[I]n a forthcoming book, the CIA field commander for the agency's Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, says he and other U.S. commanders did know that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Qaeda and Taliban members. Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora -- intelligence operatives had tracked him -- and could have been caught. ...Bernsten's admission confirms several stories that were published back in 2002. Here are snips from three entries from the Complete 9/11 Timeline (with links to the actual articles):
[His account] backs up other recent accounts, including that of military author Sean Naylor, who calls Tora Bora a "strategic disaster" because the Pentagon refused to deploy a cordon of conventional forces to cut off escaping Qaeda and Taliban members. Maj. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman, says the problem at Tora Bora "was not necessarily just the number of troops."
November 16, 2001: Al-Qaeda, Taliban Leaders Reportedly Escape Afghanistan
According to Newsweek, approximately 600 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including many senior leaders, escape Afghanistan on this day. There are two main routes out of the Tora Bora cave complex to Pakistan. The US bombed only one route, so the 600 escaped without being attacked using the other route. Hundreds continue to use the escape route for weeks, generally unbothered by US bombing or Pakistani border guards. US officials later privately admit they lost an excellent opportunity to close a trap. [Newsweek, 8/11/02 (B)] On the same day, the media reports that the US is studying routes bin Laden might use to escape Tora Bora [Los Angeles Times, 11/16/01], but the one escape route is not closed, and apparently bin Laden and others escape into Pakistan using this route several weeks later ...November 28, 2001: Bin Laden Reportedly Escapes Tora Bora by Helicopter
A US Special Forces soldier stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, later (anonymously) claims that the US has bin Laden pinned in a certain Tora Bora cave on this day, but fails to act. Special Forces soldiers allegedly sit by waiting for orders and watch two helicopters fly into the area where bin Laden is believed to be, load up passengers, and fly toward Pakistan. No other soldiers have come forward to corroborate the story, but bin Laden is widely believed to have been in the Tora Bora area at the time. [Fayetteville Observer, 8/2/02] ... Newsweek separately reports that many locals "claim that mysterious black helicopters swept in, flying low over the mountains at night, and scooped up al-Qaeda's top leaders." [Newsweek, 8/11/02 (B)]Early December 2001: Battle for Tora Bora Is Called Charade
The Daily Telegraph later reports on the battle for Tora Bora around this time: "In retrospect, and with the benefit of dozens of accounts from the participants, the battle for Tora Bora looks more like a grand charade." Eyewitnesses express shock that the US pinned in Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, thought to contain many high leaders, on three sides only, leaving the route to Pakistan open. An intelligence chief in Afghanistan's new government says, “The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it. In addition, there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters had the Americans acted decisively. Al-Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/02] ... An Afghan intelligence officer says he is astounded that Pentagon planners did not consider the most obvious exit routes and put down light US infantry to block them. It is later widely believed that bin Laden escapes along one of these routes on November 30 or December 1, walking out with about four loyal followers. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/02; Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/02 (B)] Al-Qaeda's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also escapes the area. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/02]See also: November 14, 2001: Al-Qaeda Convoy Flees to Tora Bora; US Fails to Attack and Mid-November 2001: Afghan Politician Says Mohammed Atef US Policy Prevented bin Laden Capture.
This is big news, but Newsweek makes no mention of it on its cover.