Tora Bora Battle Continues
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2001 The Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex south of Jalalabad is the focus of fighting between opposition groups and Al Qaeda foreign fighters, Pentagon officials said Dec. 12.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that U.S. special operations forces are with the opposition forces and are providing combat air support. He showed F-18 and F-14 strikes on Al Qaeda forces in the Jalalabad area.
Pace said AC-130 gunships have also provided firepower to support opposition groups in the area. "As you know, the AC-130 is a very precise weapon system and they have been effective," Pace said.
He said reports that Al Qaeda forces have been cornered in one mountain in Tora Bora are premature. "I would not characterize it that way," he said. "We still have a long way to go. We have gone into this battle with the intent of eliminating the Al Qaeda leadership and eliminating the Taliban leadership and leaving behind an Afghanistan that is free from terrorists operating in their territory. There's still work to be done."
He said opposition forces are encountering resistance as they attempt to clear the complex. The valley is several miles long and was a redoubt for the mujaheddin during the war with the Soviets. He said he is not aware if U.S. forces are engaging in direct ground combat, "but anytime you have a service member on the ground, even if you think the front line is a mile away or 10 feet away, things can happen to your side and behind you," he said. "It's not inconceivable that they are in direct combat, but I'm not aware they have been."
He said it is possible that some Al Qaeda or Taliban may be able to escape from the Tora Bora area. It is located near the border with Pakistan and is extremely mountainous with many paths. He said fighters in groups of "two or three or 15 to 20" could walk out. Pace said U.S. forces are using sensors and liaison with opposition forces to "capture or kill as many of (the Al Qaeda) as we can."
He also said U.S. forces are in Kandahar providing support. The major Taliban units have surrendered in the area and U.S. forces are in the city. "U.S. forces are with the opposition leaders as they consolidate their control of Kandahar," he said.