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The Hunt for Bin Laden

December 27, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: The search for bin Laden: Seen around the world on videotape today, but still eluding the grasp of his American and Afghan pursuers. We start with a report from Betty Ann Bowser.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Al-Jazeera Television Network executives said they had received the 34- minute tape from unnamed sources in Pakistan. They said they didn’t know where or when it had been made, but bin Laden made references, which suggest it was recorded earlier this month.

Compared to earlier photographs this fall, bin Laden appeared thin and frail. He was dressed in fatigues and spoke seated in front of a brown curtain with an automatic rifle propped next to him. The following are excerpts translated from Arabic. “Three months after our blessed attack against the main infidel West, especially America, and two months after the infidel’s attacks on Islam, we would like to talk about some of the implications of those incidents.

We say that the end of the United States is imminent, whether bin Laden or his followers are alive or dead, for the awakening of the Muslim nation has occurred.” At the Pentagon this afternoon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked about reports that bin Laden may have fled to Pakistan and the importance of finding him dead or alive.

DONALD RUMSFELD: We hear six, seven, eight, ten, twelve conflicting reports every day. I’ve stopped chasing them. We do know of certain knowledge that he is either in Afghanistan or in some other country or dead. (Laughter)

And we know of certain knowledge that we don’t know, which of those happens to be the case. With respect to the second part of your question, our goals have been stated very clearly, and that they are that we want to stop the terrorist networks in the world, including al-Qaida, but not just al-Qaida. And to do that, you have to go after those networks and root them out; and second, you have to go after the countries that harbor them.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded to news reports that U.S. Marines will not search Afghan caves for bin Laden.

REPORTER: Do you and the Secretary consider it now too dangerous for U.S. forces to go in, in numbers in the caves?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Absolutely not. Look, from the very beginning, we said that we were going to have the Afghan forces that were in that region work the problem. To the extent they needed additional help, we would try to get Afghan forces from other regions of the country, and to the extent they needed additional help, we would use U.S. forces.

There are U.S. forces currently with the Afghan forces doing that job. That is exactly the way it’s always been. The stuff you’re reading about in the paper, that there was a decision to send in 500 Marines and a decision to not send in 500 Marines, that’s all newspaper talk, just flat out.

REPORTER: Can I ask if you’ve seen the latest Osama bin Laden tape released yesterday… At least excerpts of that tape released yesterday? And more importantly, do you think that there’s any valuable intelligence to be gleaned from that tape regarding his health, the time that he was alive, that sort of thing?

DONALD RUMSFELD: My television was on briefly, and I saw his face and some English words coming out of his mouth, which I suspect were not actually coming out of his mouth. I did not watch the tape. I have no idea if there’s any intelligence. We have expert people who would be looking at it.

REPORTER: He says things during the tape that would indicate knowledge of events at least up till November 16. Does the U.S. have any intelligence that places him… Reliable intelligence that places him as being alive since November 16?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I don’t know of any.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Rumsfeld also said the Afghan war had yielded a trove of intelligence about the al-Qaida network around the world.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The intelligence take, when one takes everything into account… That is to say, the sudden occupation of Kandahar, of Kabul, of Herat, of Mazer-e Sharif, of Kunduz, of city after city across the country, as well as the terrorist camps that exist, the things that used to be used as terrorist training camps and no longer are… the take totally has been very helpful in understanding al-Qaida and understanding how terrorists approach things and what they’re doing and what they’re thinking about doing, and in some instances has actually been… Led directly to preventing terrorist attacks.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, if we determine that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan, will it be more difficult tong him to justice? Will we have the freedom to act over there?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, I’ve… We have found the Pakistani government to just be very cooperative in so many things that I have trouble believing it would be a problem at all.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And Secretary Rumsfeld dismissed the idea that Pakistani extremists would help bin Laden.