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Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed To Get Bin Laden And Why It Matters Today

A Report To Members Of The Committee On Foreign Relations United States Senate

John F. Kerry, Chairman
NOVEMBER 30, 2009



  1. One 15,000-pound bomb: “Daisy Cutter bomb produced flurry of intel,” United Press International, December 12, 2001; Benjamin Lambeth, Air Power Against Terror: America’s Conduct of Operation Enduring Freedom, p 149 (RAND, Santa Monica, 2005).
  2. Bin Laden expected to die: Al-Majallah Obtains Bin Laden’s Will,” Al- Majallah, October 27, 2002.
  3. Fewer than 100: Accounts of the small American troop presence and Tora Bora and the requests for reinforcements are plentiful. The CIA commander in Afghanistan at the time, Gary Berntsen, wrote in his book Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda (Crown, New York, 2005) about his re­quests for 800 Army Rangers and his disputes with the military over its re­ fusal to provide the troops. In his book, Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Com­ mander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man, (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2008) Dalton Fury said one of the key mistakes by U.S. commanders was not committing enough conventional troops to the battle at Tora Bora and not using U.S. forces to seal the escape routes. Writing an arti­cle, entitled “Lost at Tora Bora,” in The New York Times Magazine on Sep­ tember 11, 2005, Mary Anne Weaver said that Brig. Gen. James Mattis, the commander of at least 1,200 Marines at a base outside Kandahar in Novem­ ber 2001, was convinced his troops could seal off Tora Bora. Michael E. O’Hanlon said the U.S. Central Command made preparations for sending sev­eral thousand troops to Tora Bora but rejected the plan in “A Flawed Master­ piece,” Foreign Affairs, Volume 81 No. 3 (March/April 2002) p.57–58.
  4. On December 16: Berntsen, pp 307–308. The date of bin Laden’s escape re­ mains imprecise. In his book, Fury concluded that bin Laden had fled Tora Bora by December 17, when U.S. troops entered the complex. Peter Bergen, the last American to interview bin Laden and highly regarded authority on Al Qaeda, told the Committee staff that bin Laden left around December 14. Other accounts put the date on or around December 16, the end of Ramadan.
  5. Rumsfeld said at the time: O’Hanlon, p 57. For a thorough discussion of the Afghan model and its reliance on the CIA and special operations forces, see Henry A. Crumpton, “Intelligence and War 2001–2002,” Transforming U.S. Intelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2005).
  6. There were enough: Peter John Paul Krause, “The Last Good Chance: A Reassessment of U.S. Operations at Tora Bora,” Security Studies, pp 644–684, Volume 17, 2008. Krause’s well-documented article is the most thorough ex­ amination of the alternatives available to military commanders at Tora Bora. For a broader overview of the Afghan model, see Stephen Biddle, Afghanistan and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2003).
  7. For example, CIA: Committee staff interview with Fury, October 2009; Berntsen, pp 314–315.
  8. Franks’ second-in-command: Michael DeLong, Inside CentCom: The Un­ varnished Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, pp 57–58 (Regnery Publishing, Chicago, 2004).
  9. “All source reporting: U.S. Special Operations Command History, p 101, sixth edition, March 2008 ( history6thedition.pdf). The history was first published in 2007, but the inter-net link here is to the most recent edition; the section on Tora Bora is un­changed from the 2007 version.
  10. In the middle of August: Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, The Man From Pakistan: The True Story of the World’s Most Dangerous Nuclear Smug­ gler, pp 263–264 (Twelve Books, New York, 2007). George Tenet, At the Cen­ ter of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, p 266 (HarperCollins, New York, 2007).


