Americans meet their favourite warlord to plan Tora Bora attack
By Philip Smucker in Jalalabad
The Telegraph (UK)
November 30, 2001
AMERICA is planning how best to attack the Tora Bora mountain cave complex where Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'eda leaders are believed to be hiding, it emerged yesterday.
Defence officials have met Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, the leading military commander in eastern Afghanistan, to discuss the assault.
Bin Laden fled to Tora Bora more than two weeks ago with his best fighters and could still be there, Afghan and western sources said.
Commander Ghamsharik, Washington's favourite warlord in the region, told The Telegraph that efforts to negotiate the surrender of the estimated 2,000 Arab and Chechen diehards in the base had failed.
Strolling in an orange grove at his Jalalabad base camp, he said: "They have refused all our overtures and we have begun to work on a plan of attack. I have always hated terrorism and will continue to hate it until the day I die. I also hate the prospect of war."
He said he had met a senior American defence official in Jalalabad, but did not to go into details.
Tora Bora, which can be seen from Jalalabad, rises from the desert, through hills and forests, into snow-capped peaks that lead to Pakistan.
A valley narrows into a labyrinth of caves, deep trenches and wooded cliffs, making it all but impregnable.
The Pentagon has said that Tora Bora is one of two places where it is hunting for bin Laden. But the American and British intelligence agencies are convinced that Tora Bora is his hideout, rather than in the area of Kandahar in the south.
Their belief is based on a welter of evidence, some collected by the SAS and American Delta Force soldiers and some in the form of signals and imagery intelligence from satellites and aircraft.
Some commanders have urged the Americans to blanket the base with incendiary bombs, but Commander Ghamsharik said he favoured a winter siege.
He stressed that his defences needed to be significantly strengthened before he could launch an attack. Opposing commanders still loyal to the Taliban and al-Qa'eda continue to hoard heavy armour.
"We are ready to fight as long as America and Britain watch our backs," a seasoned anti-Soviet fighter said.
Arab fighters have already launched guerrilla attacks on Jalalabad. Two "police officials" chasing a lorry with tinted windows were shot dead on Wednesday.
Rising tensions between Commander Ghamsharik and a mountain warlord have also begun to spill over into bloodshed.
Complicating any attempt to besiege Tora Bora, feuding warlords inside the Jalalabad city limits have failed to extend their control into the countryside south of the city, where Taliban and al-Qa'eda loyalists still control roads.
The siege idea may not appeal to western military planners for another reason: fighters in the base have boasted that they have enough supplies for a year.
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