- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Afghan forces bottled up the last large concentration of al Qaeda fighters yesterday in the upper reaches of Tora Bora, as a U.S. official asserted that Osama bin Laden remains on the run in the cave-pocked area.
The intensive U.S. hunt for bin Laden continued as anti-Taliban tribes awaited a response to a second surrender deal before mounting what could be the Afghan campaign's last major offensive.
Tribal leaders gave bin Laden's foot soldiers until 2:30 a.m. EST today to come out of the Tora Bora cave complexes south of Jalalabad. The deal was pending as Navy jets, heavy Air Force B-52 bombers and AC-130 gunships continued to unleash bombs and cannon fire on the enemy.
The air strikes are guided by scores of American special-operations troops serving alongside the anti-Taliban eastern alliance. CIA-operated Predator spy drones also pick up targets and pass the information to AC-130 gunners.
The lull in the ground fighting was the second such pause this week, after earlier surrender negotiations failed.
Anti-Taliban tribes thought they had a deal for an al Qaeda surrender on Tuesday. But that deal fell through when the terrorist army balked, demanding that captured al Qaeda fighters be turned over to the United Nations and that diplomats from their home countries be present. Bin Laden's army is primarily a mix of Saudis and Egyptians, rounded out by Pakistanis and Chechens.
Ghafar, a tribal commander with the anti-Taliban forces, demanded that all trapped al Qaeda leaders be turned over, the Associated Press reported from Tora Bora. "They have to hand them over," said Ghafar, who goes by one name. In negotiations, he said, al Qaeda emissaries only wanted to offer up low-level fighters.
The air strikes continued as the United States lost its first manned warplane in the campaign, as a B-1B bomber crashed into the Indian Ocean 60 miles north of its base on Diego Garcia. A Navy destroyer rescued the four crew members.
No hostile fire was suspected in the crash. B-1Bs are operating out of the island, located about 2,500 miles from Afghanistan.
The United States has lost at least one unmanned spy plane over Afghanistan.
A senior U.S. official yesterday repeated the administration's belief that bin Laden is in the vast Tora Bora region, moving constantly among the area's numerous caves and man-made bunkers.
The official, who asked not to be named, said that while the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attack is not boxed in, "It will be difficult to get out."
"There are local natives who claim to have seen him," the official said. He said their recollection may be influenced by the U.S. reward of up to $25 million for the capture or killing of bin Laden, as well as his top aide, Ayman Zawahiri, and other senior leaders. He declined to say whether U.S. intelligence has had independent sightings of the elusive Saudi exile.
American intelligence assets satellites, listening devices, unmanned aerial spy planes and Navy patrol aircraft have blanketed the Tora Bora area ever since officials surmised bin Laden and the last major contingent of al Qaeda were holed up there.
The official dismissed as untrue a report in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor that bin Laden had left Tora Bora 10 days ago and was in Pakistan.
The story identified the source of the information as Abu Jaffar, a Saudi whom the paper described as "a senior al Qaeda operative." But the U.S. official said his name does not appear on a Bush administration list of some 40 al Qaeda leaders.
Victoria Clarke, spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, told reporters, "We haven't seen any evidence that leads us to think" bin Laden is outside Afghanistan.
The Pentagon acknowledged yesterday that a week of stepped-up bombing of Tora Bora in the north and interdicting roads around Kandahar in the south has failed to kill or capture any top Taliban or al Qaeda leaders.
Officials also concede that scores, or even hundreds, of bin Laden's private army may have escaped through Afghanistan's porous borders and could plan terrorist attacks in other countries.
"There are multiple routes of ingress and egress," said Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "So it is certainly conceivable that groups of two, three, 15, 20 could, walking out of there, in fact, get out."
He described the Pentagon operation as "trying to [provide] through our sensors and through our support of the opposition forces on the ground the support they need to be able to capture or kill as many of them as we can."
The senior U.S. official said in an interview that "lots" of al Qaeda members were killed Sunday when the Air Force dropped a 15,000-pound "daisy cutter" bomb on a concentration of al Qaeda forces and cave complexes.
Intelligence reports will eventually reveal whether top terrorists died in the attack.
A military source said three of the world's largest conventional bombs have been dropped since the campaign began Oct. 7. He said Sunday's was the first against a large collection of troops.
"They're not going to drop 15,000-pound bombs on every single target they have," Gen. Pace said at the Pentagon. "When there is a large complex where there are apparently lots of troops, it makes sense then to use the larger weapon."

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