008.

[2] Guardian. Guardian. 2001-12-11. Retrieved 2014-0118.

[3] Grant, Rebecca.
Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 2014-01-18.


[4] ABC News. Retrieved 2014-01-18.

[5] Rothkopf, David. Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
[6] The CIA Museum
[7] Biddle, Stephen D. Afghanistan and the Future of Warfare
Implications for Army and Defense Policy. Carlisle, PA:
Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2002.
[8] Ibrahim, Raymond. The al-Qaeda Reader, 2007. p. 245
[9] Article in German. 2013-02-27. Retrieved
[10] Krause, Peter John Paul. The Last Good Chance: A
Reassessment of U.S. Operations at Tora Bora. Security
Studies, Volume 17, p. 644-684, 2008.
[11] Matthew Forney (December 11, 2001). Inside the Tora
Bora Caves. Time magazine. Retrieved December 21,
2009. For the rst time, the infamous man-made caves
of Tora Bora were thrown open. These weren't the vestar accommodations with internal hydroelectric power
plants and brick-lined walls, areas to drive armored tanks
and childrens tricycles, and tunnels like capillaries that
have captured the worlds imagination. Such commodious quarters might exist higher in the White Mountains,
but these were simply rough bunkers embedded deep into
the mountain. They were remarkable nonetheless.
[12] Cordesman, Anthony H. The Lessons of Afghanistan: War
Fighting, Intelligence, and Force Transformation. Washington, D.C.: CSIS Press, 2002.

[20] Burke, Jason. Guantnamo Bay les rewrite the story of

Osama bin Ladens Tora Bora escape. The Guardian, 25
April 2011.
[21] Yemeni describes bloody siege on Al Qaida. Gulf
News. September 8, 2007. Retrieved September 11,
2007. A doctor who treated wounded Al Qaida ghters in
Afghanistans Tora Bora has said Osama Bin Laden was
in the mountains as coalition troops attacked.
[22] Laura King. Fighting erupts in Afghanistans Tora Bora
mountains between NATO, insurgent forces Los Angeles
Times, December 30, 2010.
[23] Senate Report Explores 2001 Escape by bin Laden From
Afghan Mountains, New York Times, November 28, 2009
[24] Bergen, Peter (2009-12-22). The Battle for Tora Bora:
The Denitive Account of How Osama Bin Laden Slipped
From Our Grasp | New Republic. Retrieved
[25] Steve Rose. The hunt for bin Laden Tora Bora. The
Guardian (UK). Retrieved September 8, 2011.
[26] Adam Curtis (Director) (October 20 November 3,
2004). The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (TV documentary). BBC Two. Retrieved
September 8, 2011.
[27] Steve Rose (May 4, 2011). Why did Osama bin Laden
build such a drab HQ?". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved
September 8, 2011.
[28] Edward Jay Epstein (December 11, 2001). The Lair of
bin Laden. Retrieved September 8, 2011.
[29] Matthew Forney (December 11, 2001). Inside the Tora
Bora Caves. Time. Retrieved September 8, 2011.
[30] Campaign Against Terror: Interview: U.S. Special
Forces ODA 572. PBS. Retrieved September 8, 2011.

[13] Gary Berntsen, Jawbreaker (2005)

[14] Transcript for May 8, 2005 Guests: Gary Schroen, former senior CIA agent, author; James Carville; and Mary
Matalin. MSNBC. 8 May 2005.
[15] Mike Mount, U.S. document suggests bin Laden escaped
at Tora Bora, CNN, 24 March 2005

8 Further reading
Jawbreaker: The attack on bin Laden and al-Qaeda,
Gary Berntsen, Three Rivers Press ISBN 0-30735106-8, Published December 24, 2006 (paperback).

Online map and picture The Washington Post. December 10, 2008.
The Long Hunt for Osama Peter Bergen, The Atlantic Monthly. Oct. 2004
Tora Bora John Bowman, CBC News Online. Dec.
The Tora Bora Fortress Myth? Edward Epstein, The
Times. November 29, 2001
Lost at Tora Bora Mary Anne Weaver, the New
York Times. September 11, 2005
How bin Laden got away Phillip Smucker, The
Christian Science Monitor. March 4, 2002
Michael R. Gordon (December 23, 2001). A NATION CHALLENGED: SURVIVORS; On Tora
Bora, Horror Rained On Al Qaeda. New York
Times. Retrieved February 1, 2008.
Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed To Get bin
Laden And Why It Matters Today US Senate majority report, November 30, 2009
Bergen, Peter. The Battle for Tora Bora. The New
Republic. Archived from the original on 2013-0508. Retrieved 15 July 2013.

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