- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

U.S. warplanes intensified raids south of Jalalabad following the passage of a surrender deadline imposed on several hundred al Qaeda guerrillas, as the U.S. government signaled that it would soon offer rewards for the capture of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, also said terrorist leader Osama bin Laden remains at large, as U.S. air strikes backed opposition forces in Afghanistan that are searching for him.
"We think he's in Afghanistan. We are chasing him. He is hiding. He does not want us to know where he is. We are asking everyone we can to help," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
American airplanes yesterday strafed and bombed mountain targets around where bin Laden is believed to be hiding after the deadline set by anti-Taliban opposition forces for a trapped group of al Qaeda fighters to give up, according to news agency reports from the region.
U.S. Special Forces troops, who are spotting ground targets for American bombers, joined the opposition forces as they advanced on mountain hide-outs near Tora Bora.
Surrender talks held up opposition efforts to take over the cave area near Tora Bora, said one opposition commander, Hazrat Ali, the security chief for the alliance of fighters in eastern Afghanistan.
"No, we will fight them until we annihilate them," he said.
The reward for Mullah Omar also applies to other top Taliban leaders and expands the program that put a price on the head of bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders.
"We've got some reward money out for a finite number of people that are senior al Qaeda," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Within a short period of time, there will be reward money broadly communicated for a discrete number of Taliban officials."
The government is offering a reward for up to $25 million for bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader who gleefully discussed the September 11 attacks on a videotape made public yesterday.
Asked how large the reward for Mullah Omar would be, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "Think 10," as in $10 million. Rewards also would be offered for other Taliban leaders as part of a global campaign to find them.
A defense official said later that the State Department would announce the reward soon.
Mullah Omar disappeared after the fall of Kandahar last week. A U.S. official said bin Laden is believed still to be in Afghanistan and probably hidden in a redoubt in the Tora Bora area.
CNN and NBC both reported last night, citing U.S. military officials, that bin Laden appears to be in a cave complex, surrounded by anti-Taliban forces.
Before dawn today, hundreds of heavily armed Marines swept into Kandahar airport by land and air to secure the facility in a high-risk push into urban areas of Afghanistan, according to reporters with the Marines.
Securing the international airport will provide not only a new base for U.S. military flights to Afghanistan but will likely pave the way for delivering humanitarian aid, U.S. military officers told Agence France-Presse.
After a preliminary sweep yesterday by anti-Taliban Afghan militias, Marines were to clear the airport of booby traps and mines as well as overpower any al Qaeda or Taliban fighters who may still lurk in culverts by the runway, officers cautioned. But the Marines met no immediate resistance.
The main land and helicopter-borne force was launched from the Afghan desert south of Kandahar at Forward Operating Base Rhino as well as from aircraft carriers and helicopter-carrying amphibious assault ships in the Arabian Sea, officers said.
All last night, aircraft could be heard landing and taking off at Camp Rhino.
At the Pentagon, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. bombing raids were continuing to focus support for opposition forces near Tora Bora, where bin Laden is believed to be holed up.
"There has been no surrender by al Qaeda offered or accepted," said Gen. Myers. "Nor has there been any cease-fire in this effort. Our mission to eliminate the al Qaeda, its network and the Taliban in Afghanistan remains the same as it has from the beginning."
The four-star general also said some Taliban forces continued to fight in two areas around Kandahar and southern anti-Taliban fighters were working to clear them of resistance.
Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers dismissed claims that U.S. military operations in Afghanistan were a take-no-prisoners war of extermination.
"I personally would like to see people surrender," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
"The purpose of this activity, the reason we're doing this is to defend the United States of America and our friends and allies," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "And we want to get the terrorists And the fastest way to do that is if they all surrender, come in with a white flag, turn themselves in and we could just deal with them."
Gen. Myers said the United States is willing to see the al Qaeda fighters surrender.
"Right now, we're in the middle of a pretty big fight in the Tora Bora area," said Gen. Myers. "It's war, and in the middle of the war, we're going to do what it takes to win that piece of it."
Taking prisoners would help provide intelligence information and "that would be very good," the general said.
"This is not a war of extermination," Gen. Myers said.
At least 60 Special Forces troops were working with the fighters of the eastern alliance in the Tora Bora assaults.
Eastern alliance commander Haji Zahir, who is leading the forces in the area with Mr. Ali and Mohammed Zaman, said their fighters made progress against al Qaeda, told reporters.
Many al Qaeda fighters may have escaped into Pakistan or a nearby forest, said Mr. Zahir.
"If 10,000 people spread out in that forest, you couldn't find them," he said. "It is a very wide area, a very mountainous area with many links to the Pakistan border. It is very difficult to control all the ways to Pakistan, but we have blocked the major ones."


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