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Koch: Pentagon believes bin Laden remains in Afghanistan

Kathleen Koch reports from the Pentagon in Washinton, on Sunday.  

(CNN) -- CNN anchor Martin Savidge talked Sunday with CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch, who reported from the Pentagon about efforts to find who may be the world's most-wanted man.

MARTIN SAVIDGE: The hunt for Osama bin Laden reached a fever pitch after September 11, but he is still at large and his whereabouts uncertain. However, the Bush administration says it is skeptical of a report that bin Laden slipped out of Afghanistan. More from CNN's Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon.

KATHLEEN KOCH: Good morning, Martin, and helping track those potential movements by Osama bin Laden are U.S. military aircraft. Of course, they're very busy in the area of Konduz, pummeling those entrenched Taliban positions. But they are increasing working on the issue of surveillance, trying to track not only the retreating Taliban forces but Osama bin Laden and the members of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

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There are some press reports from Europe that Osama bin Laden is hiding in the mountains near Kandahar. And U.S. defense officials, too, believe that he is holed up in the southern part of the country. And it's going to fall increasingly to U.S. special operations forces in the region to try to tighten the noose around the al Qaeda terrorist network and its leader. Pentagon officials know that this will not be easy. And in the past, they have played down the importance of capturing Osama bin Laden as part of achieving the overall U.S. goals in the region.

Indeed, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged that Osama bin Laden could escape from Afghanistan by helicopter or on donkey. Or there are others who are concerned that he could fade into the waves of refugees leaving the country.

So where could the terrorist mastermind seek refuge if he did leave? Some say that Pakistan is the most likely country because he, the al Qaeda network and also the Taliban have significant support there.

Moving west into Iran, though, would be difficult. Osama bin Laden is largely unwelcome in that country. Heading north to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan would present some difficulties -- perhaps the chance of running into Northern Alliance opposition forces or even U.S. troops in the region.

Experts (say) generally that the most likely safe havens for him would the countries of Iraq or Sudan. But for now, the Pentagon believes that Osama bin Laden remains in the country that has country that has sheltered him for so long. And for now, achieving his capture remains a major Pentagon objective -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: Kathleen, is there a growing sense of confidence at the Pentagon that they will indeed find Osama bin Laden?

KOCH: One does get a sense that they are increasingly confident that that is a possibility now that the dealing with Taliban has kind of come down on the list of issues that the Pentagon has had to face. They have a lot more time, a lot more energy and a lot more ... special ops troops who can focus specifically on the task of finding him. So it does indeed boost the likelihood and their hopes that he could be captured.


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