- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

The U.S. has detected the distinctive voice of Osama bin Laden on hand-held radio in the mountains of Tora Bora giving orders to his al Qaeda troops, U.S. officials say.

The officials say the voice has been positively matched to known recordings of bin Laden. The intelligence represents the best proof that America's most wanted man has been, and remains, in the cave complexes in the Tora Bora region of the White Mountains in eastern Afghanistan.

The sources say the electronic monitoring is being carried out by Special Operations troops on the ground, and by spy planes and satellites. The intelligence sweep is one part of an air-ground manhunt that is using virtually every military and CIA tool available to kill or capture the terrorist leader.

"They have picked him up on very short-range radio," said a senior U.S. official, adding that al Qaeda soldiers have been detected responding to their leader.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the Afghanistan campaign, told reporters yesterday, "Obviously we use all sorts of technical means to gain insights into where he may be. We also listen to what these opposition leaders on the ground have to say, because they each have their own intelligence capability. "

U.S. military officials say a concentration of bin Laden's al Qaeda army is contained in the mountains between two parallel valleys, Agam and Wazir, leading to Jalalabad in the north and going toward the Pakistan border in the south. U.S. officials believe bin Laden is moving between the valleys with an entourage of troops.

Pakistani troops are attempting to block escape routes to the south. Anti-Taliban eastern alliance fighters, lured by a U.S. offer of $25 million for bin Laden and his aides, are trying to seal passages on the north, east and west. Still, officials caution there are many routes out of Tora Bora.

While the indigenous forces do their work, small teams of U.S. Army Delta Force and British Special Air Services (SAS) are operating on their own, gathering intelligence and looking for bin Laden at night. Collectively, the two units comprise the world's best military anti-terror personnel. They use all forms of special operations and are outfitted with high-tech equipment, including thermal imaging and signal-monitoring gear, that allows them to locate the enemy and plan raids.

Delta teams carry a heavy sniper rifle that is both highly accurate and powerful. A sniper equipped with a Barret 50-caliber rifle can take out a person or a vehicle at 1,500 yards.

The units also use a classified eavesdropping system that allows the covert warriors to monitor a wide area of wireless communication.

"They are using all of the skills they have been waiting to use: ambushes, sniper shots, close air support, [unmanned aerial vehicles], surrogate warfare," said an Army officer familiar with special operations tactics.

U.S. officials privately have told The Washington Times in the past 10 days that they were convinced bin Laden has remained in the Tora Bora region. Since basing his global terror network in Afghanistan in 1996, Tora Bora has served as a major base, complete with elaborate cave dwellings, ammunition stockpiles and training camps.

Sources had declined to discuss specific intelligence. But yesterday, two officials acknowledged that bin Laden's voice has been heard in the region and that he knows the United States has the capability to listen in. One source said the ex-Saudi citizen may have judged he has no other choice if he wants to command his last remaining troops, who are thought to number about 400 to 500 non-Afghan foreigners, mostly Arabs.

For the past 10 days, Gen. Franks has focused virtually all his firepower and intelligence apparatus on Tora Bora.

Each day, heavy Air Force bombers and Navy jets have dropped bombs on cave openings and bunkers. Many targets are found by Army Special Forces soldiers working alongside the opposition fighters. The CIA also is operating Predator spy drones whose video pictures of al Qaeda troops are relayed to AC-130 gunships, where gunners rain cannon fire on the moving foot soldiers and vehicles.

A big plus for Delta Force manhunters is the time of year, when Afghanistan experiences less than 10 hours of daylight. The night gives the warriors an opportunity to exploit night-vision goggles that trap ambient light to provide a clear view and a big tactical advantage over the primitive al Qaeda soldiers. Thermal gun sights also allow snipers to kill at night.

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