Pir Baksh Bardiwal, the intelligence chief for the Eastern Shura, which controls eastern Afghanistan, says he was astounded that Pentagon planners didn't consider the most obvious exit routes and put down light US infantry to block them.
"The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it," he said, leaning back in his swivel chair with a short list of the Al Qaeda fighters who were later taken prisoner. "And there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters, had the Americans acted decisively. Al Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet."
Indeed, Mr. Ali paid a lieutenant named Ilyas Khel to block the main escape routes into Pakistan. Mr. Khel had come to him three weeks earlier from the ranks of Taliban commander Awol Gul.
"I paid him 300,000 Pakistani rupees [$5,000] and gave him a satellite phone to keep us informed," says Mohammed Musa, an Ali deputy, who says Ali had firmly "trusted" Khel.
"Our problem was that the Arabs had paid him more, and so Ilyas Khel just showed the Arabs the way out of the country into Pakistan," Mr. Musa adds.
It's not like we were lacking troops in the area:
More than 2,000 US marines are on standby in the Arabian Sea and Pakistan for what may become the largest manhunt in history, the search for Osama bin Laden.
How did all this go wrong? Military planners at the top were distracted, as Bob Woodward's book, "Plan of Attack" describes (transcribed by topdog04, whose piece on this is worth reading):
When he was back at the Pentagon, two miles from the White House across the Potomac River in Virginia, Rumsfeld immediately had the Joint Staff begin drafting a Top Secret message to General Franks requesting a "commander's estimate," a new take on the status of the Iraq war plan and what Franks thought could be done to improve it. The general would have about a week to make a formal presentation to Rumsfeld.... (p. 5)
"Hey," Newbold said in his best take-notice voice, "I've got a real tough problem for you. The secretary's going to ask you to start looking at your Iraq planning in great detail - and give him a new commander's estimate."
"You got to be shitting me," Renuart said. "We're only kind of busy on some other things right now. Are you sure?"
"Well, yeah. It's coming. So stand by."
..."Hey, boss," Renuart said, reporting that a formal request of a commander's estimate was coming. "So we'd better get on it."
Franks was incredulous. They were in the midst of one war, Afghanistan, and now they wanted detailed planning for another, Iraq? "Goddamn," Franks said, "what the fuck are they talking about?" (p. 8)
In retrospect, it becomes clear that the battle's underlying story is of how scant intelligence, poorly chosen allies, and dubious military tactics fumbled a golden opportunity to capture bin Laden as well as many senior Al Qaeda commanders.