What was their method of fighting the war?
It seems to us [that they fought] how they have almost always fought. They
would attack each other, and then both sides would kind of like retreat some.
Basically it was almost like they would weaken each other down. Then whoever
was stronger would finally decide, "Hey, we're going to try to take this
ground." Basically, that's what happened. But they figured that, with our air
support, it was just happening much faster than I think they realized at first.
So like I said, after a few days, they started taking ground much quicker.
That's just how they've always fought, So it was kind of frustrating. But they
figured out that. Once you take ground, you got to hold it, and you got to push
forward then. They learned it pretty quick.
So why was it frustrating?
Just, you know, you're there fighting, and you want to get the job done. It was
frustrating to see ground taken and then given up, and then taking the same
ground the next day. But they figured out pretty quick that you don't want to
Were you guys saying to Ali or people, "Hey, you got to stay here?"
Yes. I mean, you advise them
Yes, you advise them -- just kind of like give them ideas about what he should
do. ... One of the biggest problems you have when you work with forces like
this -- indigenous-type forces -- is their logistic system. They don't have a
well-developed logistic system like we have. They don't have meals ready to
eat, our MREs, which we get taken in with us and eaten while we're on the move.
Pretty much all their meals either had to be prepared straight from either raw
materials or animals and what-not -- cooked freshly right there for them.
So a lot of the problems during the battle is, they'll go battle all day. Then
when they pull back, it's not like a retreat they're going from the enemy; it's
dinnertime. And the only way to get their dinner is they'd have to pull back to
eat. Then the enemy moves back forward and reoccupies position. Then they got
to go up there and try to retake it again.
Yes, it was a big, a big problem because it was it was Ramadan at the time.
They're not eating or drinking, really, all day. When it's their time to eat
and drink, they want to eat and drink. ...
So when they would go retreat each night, would you go with them? Or did you
stay up in the mountain?
We pretty much stayed in our positions the whole time. ... A lot of times when
they pulled back, that's when we started to heighten the close air support
quite a bit. We'd start bombing them areas real heavily in order to deny the Al
Qaeda from coming back into the mountains. So hopefully, the next day when they
start going back up there, not as many people would want to go back in there.
So Ali's troops could take the area more quickly the next day.
When they finally started staying up towards the front, how did they solve
the logistics problem? How did they eat dinner?
Once the Al Qaeda forces started thinning out, the men started moving forward,
where they could get a more secured area forward. As they were getting more
secured areas forward, then of course they'd bring forward at that time all
their food supplies, animals or what-not that they were using for food.
Did you have any contact with some of the other men there, like General
Zaman or some of the others? Or did you just work with General Ali?
General Ali was pretty much the commander in charge of the Tora Bora area. We
didn't have any other contacts with the other commanders. We'd probably seen
them come in, get their stuff from General Ali, and then they would head back
Were you aware of any rivalry?
No, we wasn't, not while we were out there. There is some, but none that we
thought had really affected the battle that was going on in. It was pretty much
all commanders there wanting the same thing: to get the Al Qaeda out of the
Did any of you sense beforehand when you were there that Ali and Zaman had a
bit of a rivalry going on?
After a few days of working with General Ali, we knew that there were other
commanders up there, other generals, who were working. I guess there was two.
To tell you the truth, I can't remember their names. They were supposed to be
all working together. But when we were trying to find out where other friendly
troops were beside General Ali's troops--so if we saw them, they wouldn't
become a target--we found that they had quite a bit of problem talking to each
other and figuring out where each other were, exactly.
So that took up some time. We'd have to wait and they'd talk on the radio,
trying to make coordinations. Some times they wouldn't want to tell each other
where they were. So it made a little bit harder on things. It would slow down a
little bit, but for safety's sake, so we wouldn't be bombing our allies. It did
seem like there was either some bad feelings towards each other, or some
animosity they had towards each other. But they finally decided to get the job
Then there was some more confusion later on, about one commander [calling a
cease-fire]. One of the interpreters that we did work with -- who we had with
us all the time -- came and said, "Stop. No more bombs." When he would do that,
usually it meant General Ali's troops were ready to move forward again. But it
turned out that we were like, "Why are we stopping for so long?" He's like,
"No, no. Don't drop any more." It turned out that one of the other commanders
had rigged up a bargain, I guess, to receive a large surrender. By the time
this came around to us, it had been a few hours. ...
So when they first came in and said, "Stop bombing," how do you figure out
what was going on?
We got word for from somewhere else -- which I can't talk about -- and we knew
we had to start keep bombing. I mean, we weren't just up there slinging bombs
around for no reason. You knew there was reasons why we were dropping bombs and
where we were dropping bombs. ...
One of the things with the cease-fire is that, [while] the cease-fires happen,
another commander was trying to negotiate this surrender. One of the parameters
that we had underneath our mission was that, to have a surrender, we had to
have a whole, total unconditional surrender of the personnel that was there.
They're wanting to surrender; they just want to surrender and then go back to
their country. That's what they wanted. They did not want to be prisoners or
anything like that. ... They wanted a complete "Can we just lay down our
weapons, you handle us, and just let us go back to wherever we came from, or go
back to our merry way?" So the order for the air strikes commenced after that.
