Hamid Karzai told The Associated Press, ”Some may be still here, but I don’t think they are in large numbers. I think that terrorism is largely defeated in Afghanistan.”
“There are remnants in the form of individuals or small groups.”
Following a cabinet meeting to discuss security, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said pockets of al-Qaida fighters were still operating near Kandahar.
“In some of the southern parts of Afghanistan, in Paktia province, we believe there are still pockets of al-Qaida,” Abdullah told a news conference.
As the fight against al-Qaida and Taliban forces has slowed on the ground, U.S. operations have also eased. In a sign of how the U.S. airstrikes have dropped off, the Pentagon canceled Wednesday’s scheduled briefing because “there is no news.”
Meanwhile, American officials have put about 500 Marines on standby to possibly help search the caves near Tora Bora, al-Qaida’s last major stronghold.
“Some of those [al-Qaida forces] unaccounted for may actually be dead or they might be hiding in Tora Bora or elsewhere,” coalition spokesman Kenton Keith said in Islamabad. “Interrogation of captives and investigation of former hiding places will bring some clarification over the coming days.”
For much of the war-torn nation, the attention now turns to the deployment of an international security force to ensure stability. The British-led force has sought a carefully agreed-upon mission since the troops could be called upon to intervene in disputes that have nothing to do with the Taliban.
“The final details of the tactical agreement [are] under discussion between our country and the leading troop
contributing country, which is Britain,” Foreign Minister Abdullah said. Asked when the main contingent would arrive, Abdullah said: “very soon… I’m talking about days.”
The bin Laden question
Despite Karzai’s declaration that the terrorists have been defeated, the location of the leader of the al-Qaida network, Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, remains unknown.
Wednesday, the Arab language television network al-Jazeera, broadcast a tape from bin Laden believed to have been recorded in the last few weeks.
In the tape, bin Laden is heard to say that the September 11 suicide attacks were intended to end U.S. support of Israel.
“Our terrorism against the United States is worthy of praise to deter the oppressor so that America stop its support for Israel, which is killing our children,” bin Laden said in the prepared statement.
Asked about the al-Qaida leader’s whereabouts, Prime Minister Karzai said he believed bin Laden was still in Afghanistan.
“With regards to Osama bin Laden I don’t know where he is,” Karzai said in the AP interview. “We receive reports now and then that he may be here or there, and if we get a detailed report about his whereabouts, we will certainly go after him and arrest him.”
U.S. officials reiterated the point saying they were constantly seeking information on his location.
“We’re always looking for bin Laden,” a U.S. official told Reuters. He said U.S. forces were prepared to resume sweeps in the Tora Bora area with anti-Taliban squads to check for any al-Qaida survivors of the airstrikes.