Losing bin Laden at Tora Boro
And, it was no surprise to the American operatives on the ground that bin Laden would escape. For weeks, Gary Berntsen, the top CIA officer in Afghanistan, pleaded for eight hundred Army Rangers to seal the six-by-six square mile sierra of Tora Bora. Then-colonel John Mulholland, the commander of the Special Forces A-teams in Afghanistan, was “concerned about the inadequacy of the force to the mission at hand.” General James Mattis, who commanded twelve hundred Marines at Camp Rhino near Kandahar, asked to reposition his forces to seal the border at Tora Bora. And, more than one thousand troops from the Tenth Mountain Division lay ready at Bagram Air Base near Kabul and Kharshi Khanabad in Uzbekistan.
Instead, the military opted to send forty additional Army special operators to Tora Bora.
When the opportunity came to kill bin Laden and decimate al Qaeda, less than one hundred special operations forces were deployed to pursue bin Laden in Tora Bora. Over those five days, hundreds – if not thousands – of al Qaeda and Taliban operatives crossed effortlessly into Pakistan and disappeared.
The failure to prevent the escape of al Qaeda and the Taliban into Pakistan represented a catastrophic blunder that allowed America’s enemies to survive 2001. General Tommy Franks rebuffed numerous requests to reinforce the U.S. contingent because he believed that the light footprint model that so effectively pushed the Taliban from the cities of Afghanistan would be appropriate for the mission at Tora Bora. But this model of warfare was neither designed nor suitable for cordoning off swaths of land and capturing or killing the enemies within that region. Franks's errors showed that he did not understand the distinction between displacing the enemy and destroying it.The civilian leadership also failed to intervene and order the troops into position to cordon off the area making it much more difficult for bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders to escape. Mattis and his Marine could have done the job and the Rangers could also done it. The Afghans Franks was relying on were obviously not up to the task.