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Gunning for Al Qaeda, Taliban Leaders

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2001 – There is no evidence Osama bin Laden has left Afghanistan, said Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke, and the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader and his minions continues.

Over the weekend there were reports that bin Laden was seen out of the caves and in command of 1,000 Al Qaeda fighters in the White Mountains near Jalalabad. Clarke said the volume of reports make the situation murky.

"When you have reports, you have pieces of information that either (Taliban leader Muhammad) Omar or Osama may be in a general region, but you can't be certain until you get them," she said.

She said there is reason to believe that Omar is somewhere in the Kandahar region, but he is moving often and traveling with a small number of people.

Speculation on bin Laden has him in the eastern mountains near the Tora Bora tunnel complex, but "it is a big country with a very porous border," Clarke said.

She said the Marines around Kandahar continue to interdict roads out of the city. She said they also are setting up detention facilities at Camp Rhino. The only detainee is John Walker Lindh, an American captured with Taliban forces at Mazar-e Sharif. Clarke said he is under U.S. control and is speaking with U.S. officials. He is in "an undetermined status," she said.

Clarke said U.S. officials have established a working group to look at the status of various kinds of detainees. The group will look at how to handle Al Qaeda members, various levels of Taliban fighters and foreign members of Taliban once they are captured.

In the meantime, U.S. forces continue to assist opposition forces. Clarke said coalition forces flew 157 sorties into Afghanistan Dec. 9. U.S. forces flew three C-17 missions that dropped 34,440 humanitarian daily rations near Kunduz and Moqor.

Commando Solo missions continued and other aircraft made leaflet drops around Kandahar and Jalalabad.

The Friendship Bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is open, and humanitarian supplies can now flow into the northern portion of the country, Clarke noted. Coalition forces continue to work on rehabilitating airfields to further supplement the humanitarian efforts.

Clarke gave a ballpark figure of Americans in Afghanistan. "We have about 1,300 Marines, we have a couple hundred 10th Mountain (division soldiers) and modest numbers of others," she said.

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