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What's Tora Bora and why are people saying that the U.S. screwed up there?

Don't Panic!... Your war questions answered

Tora Bora is a fortress of mountain caves near Jalalabad, Afghanistan. When people say that the United States screwed up there, it's because they hate President Bush and the great men and women of our armed forces, and are out of touch with mainstream American values.

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Sorry, I've been watching Fox News again.

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Parts of the Tora Bora fortress date back to the '80s, that wacky decade when Osama bin Laden was our ally, Russia was our enemy, and our current president was too loaded to notice the difference. Legend has it that the CIA used Tora Bora to supply and train native Afghans and visiting Arab Mujahedin fighters (such as bin Laden himself) in their war against Soviet invaders.

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So what was the supposed screw-up that we've been hearing more about and will likely keep hearing more about until at least Nov. 3? It goes something like this:

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Back in the olden days of 2001, when the War on Terror (TM) was briefly directed at actual terrorists and sponsors of terrorists, we attacked Afghanistan. At first, it wasn't a full-on invasion. Instead, we used our air power and electronic intelligence-gathering skills to stage-manage the Northern Alliance rebels in their war against the evil, no-good, all-up-bin Laden's-backside Taliban.

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As you might have gathered from its name, the Northern Alliance's geographic stronghold before we stepped in to help them was northern Afghanistan. With our help, the Northern Alliance advanced across Afghanistan toward the Southeast. Southeast was also the direction in which several key Taliban and al-Qaedudes fled. Why is that, you may be asking yourself? Two reasons:

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First, to the southeast sat the ethnic Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban (who themselves are Pashtun) and al-Qaeda were far more likely to find friendly locals there than anywhere.

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Second, southeastern Afghanistan is also where Tora Bora is. If there was any place that the al-Qaedudes could hole up and attempt to fight off the Northern Alliance and the U.S., Tora Bora was it.

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Reports indicate that bin Laden headed to Tora Bora from nearby Jalalabad in mid-November 2001. The Christian Science Monitor reports that witnesses saw him departing in a white Toyota Corolla that he'd customized with an elongated hatchback for storage. (I wonder how you say "Pimp My Ride" in Arabic.)

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Anyway, before he left, bin Laden made sure to grease the palms of several area tribal leaders in case he needed their help with safe passage out of Tora Bora.

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Fast-forward a couple of weeks. The front line had advanced so that it was at Tora Bora. Here's the screw-up: Instead of sending in our Special Forces of the 10th Mountain Division, we held back. We paid locals to close Tora Bora's escape routes, including paths that led to nearby Pakistan. We also paid locals to go into Tora Bora and do ground assaulting for us while we sat back and dropped bombs. Don't get me wrong. They were great bombs. Great, wonderful, top-quality American ammunitions. But they didn't get bin Laden.

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By the way, it's not opponents of President Bush who first criticized our hesitation to use ground troops at Tora Bora. White House and U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged the mistake to The Washington Post in 2002, off the record, of course.

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While America waited, bin Laden cashed some of the checks he had on deposit with local tribal leaders and escaped to Pakistan on foot, either his or those of a donkey, sometime around late November 2001. Several of the people he passed on the way were people we paid to catch him. It turns out bin Laden paid some of them more.

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One report indicates that, to aid his escape, bin Laden gave his satellite phone to one of his bodyguards and sent him marching in the opposite direction with instructions to yap away so that U.S. surveillance would detect it and think it was him. The bodyguard was eventually found wandering toward Iran yelling over and over, "Can you hear me now?"

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andisheh@creativeloafing.com



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