- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

LONDON Allied commanders want Britain's Special Air Service to provide one of the lead assault teams for the attack on the Tora Bora, the mountain cave complex where Osama bin Laden is expected to make his final stand.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the operational commander of U.S. forces involved in the Afghan campaign, made the decision after a series of spectacularly successful operations conducted by British special forces in the past two weeks.
Military planners at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., working alongside a British contingent of senior officers led by Air Vice Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, from the Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood, Middlesex, have planned assaults on Kandahar and Tora Bora, probably within the week.
U.S. military chiefs were hoping to bring together the Pushtun tribes controlling areas of southern Afghanistan to form a force capable of assaulting Kandahar, but so far that has failed to materialize. U.S. Marines now occupy several airstrips in southern Afghanistan from where special forces are conducting operations against the remaining Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds.
But before any attacks are undertaken, thousands more troops will need to arrive in the region, probably from either the 101st "Screaming Eagles" or 82nd Airborne divisions, both on standby to enter Afghanistan.
The decision to give the SAS a key role in the assault on Tora Bora came at the end of last week when an SAS squadron, up to 70 men, launched a "deliberate attack" on an al Qaeda complex in southern Afghanistan.
Although four soldiers were wounded, one seriously, the operation resulted in the capture of prisoners, the gaining of intelligence and the deaths of at least 20 al Qaeda terrorists.
According to London's Mailnewspaper today, the British special forces missed capturing or killing bin Laden by two hours.
"We were within a whisker of getting him. It was a hard battle and will have put the fear of God into his people," said a source close to the regiment, quoted by the paper.
The assault on Tora Bora will also include elements of the Australian and New Zealand SAS teams. It will be supported by U.S. troops, attack helicopters and fighter aircraft.
It is understood that at least one SAS squadron, with possible support from the Special Boat Service and Royal Marines based at Bagram airport, will be involved in the operation to "clear" tunnels of al Qaeda fighters, as other forces close in on bin Laden. Other British special forces will call in air support and provide laser target guidance.
MI6 and CIA officers have been interrogating hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, and the intelligence collected points towards bin Laden's hiding in Tora Bora, in the White Mountains 35 miles southwest of Jalalabad.
Recent reports have stated that bin Laden has built a fortress 1,150 feet beneath the mountains, equipped with water, electricity and ventilation and guarded by hundreds or thousands of fighters ready to die for their leader.
Meanwhile, Britain has been asked by the United States to help prepare military strikes against Somalia in the next phase of the global campaign against terrorism.
Mr. Bush indicated last week that Somalia, Yemen and Sudan were likely to be the next targets in the war on terrorism because of their links to al Qaeda.
A team of senior British military officers who visited the U.S. Central Command last week was asked to prepare the strategy for attacks on sites in Somalia.
The request was made as it emerged that Saddam Hussein is funding a number of terrorist training camps in Somalia used by a militant Islamic group with close ties to al Qaeda. Bin Laden's network is known to have several training camps in southern Somalia and it has been reported that he might seek sanctuary in Somalia if forced to flee Afghanistan. Pentagon officials have confirmed that U.S. naval ships have been stationed just off the Somali coast to prevent bin Laden from trying to enter by sea.

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