- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

U.S. intelligence assets have not "heard" from Osama bin Laden in nearly five months, further fueling speculation that the world's most wanted man may be dead, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
"We haven't heard hide nor hair of him since December, in terms of anything hard," Mr. Rumsfeld told troops manning a coalition air base in Kyrgyzstan. Coalition countries recently opened a base in the former Soviet republic to launch air strikes and supply missions into landlocked Afghanistan.
Bin Laden surfaced briefly in December just as U.S. and anti-Taliban Afghans believed they had him cornered in Tora Bora, a mountain region in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. He issued a video urging more attacks on Americans, appearing grayer, thinner and emotionally stressed. He did not move his left arm during the 33-minute diatribe.
U.S. intelligence officials also believe they detected bin Laden's voice in Tora Bora around Dec. 5 on a short-range radio directing his al Qaeda army.
Since those two events, the elusive terror mastermind has gone unseen and unheard by American intelligence collectors.
Some analysts believe he was wounded by a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan in late November and is incapacitated or, perhaps, dead. Others believe he is laying low, not wanting to risk capture by trying to smuggle out another homemade video to the Arab-language Al Jazeera TV station in Qatar.
There are no confirmed intelligence reports of his death. Al Qaeda supporters two weeks ago took extraordinary steps to try to prove to the public that bin Laden is alive and healthy. Supporters released a video showing bin Laden and his top aide, Ayman Zawahiri, seated outside in a springtime setting.
But government analyst believe bin Laden made the tape shortly after September 11 and that perhaps background scenes were added to make it look recent.
If bin Laden is alive, he is neutralized, Mr. Rumsfeld told the troops.
"The reality is, he is probably not very effective right now in running the al Qaeda organization" which carried out the September 11 attacks on America. "We've got so much pressure on it that it is very difficult for them to raise money. It's difficult for them to train."
Thinking ahead to the day U.S. forces find bin Laden, the defense chief said, "He'll either be killed in some attack that takes place when we find him or he'll be captured or surrender, which I doubt he'll surrender. But he could be captured, in which case we would have an opportunity to visit with him."
On the question of Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld kept up the verbal pressure on Saddam Hussein. He said more than a decade of U.N. sanctions and enforcement of two large "no-fly" zones north and south have "not been successful in inhibiting or impeding their development of weapons of mass destruction."
He said Saddam is still pursuing nuclear weapons, a situation that other senior Bush administration officials have said cannot be tolerated.
"We know that their nuclear scientists have been kept together and we know that they have an active appetite for biological weapons," he said.

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