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Marines Enter Kandahar Airport; Tora Bora Battle Continues

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2001 – U.S. Marines entered Kandahar airport early this morning, and several hundred more are expected to arrive there within a couple of days, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said today.

Fighting continued in the Jalalabad and Tora Bora region, Clarke said. Despite press reports that Osama bin Laden has been surrounded, she said, U.S. officials do not know the terrorist leader's whereabouts.

"We don't know where he is," she stressed. "You get pieces of information and you get reports of all kinds, some of which could lead you to believe that he is somewhere in that region, but we do not have his precise location. If we knew where he was, we'd probably have him."

U.S. military leaders have sent more U.S. special operations forces to the area, she acknowledged. "We dedicate resources where we think they can be useful."

Their main mission, she said, is to support the opposition groups there. Seeking out Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders is part of the overall task.

"As circumstances arise, they may engage further than that primary support role," she said. "I'm not aware of any of them going into caves. I'm not aware of any particular interactions. If something happened, of course, they would do what was appropriate."

Clarke noted that rewards for the terrorist leaders are still in place and that leaflets publicizing those rewards have generated a lot of interest and activity.

U.S. and coalition aircraft flew 152 sorties in Afghanistan Dec. 13.

As to what the future holds for Afghanistan, Clarke said one of the main U.S. goals is to prevent terrorists from using the country as a base. "Going forward, having a more stable, secure environment will contribute to that," she said.

While the use of a multinational peacekeeping force is being discussed, she said, the United States doesn't plan to have a large presence in a peacekeeping operation.

"We've said all along, we want to get the job done," Clarke said. "We want to be as helpful as possible to those who are trying to get rid of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. One of the reasons we have probably done pretty well with the opposition groups is because we've made it clear we have no intents or desires for a long, large presence in their country."

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