Intelligence Lapses or Flawed Strategy?
Pir Baksh Bardiwal, the intelligence chief for the Eastern Shura, which controls eastern Afghanistan, says he was astounded that Pentagon planners didn't consider the most obvious exit routes and put down light U.S. infantry to block them.
"The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it," he said, leaning back in his swivel chair with a short list of the Al Qaeda fighters who were later taken prisoner. "And there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters, had the Americans acted decisively. Al Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet."
The intelligence chief contends that several thousand Pakistani troops who had been placed along the border about December 10 never did their job, nor could they have been expected to, given that the exit routes were not being blocked inside Afghanistan.
The Proxy War is Launched
Meanwhile, back in Jalalabad, the Afghan warlords enlisted by the U.S. to attack Tora Bora were also cutting deals to help the Al Qaeda fighters escape.
In the shoddy lobby of the Spin Ghar Hotel in downtown Jalalabad on December 3, Haji Hayat Ullaha member of the Eastern Shura who, according to both Afghan and Pakistani sources had long ties to bin Ladenasked for the "safe passage" for three of his Arab friends.
After a 20-minute discussion with Commander Ali, which was overheard by the Monitor in the empty hotel lobby, a deal was struck for the safe passage of the three Al Qaeda members.
About the same day as the 10-day offensive was launchedon December 5nearly three-dozen U.S. special forces, their faces wrapped in black and white bandanas, watched the fighting unfold from behind boulders on mountainsides, their trusted laser target designators in hand. They were "painting" the mouths of caves and bunkers inside the complex. The U.S. bombing became markedly more accuratealmost overnight, according to Afghan civilians and local commanders.
The battle was joined, but anything approaching a "siege" of Tora Bora never materialized. Ghamsharik says today that he offered the US military the use his forces in a "siege of Tora Bora," but that the US opted in favor of his rival, Hazret Ali.
Indeed, Ali paid a lieutenant named Ilyas Khel to block the main escape routes into Pakistan. Khel had come to him three weeks earlier from the ranks of Taliban commander Awol Gul.
"I paid him 300,000 Pakistani rupees [$5,000] and gave him a satellite phone to keep us informed," says Mohammed Musa, an Ali deputy, who says Ali had firmly "trusted" Khel.