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Ben Wedeman: Al Qaeda forces surrounded

CNN's Ben Wedeman
CNN's Ben Wedeman  

NEAR TORA BORA, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Fierce fighting continues in the White Mountains near Tora Bora, Afghanistan, where Eastern Alliance forces say they have surrounded an area they believe contains Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda fighters.

CNN's Ben Wedeman filed the following report on the front lines near Tora Bora:

WEDEMAN: Al Qaeda is surrounded here. We spoke to one of the commanders at the front line who said that because of the tenacity of the resistance of the al Qaeda fighters, they believe that Osama bin Laden is in that area. They claim that they've completely surrounded the area where the forces are. But nonetheless, when we were up at the front lines Monday, there was some fairly intense exchanges of fire between the two sides -- not only outgoing tank fire from the Eastern Alliance but also return fire from al Qaeda using 82- and 120-millimeter mortars.

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The 120-millimeter mortars are quite powerful, quite deadly, with a much farther range, and we were basically caught in the middle of one of those bombardments. The alliance troops, however, say that they're going to be moving forward.

We spoke with Hazrat Ali, who's the commander of the forces in this area. He says that Monday his forces were able to capture four al Qaeda tunnels as well as two "command centers," as he called them. We would have gone up to see them, but that's when the mortar fire started to come in, and we were forced back.

CNN: What are the chances that these al Qaeda fighters and even Osama bin Laden can escape through those hills and possibly into Pakistan?

WEDEMAN: The chances are small in fact. They are very rugged mountains, but these are obviously very hardened fighters. The alliance people we spoke with said that they have stationed forces all around the area where al Qaeda is located. We also know that the Pakistanis reinforced their forces along the border, and they are patrolling the area with helicopters.

But it's very, very rugged terrain, and a determined force like the al Qaeda forces could be able to escape from the area.


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