A different sort of search requires a new set of tactics

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Chapter 3: Somehow, he escapes


The popular version of bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora was dramatic enough. Somehow, a hunted man made it over the mountains, south to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

But U.S. interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching U.S. and British special forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days' journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan's far northeast. A U.S. intelligence official this week confirmed this account.

"It's still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who," the official said, but "bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar," into valleys "that no one has subdued ... places the Soviets never pacified."

Bin Laden and Zawahiri next moved on to an "unknown location," according to military documents. Some detainees reported that the two had stayed in Konar for up to 10 months. Even bin Laden's closest followers didn't know where he had gone, according to U.S. analysts who mined the interrogations of al-Qaeda operatives.

"It became clear that he was not meeting with them face to face," said an intelligence official. "People we would capture had not seen him."

U.S. forces believed that at Tora Bora they had come within perhaps 2,000 yards of bin Laden. Yet he managed to slip away, vanishing so completely that several years went by without a single tip, surveillance photo or monitored transmission of any value. On the ground, American operatives continued to try to pry intelligence from "locals willing to talk for some pocket change," Fury said. "The CIA did a lot of this fishing. Mind-numbing. A million dead ends."

VIDEO EDITING AND SHOOTING: Alexandra Garcia and Ben de la Cruz
WRITING AND REPORTING: Marc Fisher, Ian Shapira and Peter Finn
MOTION GRAPHICS: Sohail Al-Jamea
INTERACTIVE DESIGN: Grace Koerber
PHOTO RESEARCH: Dee Swann and Nick Kirkpatrick
VIDEO SHOOTING AND RESEARCH: AJ Chavar
VIDEO RESEARCH: Akira Hakuta, Jayne Orenstein, Tucker Walsh, Jason Aldag and Jonathan Forsythe
CARTOGRAPHY: Laris Karklis and Gene Thorp
INTERACTIVE PRODUCER: Sam Sanders
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Steven King and Cory Haik
PHOTO CREDITS: AFP, The Associated Press, Getty Images, Linda Davidson for the Washington Post, The White House

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