Rumsfeld: Hunt for bin Laden far from over
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Although the Taliban are retreating in Afghanistan, the hunt for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is far from over, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday.
"As enemy leaders become fewer and fewer that does not necessarily mean that the task will become easier," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "People can hide in caves for long periods, and this will take time."
Over the weekend, U.S. planes bombed bunkers near Kabul and a U.S. air raid last week is believed to have killed Mohammed Atef, al Qaeda's military chief.
Although special operations troops are in the southern and southeastern part of the country where bin Laden may be hiding, Rumsfeld said he did not know whether U.S. troops have begun searching caves and tunnels.
President Bush said Monday that "if our military knew where Mr. bin Laden was, he would be brought to justice."
He noted, however, that as anti-Taliban forces advance, "the more people we've got looking" for the suspected terrorist mastermind.
"The noose is beginning to narrow. The net is getting tighter," Bush told reporters following an afternoon meeting with his Cabinet.
Some reports last week suggested bin Laden may have fled Afghanistan, but the opposition Northern Alliance believes he is still there, said Haron Amin, the opposition's representative to the United Nations.
"Our intelligence tells us he is still in Afghanistan," Amin said. "I think the U.S. apprehension was right in deploying some of these special forces across the border and making sure he wouldn't take that venue into Pakistan."
Washington is offering a $25 million reward for bin Laden and for each of the other al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden's top surviving lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Rumsfeld said U.S. officials are having reward leaflets dropped "like snowflakes in December in Chicago," hoping to induce "a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves looking for the bad folks."
"There is no question there are people out looking," Rumsfeld said.
Some of the caves Rumsfeld referred to have been converted into elaborate, multi-level shelters capable of storing ammunition and fuel as well as quartering troops.
Such caves aided Afghan guerrillas in their successful, decade-long struggle against the Soviets in the 1980s, and U.S. forces are hoping intelligence from surrendering or defecting Taliban troops could help them pinpoint bin Laden's location.
"We have been targeting caves and tunnels and closing them up and getting a lot of secondary explosions, in some cases, when they were used for ammunition storage," Rumsfeld said.
"We have been targeting command and control and leadership activities where we get information that leads us to believe that al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are gathered, and we have been targeting those facilities."
Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Andy Neil, who performed similar searches as a so-called "tunnel rat" in Vietnam, told CNN the missions were among the most "nerve-wracking" of his career.
"The air is bad. There's all kinds of critters," Neil said. "Nerves are very tense. You can't see, and it's very dangerous -- mines, booby traps."
Neil said soldiers going into caves are lightly armed and typically chosen for their small stature.
"Once you get in the holes, it's a very psychological disadvantage to the individual who is doing the crawling," he said in an on-air interview.
"You're on their territory and you can't see. If you're using a light -- a flashlight, for instance -- you can only see a small distance, where that light will reflect great distances that they can see."
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