President Bush told reporters today from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, ”He is not escaping us.”
“This is a guy who three months ago was in control of a country. Now he’s maybe in control of a cave.”
When asked if he thought bin Laden was still head of the al-Qaida network, President Bush replied, “Who knows.
“He’s on the run, if he’s running at all. We don’t know whether he’s in a cave with the door shut, or a cave with the door open. We just don’t know. There’s all kinds of reports and all kinds of speculation,” Mr. Bush said, referring to reports that bin Laden had fled to Pakistan.
The president added that Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff could provide accurate information if bin Laden successfully crosses the border.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said that he could not rule out the chance that bin Laden had escaped to his country.
Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim today told reporters he suspected bin Laden left Tora Bora for Peshawar, Pakistan. The al-Qaida network first formed in Peshawar in the 1980s.
“I hope 2002 is a year of peace, but I’m also realistic,” President Bush said, pledging the U.S. would wait as long as necessary to capture bin Laden and “bring him to justice.”
An end to the bombing?
Fahim also echoed others in the Afghan interim government urging a swift end to U.S. bombings. The Defense Minister said he believed that if the remaining pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida near the Pakistani border lay down their arms or defeated, the U.S. military action should cease.
“If there are assurances then there is no need for bombing. Basically, if there is no military need and no major resistance they [the Americans] will not bomb either,” the Afghan defense minister said.
President Bush and General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, emphasized the war would be open-ended.
Franks, who briefly joined the president in Texas, said the U.S. Military would stay in Afghanistan as long as necessary to complete its mission.
“We will not be hurried,” Franks told reporters. “It will take as long as it takes.”
There has been one reported U.S. bombing this week in which two U.S. warplanes struck a suspected Taliban compound near Ghazni, or about 90 miles south of Kabul. A Pakistani-based news agency reported that 25 villagers were killed by the airstrikes.