- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday pointed out that fugitive Osama bin Laden has not released one of his trademark videotapes in recent months, saying his al Qaeda terror network seems more busy surviving than attacking.
"It is interesting to me that Osama bin Laden doesn't seem to be putting out any videotapes lately," Mr. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference.
The defense chief stopped short of saying he believes bin Laden is dead or incapacitated. But he suggested that bin Laden and his al Qaeda fighters are preoccupied with survival. "If you put enough pressure on it so that it makes their lives more difficult, you have, indeed, accomplished something, it seems to me."
Bin Laden, on whom the United States has placed a $25 million bounty, last released a video in late December. The 33-minute tape was probably made in early December just as the Taliban was losing control of its last bastion, Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. On the video, bin Laden appeared gaunt and emotionally stressed. He did not move his left arm.
Bin Laden typically communicates with the Muslim masses through tapes broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network in Qatar. His silence has spurred speculation in some military intelligence circles that he was wounded during intense U.S. air strikes on suspected al Qaeda hide-outs.
A senior U.S. official said yesterday the government does not know exactly why bin Laden is off the air.
"It could be because he is totally focused on survival and is hunkering down," said the official, "or that he's concerned his tape distribution method might compromise his location, or that he may be injured in some way that would make it hard for him to do a tape."
Officials believe bin Laden remains hidden in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, his second place of residency after Saudi Arabia sent him into exile in the early 1990s. The terrorism mastermind lived in Sudan before moving to Afghanistan in 1996 and propping up the harsh Taliban government of Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Privately, officials say the hunt for bin Laden remains as intense today as it did after September 11. President Bush at one point said he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive."
But recently, the administration has downplayed the importance of capturing or killing the al Qaeda leader amid a realization that it may take months or years to find him.
The administration's main goal now is to dismantle bin Laden's 60-country al Qaeda network.
"It's hard to find an individual," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "That's why when we began this thing I did not personalize it into [bin Laden] or Omar. Some of the Nazi war criminals weren't caught for years afterwards. Years. They found them in South America."
Giving a report card on a war campaign that began six months ago, the defense secretary said: "The task in Afghanistan was to get the al Qaeda and the Taliban out of there and have the interim authority take over. They've done that. And to have it not be a haven for terrorists, and it is not a haven for terrorists at the present time."
Since U.S. forces declared victory in Operation Anaconda on March 19, there have been no reported major engagements with al Qaeda or Taliban fighters.
U.S. surveillance by Navy P-3 Orion aircraft, Predator drones and satellites continues to focus on eastern Afghanistan, around the towns of Gardez and Khost. Officials say local Afghans are providing CIA paramilitary officers and special operations forces with tips about new al Qaeda hide-outs.
After congregating south of Gardez and losing hundreds of lives in Anaconda, al Qaeda may have switched strategies and is staying in small groups.
"They're looking for an opportunity to reassemble and do damage," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "And if they can't do damage by reassembling, I don't have a doubt in my mind but that they'll do damage in smaller units onesies and twosies and they'll be looking for opportunities to kill people."
The U.S. long-range plan for Afghanistan is to hand over al Qaeda-hunting duties to emerging national armed forces, Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
It appeared to be the first concrete explanation from the Bush administration on how the military will one day exit Afghanistan. But Mr. Rumsfeld offered no timetable for the changeover, as the interim government of Hamid Karzai is still trying to consolidate power and rid the nation of warlordism.
The Karzai government recently graduated its first 600 recruits. Army Special Forces soldiers are helping train the new force, which will attempt to extend security measures outside Kabul into regions ruled for years by warlords.

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