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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Bin Laden 'fled Tora Bora'
An Afghan fighter watches as smoke rises from a bomb dropped from a US fighter jet
Officials say US troops should have entered Tora Bora
Osama Bin Laden escaped from the Tora Bora cave complex in Afghanistan despite American bombing because the United States failed to send in ground troops, an American newspaper has reported.


We have high confidence that he was there, and also high confidence, but not as high, that he got out

US official
The Washington Post quoted US military officials as saying that intelligence gathered from captured al-Qaeda fighters and intercepted communications indicated that the Saudi militant was in the cave complex when bombing began on 30 November last year.

"We messed up by not getting into Tora Bora sooner and (by) letting the Afghans do all the work," an official said.

"We didn't put US forces on the ground, despite all the brave talk, and that is what we have had to change since then."

Major blow

Intelligence suggested that Bin Laden had given a speech to remaining fighters around 3 December, and he is thought to have escaped a few days later, officials said.

US General Tommy Franks
Franks: feels using anti-Taleban fighters was "the right thing to do"

"We have high confidence that he was there, and also high confidence, but not as high, that he got out," one official told the paper.

The failure to capture Bin Laden, wanted for the 11 September attacks in Washington and New York, is seen as a major blow to the US war on terror.

The Washington Post said officials had criticised the top US field commander in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, for running the war from central command in Florida, not Afghanistan itself.

They argued that this meant he was unable to view the operation from the same perspective as those on the ground.

"No-one had the big picture," one official told the paper.

'Nothing convincing'

The officials also criticised the general's policy of using local Afghan troops, saying that corrupt local militias had failed to seal off the country's border with Pakistan as promised.

They also said that some colluded to allow al-Qaeda fighters through border posts.

But a spokesman for General Franks said the US military "have never seen anything that was convincing to us" regarding the possible escape or death of Bin Laden.

The spokesman, Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, also told the paper that General Franks "still thinks that the process he followed of helping the anti-Taleban forces around Tora Bora ... was absolutely the right thing to do".

See also:

16 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan king finally going home
17 Apr 02 | South Asia
UK troops destroy al-Qaeda caves
15 Apr 02 | Americas
Tape 'shows 11 September hijacker'
23 Mar 02 | South Asia
Anaconda 'killed off' key militants
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