President Bush told reporters that despite conflicting reports out of Afghanistan, U.S. forces would locate the Saudi exile.
“We get all kinds of reports — that he’s in a cave, that he’s not in a cave; that he’s escaped, that he hasn’t escaped, and there’s all kinds of speculation. But when the dust clears, we’ll find out where he is and he’ll be brought to justice,” Mr. Bush told reporters.
Eastern Alliance fighters overran the final al-Qaida stronghold in the mountains of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan over the weekend. Their leaders said that although bin Laden had been in the area within the last month, he was not there now.
U.S. Officials said they were not sure whether bin Laden was still in the region. They said the search, no matter how difficult, would continue.
“I guess maybe searching for fleas on a dog is one way that I would think of it,” Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem said of search Monday. “If you see one and you focus on the one, you don’t know how many others are getting away.”
Several reports from the region indicate that bin Laden and several lieutenants may have slipped over the border into neighboring Pakistan. President Bush said any al-Qaida fighter sneaking into Pakistan would be caught.
“The Pakistanis will help us and they are helping us look for not only Osama bin Laden but for all al-Qaida murderers and killers,” the president said. “Osama bin Laden is going to be brought to justice. He’s on the run. He thinks he can hide, but he can’t.”
In southern Afghanistan, tribal leaders and U.S. Forces are continuing the hunt for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Omar, a one-eyed cleric, was the leader of much of Afghanistan and allegedly allowed bin Laden to operate freely in his country.
Omar is believed to be holed up with hundreds of fighters in south-central Afghanistan, an intelligence officer for Kandahar’s new governor said Monday. The area is much larger and more difficult than the Tora Bora region, which took forces nine weeks to conquer.
U.S. intelligence efforts are focusing on locating the two leaders. They are reportedly questioning at least five detainees, including American Taliban John Walker Lindh, aboard the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea.
Tora Bora and Kandahar
Eastern Alliance fighters took control of the Tora Bora complex Sunday after weeks of intense airstrikes by the U.S.
Tribal commanders said at least 200 al-Qaida troops were killed in the attacks and hundreds more were on the run.
Stufflebeem said there was sporadic firing from caves where remnants of the al-Qaida force apparently are holding out. “There are still isolated pockets of al-Qaida fighting in this area, so we’re not done yet.”
U.S. special forces are working with the alliance fighters on the ground to try and track down those fleeing the cave complex just miles north of the Pakistan border.
In southern Afghanistan, three U.S. Marines were injured Sunday when one stepped on a landmine. The team was securing sections of the Kandahar airport when the accident occurred.
The wounded Marines were flown out of the area to Camp Rhino southeast of the airport. They were then flown to a hospital outside Afghanistan.
Marines spokesman Capt. David Romley said Cpl. Chris Chandler lost his foot in the accident. Two other Marines — Sgt. Adrian Aranda and Lance Cpl. Nicholas Sovereign — suffered minor injuries to their hands and arms.