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Opposition Forces Advance 2 Kilometers in Tora Bora

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SHANNON, Ireland, Dec. 14, 2001 – Opposition forces have advanced two kilometers into the forbidding terrain of the Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex south of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, today.

Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters traveling with him on a trip to Central Asia and Europe, said the advance is a "heck of a lot" for the area and conditions. A total of 50 Al Qaeda fighters have surrendered to opposition forces. He said Al Qaeda's mountain real estate is being reduced. "I don't know if there are many ways to get out," he said.

The mountain complex may be sheltering Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Fighting in the area has been "energetic" since the start of the campaign. He said he assumes the fighters in the Tora Bora complex are Al Qaeda, but some may be Taliban.

U.S. air forces have dropped more than 180 bombs on targets in the valley, and Rumsfeld said he expects the number to rise to over 230 by the end of the day. Air Force AC-130 gunships also fired on enemy concentrations. The weapons have hit caves, tunnels and Al Qaeda troops, Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said there are a relatively "modest" number of special operations forces in the valley. They and opposition groups are now going back to tunnels and caves bypassed in the advance to check them for Al Qaeda.

Opposition groups "are doing the heavy lifting" in the region, Rumsfeld said. They are pushing up the valley, while Pakistani troops are stationed on the nearby border to stop Al Qaeda terrorists from escaping into that country. Rumsfeld said he is very pleased with Pakistan's cooperation.

Rumsfeld said the Kandahar airfield is secure after being occupied by Marines from Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan. They are demining the airfield and checking it for booby traps. The Marines are also setting up a detention facility at the former Taliban stronghold to give U.S. forces the capability to move people in and question them to gain intelligence. The Marines are keeping Camp Rhino fully manned in the meantime by moving more Marines into that camp.

Rumsfeld said the United States would offer a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Leaflets detailing the reward are being prepared, and the Air Force will drop them around Kandahar.

Rumsfeld is in the first day of a trip that will take him to Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan and finish next week with the NATO meeting in Belgium.

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Related Sites:
Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Ireland, Dec. 14, 2001

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