  1. The first reports: The 9/11 Commission Report, Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, pp 259–260.
  2. Only a handful of senators: U.S. Senate records and Committee staff inter­ view.
  3. Less than a month: The 9/11 Commission Report, pp 261–263.
  4. Bin Laden’s movements: Hamid Mir, “Osama claims he has nukes: If US uses N-arms it will get same response,” Dawn, November 10, 2001.The article included a photo of Mir with bin Laden. Hamid Mir, “How Osama bin Laden escaped death four times after 9/11,” The News, September 11, 2007. Philip Smucker, “A day-by-day account of how Osama bin Laden eluded the world’s most powerful military machine,” The Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 2002.
  5. After pressure: Steve Coll, The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the Amer­ ican Century, pp 461–462 (The Penguin Press, New York, 2008).
  6. U.S. intelligence had: Tenet, p 225.
  7. Outside experts like: Committee staff interview with Peter Bergen, October 2009.
  8. “He’s got a large: ABC News Prime Time, Diane Sawyer interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, November 29, 2001.
  9. Bin Laden’s presence: Fury; staff interviews with Fury and one of his col­ leagues who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about classified matters, October and November 2009.
  10. Fury, who still uses: Staff interview with Fury.
  11. Another special: Staff interview with the Delta Force participant referenced in Note 19.
  12. Afghan villagers: Staff interview with Fury. In another staff interview, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer confirmed elements of the information, including the agency’s use of push-button GPS devices.
  13. On December 9: “Daisy Cutter bomb produced flurry of intel;” Lambeth, p 149; Fury, p 153, p 225; Berntsen, p 295.
  14. But later reports: Staff interview with the former CIA counter-terrorism of­ ficer who described the interrogation report of a detainee from Tora Bora.
  15. At one point: Staff interview with Fury; various press reports.
  16. “There is no doubt: Fury, p 281, a view he repeated in his staff interview.
  17. A “summary of: “U.S. holding man who allegedly helped terror leader flee Tora Bora,” Associated Press, March 23, 2005.
  18. Another confirmation: Berntsen, p 86.
  19. “We needed U.S. soldiers: Ibid., pp 306–307.
  20. “We could have: Richard Leiby, “Knocking on Osama’s Cave Door,” The Washington Post, February 16, 2006.
  21. “Unfortunately, many: NBC News Meet the Press, Tim Russert interview with Gary Schroen, May 10, 2005.
  22. In his memoir: DeLong, pp 56–59.
  23. “To make matters: Ibid.
  24. On October 19: Tommy Franks, “War of Words”, The New York Times, Octo­ ber 19, 2004.
  25. Two weeks after: Michael DeLong, “Setting the Record Straight on Tora Bora,” The Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2004.
  26. DeLong said: Committee staff interview with DeLong, October 2009.
  27. The section opens: U.S. Special Operations Command History, p 97.
  28. In the concluding: Ibid., p 101.
  29. Franks declined: E-mail response from Michael T. Hayes, admin@tommy , October 27, 2009.


  1. Writing in Foreign Affairs: O’Hanlon, pp 47–63.
  2. When it came: Weaver, “Lost at Tora Bora;” Smucker, “A day-by-day account of how Osama bin Laden eluded the world’s most powerful military machine.”
  3. Haji Ghamsharik: Fury, pp 217–218.
  4. The Special Operations: U.S. Special Operations Command History, p 100; staff interview with Fury.
  5. Despite the unreliability: Staff interview with Fury; CBS New 60 Minutes, “Elite Officers Recalls Bin Laden Hunt,” October 5, 2008.
  6. According to Bob: Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, p 8 (Simon & Shuster, New York, 2008).
  7. In his memoir: Tommy Franks, American Soldier, p 315 (Regan Books, New York, 2004).
  8. In his memoir: Tenet, pp 226–227.
  9. According to author: Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, pp 58–59 (Simon & Shuster, New York, 2006).
  10. On December 14: Fury, pp 270–275.
  11. “I think it was: PBS Frontline, “Campaign Against Terror,” October 2, 2002.
  12. Bin Laden himself: Bin Laden audio and translation provided by the Intel Center at
  13. “Everyone who was: PBS Frontline, “Campaign Against Terror.”
  14. The Special Operations: U.S. Special Operations Command History, p 97.
  15. “In general: Staff interview with Fury.


  1. In the years following: Michael A. Cohen, ‘‘The Powell Doctrine’s Enduring Relevance,” World Politics Review, July 22, 2009.
  2. The most detailed: Krause, “The Last Good Chance: A Reassessment of U.S. Operations at Tora Bora.”
  3. “My opinion: Staff interview with Fury.
  4. The effectiveness of U.S. special: U.S. Special Operations Command His­ tory, p 100.
  5. Krause proposed: Krause, pp 657–661.
  6. O’Hanlon estimated: O’Hanlon, p 57.
  7. Assembling the troops: Ibid. , p 53, 58; Krause, pp 655–657; various press accounts.
  8. Lt. Col. Paul Lacamera: Philip Smucker, Al Qaeda’s Great Escape, p 83 (Po­ tomac Books, Washington DC, 2004).
  9. The commander of the Marines: Weaver, “Lost at Tora Bora.” The Pen­ tagon declined to make General Mattis, who remains on active duty, available to the Committee for an interview.
  10. One former officer: Staff interview with DeLong.
  11. Former U.S. military: Committee staff interviews with former intelligence and military officers who requested anonymity because the matter remains classified, October and November 2009.
  12. DeLong defended: Staff interview with DeLong.
  13. Bruce Riedel: Scott Shane, “A Dogged Taliban Chief Rebounds, Vexing U.S.,” The New York Times, October 11, 2009.
  14. Closer to home: David Johnston and Eric Schmitt, “Small Terrorism Plots Pose Threat, Officials Say,” The New York Times, November 1, 2009.

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