After September 11, 2001, a team of elite Delta Force commandos was sent into Afghanistan with an assignment to find and kill Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora — but that mission failed.
The commander of the Delta Force team has now written a book which tells what he says is the true story of what went wrong. He appeared anonymously on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday to summarize that story.
Bin Laden was known to be holed up at Tora Bora on a ridge with an elevation of 14,000 feet. The Delta Force team’s initial plan was to come at him from the direction he’d least expect, climbing over the mountains at his back, but that plan wasn’t approved by the higher-ups. Their second idea, to drop hundreds of landmines along the mountain passes to Pakistan to impede bin Laden’s retreat and then bring in helicopters, was also turned down.
"How often does Delta come up with a tactical plan that’s disapproved by higher headquarters?" CBS’s Scott Pelley asked the commando leader.
"In my experience, in my five years at Delta, never before," he replied.
The only remaining option was a frontal assault by 50 US Delta Force members plus their Afghan guides — and the Afghan warlord accompanying the commandos frankly told them, "I don’t think you guys can handle it." A few million dollars from the CIA quickly secured his cooperation, but only to a degree.
The Delta Force leader told CBS that the Afghan fighters went home every night, abandoning whatever territory had been gained that day. "It was almost like it was an agreement, an understanding between the two forces fighting each other," he stated When the CIA did come up with an exact location on bin Laden, it was nighttime, and the Afghan support was nowhere to be found.
"It wasn’t worth the risk at that particular moment to go up there and play cowboy," the leader told CBS. "It was better to be cautious, refit, go up there with the entire force the next day and play the battle out as we had planned." But when he attempted to move on bin Laden the next day, his Afghan allies balked, saying they had negotiated a cease fire with al Qaeda, and even drew their weapons on the Delta force team to prevent it from acting alone.
Shortly thereafter, intercepted radio communications showed that bin Laden was on the move. A cave which al Qaeda members had been seen entering was bombed for several hours, and it was thought that bin Laden had died there. But when US forces checked the cave six months later, bin Laden’s body was not found. The Delta Force leader believes he received medical treatment in a local village and then got away safely into Pakistan.
CBS News had more details here.
This video is from CBS’ 60 Minutes, broadcast October 5, 2008.