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Searching for Bin Laden

Kwame Holman reports on the final push against bin Laden and his troops in Afghanistan.

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    This could be the site of bin Laden's last stand, Mount Milawa, the last mountain in Afghanistan before the patrolled border with Pakistan. U.S. Special Forces and Eastern Alliance fighters launched a ground offensive, with the relentless support of American bombers. They believe they may have Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders surrounded, with no recourse except to fight or surrender. At a White House photo opportunity today, President Bush said he was satisfied with the war's progress.


    We're achieving a lot of our objectives, but we're chasing a person who's obviously willing to send suicide bombers on the one hand and hide in a cave; somebody who encourages young people to go kill themselves, and he himself refuses to stand and fight. And so he may hide for a while, but we'll get him. I don't care– dead or alive, either way. I mean, I… It doesn't matter to me.


    This afternoon, Army General Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the Afghan campaign, held a briefing at central command headquarters in Tampa Florida. It was linked with reporters at the Pentagon. The general gave an overview of combat operations in the Tora Bora area.


    As you go into these two valleys, you will find that, obviously, along the Pakistani side, the Pakistani forces are providing assistance to this effort. And so in the South, we see Pakistani forces on these… Oh, valleys, on these approaches, that can leave Afghanistan and move into Pakistan. Then, when you come out of the Jalalabad area, we have opposition commanders who in fact are moving from north to south, and it sort of becomes a hammer and an anvil. Now, the forces that are involved in this activity are also over on the western side, and also over on the eastern side. And so when one says that this al-Qaida pocket appears to be– I don't know– "surrounded" probably is not a terribly good word, but the view of the opposition leaders on the ground is that this al-Qaida force is contained in that area that I described. Does that mean that this cordon is not porous and that no one can escape? No, it certainly does not mean that, because this is really rough, mountainous country. But it does mean that the view of those on the ground is that there is containment of this al-Qaida force.


    Franks said al-Qaida fighters at Tora Bora were captured today but remain under the control of the opposition forces. The general was asked about John Walker, an American who was captured with Taliban fighters.


    I can't tell you when he may be turned back to the United States. I will tell you in fact we did remove him from Afghanistan today and he is currently on a ship at sea — as you said, the "Peleliu." We'll continue to control him on the "Peleliu" until a determination is made regarding whether we handle him within the military community or whether he is handled on the civilian side. And that determination has not yet been made, but he is on the "Peleliu," safe and being well cared for.


    Franks said, U.S. Marines now in control of the airport in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan have a larger facility for resupply and humanitarian aid distribution. But they step cautiously, fearing landmines or booby traps left behind by the vanquished Taliban forces. They'll also have to repair pockmarked runways and clear the tarmacs littered with the destruction of earlier American bombing runs. In the North, in Mazar-e Sharif, injured Taliban soldiers were being interrogated by U.S. Special Forces at a prison. The number of prisoners is now estimated to be around 5,000.

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