US Ground Troops Bolster Bin Laden Search

Coinciding with the fall of the northern Taliban garrison at Konduz to the Northern Alliance Monday morning, November 26, several hundred US Marines were ferried from Arabian Sea carriers to the Kandaharr air strip in south Afghanistan, the first American ground troops to appear openly in the war-torn country. Within hours, they had joined local anti-Taliban Pashtun tribesmen in seizing fresh territory near the last Taleban enclave. Heavy fighting was also reported in the southern town of Spin Boldak near the Pakistani border.
But expelling the Taliban was not the primary mission of the newly arrived US ground troops, whose number will be built up to close to 2000 in the next day or two. They hope to take advantage of the tribal forces’ local knowledge to “smoke out” Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, using the captured air strip as their base for search and destroy missions against al Qaeda.
This new drive follows weeks of frustration in their hunt for the super terrorist.
Concentrating on the Marouf area 80 miles south of Kandahar and the southeastern Uruzgan province between Kandahar and Kabul, which is traditional Pashtun country, the hunters have been hobbled by lack of precise intelligence. Even the high-tech sensors, in which much store is set, failed to deliver. Scanning for movement, heat, vibrations and other signals, these devices report to airplanes or satellites and are becoming increasingly important in intelligence gathering. The special GBU GBU-28 bunker-buster bombs were also a disappointment, causing only superficial damage to targeted cave entrances. The unmanned Predator planes which fired Hellfire anti-tank missiles at suspect locations fared no better.
The poor results raised the possibility of the escape of the bulk of bin Laden’s al Qaeda army to the hills, outside any deals forged between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made a point of saying that al Qaida fighters “should not be allowed to escape” and must be either killed or taken prisoner.
One option still under consideration in the Pentagon is the use of tactical nuclear weapons as the only means of breaking out of the impasse. On the other hand, bin Laden may no longer be in Afghanistan. According to one piece of information, the wanted ex-Saudi terrorist and his family and party made a low-altitude flight out to Pakistan aboard one or more helicopters he kept hidden in a cave in the mountains of Uruzgan, and landed at an airfield secretly prepared last year in the Punjab region. Waiting there was a private jet bin Laden purchased some years ago.
Special forces have been posted at most airports in East and West Europe to watch for suspicious passengers and flights, or any sign of bin Laden.
Another piece of information quoted by debkafile‘s intelligence sources speaks of the terrorist being smuggled out of Pakistan to the Gulf by sea, hidden in a container outfitted as a comfortable apartment fully furnished and provisioned. In case bin Laden availed himself of this form of secret travel, US and British warships in the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf have been stopping and boarding container ships in the Arabian Sea.
Of course, the fugitive may have thrown out all these red herrings to lead the pack away from his real hideout, the citadel he built in a part of the Hindu Kush range, which no one has ever located.

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