Not going after Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora has cost the US tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of US lives and will cost hundreds of billions more before the US sees an end to our involvement. Based on declassified reports and the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee findings, there seems little doubt it was a colossal "mistake." A mistake created by changing the focus from Afghanistan to Iraq from the start. The US took its eye off its primary target to pursue a different and unnecessary objective. The target escaped, and no one at the top cared. The contradictions, the misinformation, and the refusal to provide information by the Bush Administration appear driven by the political impetus to avoid accountability or responsibility. Evidence indicates a lack of good leadership skills as the principle culprit for this disaster.
The recent Senate Foreign relations report (http://foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Tora_Bora_Report.pdf) finds the US did have Osama bin Laden pinned down at Tora Bora from late November possibly up to December 15, 2001. A standard military maneuver when dealing with small armed groups is to "block and sweep," block their escape and sweep out the area by killing or capturing the enemy. So why would a standard military maneuver not be followed with regard to Osama bin Laden and Tora Bora? General Tommy Franks repeatedly stated as late as October 19, 2004 in a New York Times op-ed that "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; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp." That comes after a Washington Post April 7, 2002 piece that reported the Administration had concluded the failure to commit combat troops to Tora Bora was a mistake. It was after bin Laden himself confirmed his own presence in Tora Bora in February 11, 2003. It was after the Special Operations Command review of the Tora Bora battle concluded that bin Laden was in Tora Bora in December 2001 (Tora Bora Report, p.16).
The recent Senate Foreign relations report shows there was highly credible evidence from the Delta Force Commander code-named "Dalton Fury" on the ground that bin Laden was in Tora Bora. From on the ground CIA paramilitary commander Gary Bernstein, bin Laden was in Tora Bora. From Henry Crumpton, the CIA counter-terrorism operations chief, bin Laden was in Tora Bora. Even General Franks' own second in command General DeLong stated he believed from available intelligence at the time bin Laden was in Tora Bora. General DeLong stated that when the bombing campaign of Tora Bora started in late November, Secretary Rumsfeld called DeLong every day to ask "did we get him?" Cheney stated on November 29, 2001 and again on Meet the Press on December 9, 2001 that he believed bin Laden to be in the Tora Bora area. Thus, why would General Franks restrict the Tora Bora battle to about 90 Special Forces troops to go after an estimated 1,000 heavily armed and fortified al Qaeda troops and "leave the back door to Pakistan wide open" in the words of Henry Crumpton? The Afghan militia was known to be unreliable and not committed to the battle to get al Qaeda.