WASHINGTON, April 17 Kyodo
President George W. Bush's administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was in eastern Afghanistan at the start of the U.S.-led military campaign late last year, but slipped out of the Tora Bora cave complex sometime in early December, the Washington Post reported in its Wednesday edition.
Evidence gathered by intelligence officials, through interrogations and intercepted communications, shows that bin Laden was holed up in the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan when fighting began in the region, according to the article, which quoted civilian and military officials with firsthand knowledge.
The U.S. military's failure to capture bin Laden, the founder of the al-Qaida terrorist network and the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, is being described both inside and outside the military chain of command as a critical error, the newspaper said.
In the fight for Tora Bora, corrupt local militias failed to seal off the mountain redoubt as promised, and some colluded to help fleeing al-Qaida fighters escape over the border, it said.
Captured al-Qaida fighters gave consistent accounts in separate interviews of a speech bin Laden made around Dec. 3 to fighters, who were hiding in the warren of caves and tunnels in Tora Bora, the paper said
''I don't think you can ever say with certainty, but we did conclude he was there, and that conclusion has strengthened with time,'' the Washington Post quoted an official as saying, giving an authoritative account of the intelligence consensus.
''We have high confidence that he was there, and also high confidence, but not as high, that he got out. We have several accounts of that from people who are in detention, al-Qaida people who were free at the time and are not free now,'' he said.
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