August 13, 2006

War Sabotage Report

Shadow Boxing in the Caves of Tora Bora

Part 2: A Phantom Enemy, an Illusory Battle
– Continued from Part 1 –

U.S. Navy jet launching from aircraft carrier
U.S. Dept. of Defense
Racing into an Ambush: An F/A-18C Hornet takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during the Afghan war (Oct. 7, 2001).
If American forces had launched a coordinated offensive from land and air in the Tora Bora battle of the Afghan war, they would have quickly wiped out the so-called “Taliban” and “Al Qaeda” fighters holed up in those mountain caves. Even the inhospitable terrain and concealed guerrilla forces could have, at most, only slowed the American advance somewhat before the inevitable guerrilla defeat.

The Afghan Communists and their Soviet Russian overseers had to make sure American troops would only enter the fight gradually, bit by bit, enough to inflict the heaviest possible American casualties while preserving the guerrilla ability to keep fighting indefinitely. That was the ticket to pulling the U.S. into an endless, quagmire conflict without Americans waking up to realize they were being betrayed and could actually win at any time.

So Fabian Socialists in the Bush Administration agreed to limit the initial U.S. attack strictly to air power, while leaving the ground assault to Afghan militias. In effect, the U.S. was helplessly dependent on the Afghan soldiers for information on the targeting and effectiveness of its bombing, and had to hope the Afghans were fighting, rather than assisting, the enemy. But those “tribal warriors” were part of the Soviet Russian-armed Northern Alliance under its north-eastern commander, Haji Mohammed Zaman, having previously worked closely with the “Taliban” forces they were now promising to fight.1

Zaman’s militia proved treacherous every step of the way. They and their allies lured the U.S. into the Tora Bora battle with a flood of Usama bin Laden sightings, including a report of hearing Bin Laden’s voice on a local radio transmission, that ultimately turned out to be bogus; U.S. intelligence later concluded the reports had likely been “a ruse to mislead U.S. forces.”2 Zaman originally promised to flush out and defeat the Taliban guerrillas in a matter of weeks, but less than two weeks into the Tora Bora campaign, he was slyly changing his tune to claim the fight was “very, very difficult,” in his own words, and that it would take much longer than expected — thus creating cover for not fighting seriously at all.3

In fact, Zaman constantly stalled for time. A week before the U.S. air campaign began in Tora Bora, Zaman flatly refused to surround the area or cut off supply lines to the guerrillas until the U.S. gave him money and weapons, claiming he had none of his own — even though he was armed to the teeth with Soviet Russian guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and tanks.4 Then he delayed again by opening negotiations with the Taliban guerrillas even as the U.S. planes had started their bombing runs by the beginning of December, 2001.5 Four days into the battle, he finally started the fight, but only with a small exchange of gunfire that quickly ended.6 By the time they slowly escalated to firing artillery at bare hillsides a day later, the militia fighters were excusing their lack of aggressiveness as a humane act: “We are trying our best to get them alive,” explained one of Zaman’s officers.7

Again came a cease-fire just days later, just as Afghan miltia forces were advancing in the Tora Bora hills, with Zaman insisting the Taliban guerrillas were ready to surrender.8 That bought the guerrillas a full day to regroup, followed by yet another cease-fire and more negotiations the very next day.9 On and on it went, with new negotiations any time the Taliban guerrillas started to lose. When cease-fires became too controversial, Zaman simply pulled back his militia soldiers down the hills at night, allowing Taliban guerrillas to move back in and retake lost ground and thus starting the battle from scratch all over again the next day.10

Zaman’s Northern Alliance soldiers were meanwhile sabotaging the American air assault. They were caught repeatedly directing U.S. air strikes against false targets, inventing excuses — such as claiming that the bombs were falling too close to Zaman’s militia troops or that they were offending “Al Qaeda” fighters — to demand bombing halts, and issuing unconfirmable reports of alleged bombing successes to send American planes back home.11

Under the influence of such calculated disinformation, U.S. military officers came to believe the bombing was ineffective against stubborn Taliban units that somehow could not be dislodged from their positions. Before long, American forces were goaded into enough frustration to start dropping the largest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal: the daisy cutter, which ignites a fireball that clears a circle hundreds of yards in diameter. Daisy cutters were designed for clearing the jungles of Vietnam but were disappointingly ineffective in the already barren hills of Tora Bora.12 Each daisy cutter had required six weeks to build and the U.S. had only half a dozen in stock, yet at least four of the expensive bombs were wasted in Tora Bora amidst rising American confusion over the air campaign’s imagined failure.13

As the U.S. found itself depleting its valuable arsenal of high-power munitions apparently without results, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used the opportunity to begin slipping a small number of special operations soldiers into the Tora Bora valley to join the ground fight. Their numbers were tiny enough to prevent victory while opening the door to pulling more American troops into a lethal, no-win combat from cave to cave.

The battle of Tora Bora was shaping up to become the long-awaited ambush that would finally end American military supremacy. But unbeknownst to U.S. forces, a disastrous miscalculation by the Communists was causing their plans to crumble into ruins at the last possible moment.

– Continued in Part 3 –


1. Stack, M.K., “Fighters hunt former ally,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 6, 2001, pp. A1, A14.

2. Drogin, B. & Richter, P., “Bin Laden hunt enters Pakistan,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19, 2001, pp. A1, A15.

3. Stack, M.K., Murphy, K., & Daniszewski, J., “Taliban foe fears daunting cave war,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 10, 2001, pp. A1, A6.

4. Stack, M.K., “U.S. enlists tribal warriors to comb mountains for Bin Laden,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 29, 2001, p. A22; Stack, M.K., “Fighters hunt former ally,” Op cit.

5. Richter, P. & Marshall, T., “U.S. to probe bombing of hide-outs,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 4, 2001, p. A3.

6. Stack, M.K. & Hendren, J., “Gun battle starts attack on cave lair,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 5, 2001, pp. A1, A8.

7. Stack, M.K., “Fighters hunt former ally,” Op cit.

8. Stack, M.K. & Richter, P., “A truce in Tora Bora appears to falter,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 12, 2001, pp. A1, A16; Jaffe, G. & Champion, M., “Afghan forces overrun al Qaeda fighters holed up in caves in Tora Bora complex,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 12, 2001, p. A3.

9. Stack, M.K. & Kempster, N., “Anti-Taliban commanders issue a new ultimatum,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 13, 2001, pp. A1, A16-A17.

10. Stack, M.K. & Kempster, N., “Al Qaeda uses bait and switch,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 14, 2001, pp. A1, A5; Lamb, D. & Stack, M.K., “Al Qaeda fighters take hits, foes say,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 16, 2001, pp. A1, A17.

11. Williams, C.J., “New assaults raise fears along border of Afghanistan,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2002, p. A5; Stack, M.K., Murphy, K., & Daniszewski, J., Op cit.; Lamb, D. & Stack, M.K., Op cit.; Stack, M.K. & Kempster, N., “Al Qaeda uses bait and switch,” Op cit.

12. Cummins, C., “Afghan forces have captured Taliban officers,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 11, 2001, pp. A3, A4.

13. Richter, P. & Stack, M.K., “War now hunt for ‘man on the run’,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 11, 2001, pp. A1, A10-A11; Arkin, W.M., “Dropping 15,000 pounds of frustration,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 15, 2001, p. A10.