- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Scores of U.S. commandos have entered eastern Afghanistan to help local tribal armies search for and destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda security guards.
An Afghan provincial chief said he has assembled a force of 3,000 to head into the White Mountain region, home to the Tora Bora cave complexes, to begin the hunt.
In Washington yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld promised that Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists will be pushed out of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, as Marines began searching roads near the city for fleeing terrorists.
"The Taliban and al Qaeda will be driven from Kandahar. The choice really is theirs as to how it happens," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.
U.S. air strikes continued yesterday as warplanes bombed targets near Kandahar and near Jalalabad, where U.S. forces are hunting for bin Laden.
Meanwhile, U.S. air strikes have killed 12 members of al Qaeda near a suspected bin Laden hide-out in eastern Afghanistan, an opposition commander told Reuters in Kabul.
The Pentagon has been receiving reports for weeks that bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks, is moving from cave to cave in the White Mountain region about 35 miles southwest of Jalalabad.
There are no assurances the top prize in the U.S. war on terrorism is there. But remnants of his al Qaeda Arab army once numbering 4,000 or more are surely hiding out in the elaborate network of cave shelters, first dug as bases to fight the Soviets in the 1980s, U.S. officials said yesterday.
With northern Afghanistan largely conquered by anti-Taliban forces, and a final stronghold of Kandahar in a chokehold, coalition special-operations forces are now freer to concentrate on a search for bin Laden.
The American strategy in the White Mountains seems to be the same one followed in fighting in the north and south: U.S. commandos advise and aid local Afghans, but let them do the dirty work, which in this case is cave warfare.
Asked yesterday if Afghan fighters were looking for bin Laden, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "Do I think that there are some people who are going out and looking? The short answer is yes, I do."
The defense secretary told Pentagon reporters: "We believe we are reducing the amount of real estate that those folks have to move around on within Afghanistan," he told reporters. "The problem with that is, Afghanistan's got long, porous borders. In the event that he decides to flee, we'll just have to follow him where he flees."
President Bush has said he wants bin Laden "dead or alive." Dangling a $25 million reward for the capture of bin Laden and top aides, Mr. Rumsfeld says he prefers a dead bin Laden.
To that end, U.S. warplanes have concentrated bombings on cave entrances around Kandahar and Tora Bora in hopes the tunnels turn into tombs for bin laden and his al Qaeda followers.
"In eastern Afghanistan, we have focused our air attacks on cave and tunnel complexes, basically from Kabul to the Khyber Pass," Gen. Richard Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said yesterday.
Weapons are as basic as laser-guided 5,000-pound bombs, or as sophisticated as the GBU-28 5,000-pound "Bunker Buster" bombs that bore into the earth before exploding.
"We have been actively encouraging Afghan elements to seek out and find the al Qaeda and Taliban leadership that we hope to capture," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "There is no question but that at various parts of the country people have responded to that interest on our part. I would not want to get into specific places or locations or numbers, but we have rewards out."
Hazrat Ali, security chief of the Nangahar province in eastern Afghanistan, told the Associated Press he has assembled 3,000 fighters to go after bin Laden. He said days of U.S. bombing have driven al Qaeda personnel from the main Tora Bora complex into higher ground, where they split up into small groups.
Mohammed Zaman, the provincial defense chief, estimates there are 1,200 al Qaeda fighters hiding in the White Mountains.
Meanwhile yesterday, a U.S. soldier was wounded during combat in Afghanistan.
Navy Cmdr. Ernest Duplessis, a spokesman with the U.S. Central Command told reporters last night that the man took a bullet in the shoulder. He neither named the soldier nor said where the shooting occurred or who fired the shot.
"He was medically evacuated to a military hospital, and he is now in stable condition," Cmdr. Duplessis said. "We don't think his injury is life-threatening."
In Kandahar, Taliban commanders vowed to fight a guerrilla war against the United States if the city falls to opposition forces, the Urdu-language daily newspaper Rawalpindi Nawa-i-Waqt reported from the besieged city on Monday.
Gen. Myers said U.S. forces are applying "maximum pressure" on the Taliban and al Qaeda in Kandahar and Jalalabad.
The four-star Air Force general said the 1,000 Marines based near Kandahar have begun "interdicting lines of communication south of Kandahar."
Gen. Myers said the Marines have begun patrolling roads and other possible avenues of escape that could be used by Taliban or al Qaeda forces.
"They are prepared for engagements," Gen. Myers said. "They're a robust fighting force and they're absolutely ready to engage if that's required."
In southern Afghanistan, an elite Marine platoon called Force Reconnaissance set out into the desert from the Marine base south of Kandahar in Mercedes-Benz fast-attack vehicles. The Marines are armed with special M-4 carbines outfitted with silencers and thermal-imagery scopes that can identify targets at night.
"They are deep reconnaissance, looking for threats deeper down the road," Marine Capt. David T. Romley, a Marine spokesman, told reporters based with the Marines in Afghanistan.
Asked if he has encountered enemy Taliban or al Qaeda terrorists, Lt. Aaron Schwartz, 24, of Lansdale, Pa., said: "Absolutely nothing. Just a lot of sand."
The reconnaissance unit is widening its patrols in an arc of desert that is a no man's land between the base and Kandahar, about 70 miles away.
A top bin Laden associate, Egyptian Ayman Zawahri, was reported to be among the terrorists wounded or killed by the U.S. bombing raids over the past two days, according to Hazrat Ali, a senior Northern Alliance commander in Jalalabad.
"I can't say for sure whether [Zawahri] was among the dead or not," Mr. Ali said. "The information I have is that both Osama and he were in Tora Bora at the time of the attacks."

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