One of the warlords, commanders, suggested Al Qaeda was going to surrender
to you guys.
No, they wanted to surrender to the Afghan forces, but not to us, in exchange
that all they do is lay down their weapons and then walk away. When that was
brought to our attention, it was, "No, it's a complete unconditional surrender,
and you are processed as prisoners."
... When we finally did resume bombing, we found out from General Ali's
commanders that they were very unhappy and they wanted to take all these
prisoners. But the problem with that is, what we were saying is, you don't know
where those people are going from there. They might just disappear. You don't
know, so they couldn't let that happen. If they were advancing and surrendering
as Ali's troops or another element was taking ground, that would be one thing.
But for everyone to mass, waste a lot of time and try to turn themselves over,
a lot of stuff could get moved; a lot of people could disappear. You never know
what's going to happen. We couldn't afford that
Another reason about the surrender, about them just walking away -- a lot of
people in the caves up there really wasn't Taliban; it was like hardcore Al
Qaeda. So you're just letting terrorists walk away, to attack you again another
day? In my mind, it's just stupid.
You guys didn't really have enough forces on the ground to really sort of
control that kind of surrender themselves?
No, we didn't. ...
It became a huge story back here, and the world said, "Oh, bin Laden's up
there. It's like the last stand." Were you aware of how big of a story it was
They say it was a big story, or a big battle. Well, I guess to us, any battles
are big. I mean, if you're getting shot at, or you're in combat, any battle is
big. To us, it was big in that sense, but it was just any other battle. We were
just there doing our job. So we didn't think nothing of it; just doing our job.
Did you have a sense or a hope that bin Laden might be up there?
A lot of media [has been] saying that we failed at Tora Bora. Well, we didn't
fail at Tora Bora. Our mission was to take Tora Bora cave complex. We didn't
let anybody get away. I mean, I haven't heard from bin Laden lately -- have
If he happened to be there-- It wasn't our mission to go there and look and
hunt him down. That was not our mission. Our mission was to support General
Ali's troops in getting rid of the pockets of resistance of Al Qaeda and
Taliban, and to go start the searches of the caves.
Again, with the caves, they weren't these crazy mazes or labyrinths of caves
that they described. Most of them were natural caves. Some were supported with
some pieces of wood maybe about the size of a 10-foot by 24-foot room, at the
largest. They weren't real big. I know they made a spectacle out of that, and
how are we going to be able to get into them? We worried about that too,
because we see all these reports. Then it turns out, when you actually go up
there, there's really just small bunkers, and a lot of different ammo storage
is up there.
But again, I was saying, it wasn't our mission to go up there. It was just
strictly to go after the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and not specifically Osama bin
Laden. We heard that it's a possibility that he would be there, because he
would frequently went there. There's a neighboring city, Jalalabad, and he
would go there also.
So it was possible we ran into him. It's possible that he would have been up
there. But other than that, there was nothing-- We weren't after him
Just on an emotional level, were you hoping that he was there and that you
might have killed him?
I think everyone was probably hoping that you might see his head peek up
somewhere, that they might find him or what have you. But then there's also a
big possibility that, if he happened to be there, that you might not ever find
him, because a lot of landslides buried a lot of caves. We buried a tank up
there under rock. If you can't find a tank-- They went digging for it, and they
couldn't find it. So if you can't even find a tank, how are you going to find a
person, if something like that got covered up? It's possible; maybe, maybe not.
Can you describe the terrain and the living conditions?
Most of the terrain of course is mountainous-type terrain there. After the
battle was concluded there ... we pretty much felt that the area was secured.
We started going and doing the initial stages of just walking through the area
and stuff. There was a large amount of areas where you could see it was just
devoid of any trees. Mountain-type terrain that used to be rock, and now is
just rubble. I've seen a lot of a few tanks up there. Most of the tanks were
destroyed and have huge craters beside them. ...
So the time frame that we were up there, of course, the elevations we were in
-- it was quite get quite cold at night. You welcomed the daylight, because you
get some warmth from the sun coming in. But after doing your job, doing your
mission, you're looking out for signs of Al Qaeda. As soon as you see any,
you'd call in air strikes against the positions. At night, you sit up there,
hoping to look for maybe an Al Qaeda campfire; someone might get too cold,
because it was starting to get real cold, and hopefully they might light up a
campfire [and we'd] see it. ...
As each day went by, during that time of the year, you could see how the snow
line from the other elevations just kept creeping down. So we knew that
eventually the snow is going to be coming upon us. So there's a lot of things
in your head: How much longer is this battle going to last? Are we going to be
fighting a winter battle here? Is this thing going to last longer than a few
more months? You're just not sure. So you just try to do the best you can, and
hopefully you know you get the outcome that you're looking for.
Did it all progress faster than you thought?
I think it even went faster than what they were even predicting, even for the
Afghanistan soldiers down there fighting against the Al Qaeda. Because once the
air strike started, you start softening up the areas after about a few days of
doing the initial fighting. In the mouth of the Tora Bora region, all of a
sudden they just took off. ... They started pushing real quick. They started
pushing back; the lines were thin Al Qaeda started retreating backward. They
started pushing real quick. In over like a three-day period, they pretty much
were all up in that area.
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