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Ben Wedeman: A deadline for al Qaeda

CNN's Ben Wedeman
CNN's Ben Wedeman  

NEAR TORA BORA, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Al Qaeda fighters, surrounded by Eastern Alliance forces in the White Mountains near Tora Bora, have been given an ultimatum -- surrender soon or die.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in the region and filed the following report on developments:

WEDEMAN: It appears the Eastern Alliance forces, aided by U.S. special forces, have managed to push way up into the hills, overrunning a variety of al Qaeda positions. We heard from our colleague Brent Sadler that he saw many of these positions. He saw bodies of al Qaeda fighters scattered around a moonscape-like landscape where the United States had relentlessly bombed.

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Now apparently they're bottled up in a very small area. They have been given an ultimatum -- 8 a.m. Wednesday morning [10:30 EST Tuesday]. They have been told to surrender or die.

This comes after a day and a half of relentless bombardment from U.S. B-52 bombers, from T-55 tanks of the Eastern Alliance and anti-aircraft guns. They managed to fight their way up into the mountains. But nonetheless, it appears the al Qaeda fighters are still up there, still alive.

Just a little while ago, we stood by as an al Jazeera reporter spoke with the al Qaeda fighters in Arabic. They said that they were in the process of clearing their passageways, we assume, of their tunnels and caves of dead Eastern Alliance fighters.

Nonetheless, we cannot confirm those reports. But it appears that al Qaeda has taken a severe blow here in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

CNN: What is the expectation? Will they live up to this deadline or do you expect the fighting to go on?

WEDEMAN: It's not clear. I've heard from people who were up there that the Eastern Alliance fighters were in conversation with the Arab fighters and other nationalities, that apparently the al Qaeda fighters were saying, "We're all Muslims. Let's not fight anymore." But nonetheless, it really is up to the leadership and the question is, who is that leader?

Now we've heard lots and lots of speculation that Osama bin Laden might be in those hills. We've heard Eastern Alliance commanders talking about sightings of those leaders, of bin Laden, of references to him over the radio. Clearly, if he's up there, he's obviously not going to want to surrender.


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