Behold, he shall come up and fly as the eagle, and spread his wings over Bozrah (Borah): and at that day shall the heart of the mighty men of Edom be as the heart of a woman in her pangs.(Jer.49:22)
At the end of 2001, al-Qaeda fighters were still holding out in the mountains of the Tora Bora region.
On December 3, 2001, a group of 20 U.S. CIA NCS and 5th SFG(A) ODA572 team members of the code name Jawbreaker were inserted by helicopter in Jalalabad, Afghanistan to begin the operation. On December 5, 2001, Afghan Northern Alliance fighters wrested control of the low ground below the mountain caves from al-Qaeda fighters. The Jawbreaker team and SF teams called in Air Force bombers to take out targets. The al-Qaeda fighters withdrew to higher fortified positions and dug in for the battle. Approximately a week later, 70 special forces operators from the Army's Delta Force's A Squadron, Navy, and Air Force arrived overland by vehicle to support the already ongoing bombing campaign operation with ground forces.
The Northern Alliance fighters continued a steady advance through the difficult terrain, backed by air strikes and U.S. and British Special Forces. Facing defeat, al-Qaeda forces negotiated a truce with a local militia commander to give them time to surrender their weapons. In retrospect, however, many believe that the truce was a ruse to allow important al-Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden, to escape.
On December 12, 2001, the fighting flared again, possibly initiated by a rear guard buying time for the main force's escape through theWhite Mountains into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Once again, tribal forces backed by U.S. special operations troops and air support pressed ahead against fortified al-Qaeda positions in caves and bunkers scattered throughout the mountainous region. Twelve BritishSBS commandos, and one British Royal Signals Specialist from 63 Signals squadron now known as 18SFUK, accompanied the U.S. special operations forces in the attack on the cave complex at Tora Bora. Special Forces Operators of the German KSK took part in the battle as well. They were purportedly responsible for the protection of the flanks in the Tora Bora mountains and conducted reconnaissance missions.
As the Taliban teetered on the brink of losing their last bastion, the U.S. focus increased on the Tora Bora. Local tribal militias, paid and organized by Special Forces and CIA SAD paramilitary operations officers, numbering over 2,000 strong, continued to mass for an attack as heavy bombing continued of suspected al-Qaeda positions.
By December 17, 2001, the last cave complex had been taken and their defenders overrun. No massive bunkers were found, only small outposts and a few minor training camps.
A search of the area by U.S. forces continued into January, but no sign of bin Laden or the al-Qaeda leadership emerged. Former CIA officer Gary Berntsen, who led the CIA team (consisting primarily of CIA Paramilitary Officers from Special Activities Division) in Afghanistan that was tasked with locating Osama bin Laden, claims in his 2005 book Jawbreaker that he and his team had pinpointed the location of Osama bin Laden. Also according to Berntsen, a number of al-Qaeda detainees later confirmed that bin Laden had escaped Tora Bora into Pakistan via an easterly route through snow covered mountains to the area of Parachinar, Pakistan. He also claims that bin Laden could have been captured if United States Central Command had committed the troops that Berntsen had requested. Former CIA officer Gary Schroen concurs with this view and Pentagon documents are suggestive.
In an October 2004 opinion article in The New York Times, Gen. Tommy Franks wrote, "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time...Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives ... but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp." Franks, who retired in 2003, was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time. The last time Osama bin Laden was overheard on the VHF radio was on December 14, 2001. In 2008 Andy McNab, the pseudonym of a former SAS trooper echoed the claims of Berntsen, claiming that the Coalition were, "within a whisker" of capturing bin Laden at Tora Bora.
Many enemy fighters made their escape in the rough terrain and slipped away into the tribal areas of Pakistan to the south and east. It is estimated that around 200 of the al-Qaeda fighters were killed during the battle, along with an unknown number of anti-Taliban tribal fighters.