- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

TORA BORA, Afghanistan U.S. and Afghan forces pummeled Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda disciples in the mountains of Tora Bora yesterday, while Afghan commanders brought in more fighters for an assault they believe will see the capture of the terror suspect within days.
Commander Hazrat Ali said his troops were closing in on the world's most wanted man as they exchanged mortar fire with his hard-core al Qaeda fighters holed up in the caves of this snow-capped region in eastern Afghanistan.
"We hope, God willing, that we will arrest him very soon. We think that today or the day after today we will martyr them," he said, referring to Saudi-born bin Laden and his mainly Arab followers.
"Our mujahideen are willing to fight. Today or tomorrow we are going to launch a big attack, and I think they will surrender to us."
He and other commanders said they had already captured half of Tora Bora, including its mysterious center .
An American B-52 heavy bomber twice dropped its payload over the mountains here yesterday afternoon as air raids resumed following a night of heavy bombardment.
Between the bombing raids, new groups of fighters arrived in pickups armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers as well as picks and shovels and were immediately sent toward the front line.
The picks and shovels, a local commander explained, were to be used to prepare the ground for a new attack and remove obstructions created by al Qaeda fighters in defense of their positions.
Mr. Ali said he had reliable information from an al Qaeda prisoner that bin Laden was in the area, which has been one of the primary target areas of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan since the beginning of December.
"Three days ago we captured a prisoner from al Qaeda who told us that Osama was living here, but he had moved to the top of the mountain. I think he is probably here," Mr. Ali said on the front lines facing Tora Bora mountain about 20 miles south of Jalalabad.
The American efforts to wipe out al Qaeda and track down bin Laden accused of masterminding the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States were expected to increase following Friday's collapse of the Taliban's last stronghold of Kandahar in the far south of the country.
U.S. Special Forces troops are also in the remote region.
Local militias under the control of Mr. Ali, provincial military chief Haji Mohammed Zaman and another commander, Haji Zaher, have been steadily advancing into the White Mountain range in which Tora Bora is located.
But al Qaeda troops have been putting up fierce resistance despite daily U.S. bombing.
"If someone is still alive [from al-Qaeda], that depends on God, but we are doing our best," Mr. Ali said.
Mr. Zaman said Friday bin Laden had been seen in the area "three or four days ago," adding: "We sent our spies to their troops and they got that information. "Osama bin Laden and the extremist fundamentalists are living here. Bin Laden is living here with his family."
Mr. Zaman said it was clear that families were living in the area, which is riddled with caves used by Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-89 war against the Soviets.
"Before we launched our attack, children were playing and riding their bicycles on a big piece of flat ground," he said.
The Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram yesterday published a notice from the family of Ayman Zawahri, bin Laden's right-hand man, saying his wife, Azza Anwar Nuweira, and children were dead.
Mr. Zaman on Tuesday said Zawahri, an Egyptian physician, was wounded in a U.S. air raid in the area on Monday and bin Laden's treasurer, Ali Mahmud, was killed, but this has not been confirmed.
Afghan commanders have said snowbound passes have made an escape by bin Laden and his fighters into Pakistan impossible, but Pakistani officials said security nevertheless had been strengthened on the border.
Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi said Pakistan would use armed helicopters to patrol the border and had already deployed a "substantial number" of regular army troops to monitor every crossing, especially in sensitive areas.
"There have been movements of regular army troops, a substantial number, especially in the areas opposite Tora Bora as well as the side [opposite Kandahar]," he said.
"All that's needed to be done has been done. There are even armed helicopters that will be surveying the area.
"So far there is no information that we have, or anyone else has, which is credible which says that he, Osama bin Laden, or his supporters have entered Pakistan."

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