The Battle of Tora Bora – in the White Mountains of Afghanistan – began on December 12, 2001 and lasted only five days. The battle was the first of US involvement in Afghanistan. The goal of the US and its allies was to find Osama bin Laden who was believed to have orchestrated the September 11th attack on the United States. The US turned their efforts towards Tora Bora when they received word that Osama bin Laden was hiding out in the mountainous area within a complex cave system.
Before the Battle
During the first part of December, helicopters dropped about 20 members of the US Special Forces (using the codename Jawbreaker) into the city of Jalalabad. By December 5th, Northern Alliance Afghan fighters managed to gain control of the lower ground (from al-Qaeda) situated just below the mountain caves. Those fighting for al-Qaeda moved higher into the mountains and prepared for battle. In an effort to further destroy the al-Qaeda, the allies brought in Air Force bombers to strike specific targets. Roughly a week later, reinforcements were brought in using special troops from the Army’s Delta Force A Squadron, the US Navy and the US Air Force.
With the assistance of the air strikes and the Allied Special Forces, the Northern Alliance fighters managed to continue making steady advancements, despite difficult terrain. Once al Qaeda felt defeat was imminent, they began negotiating with a local commander, asking for additional time for surrendering their arms. This move is now believed to have been a cover to stall the advancement so some of the main al-Qaeda (including bin Laden) could escape.
Fighting Breaks Out
On December 12th, fighting once again broke out in what was believed to be an attempt to buy additional time for the al-Qaeda forces to flee into Pakistan. Though al-Qaeda still fortified some of the mountainous areas, tribal forces with the backing of the US special operations troops, and the additional assistance of air support, continued to push forward throughout the various caves and bunkers located in the region.
US focus continued to increase in the Tora Bora area and the Taliban slow lost its stronghold. A number of military operations paid and organized a group of local militia to continue to attack the caves and bunkers while the allies continued with heavy bombing in the areas. On December 17th, the last of the caves were taken and the al-Qaeda defenders were besieged.
The US forces continued to search the mountainous region in an effort to locate any remaining al Qaeda and in hopes of finding bin Laden. This mission continued into January, 2001, but to no avail. While Afghanistan’s Battle of Tora Bora yielded results, Osama bin Laden and his top al Qaeda staff remained at large.