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Al Qaeda is offered freedom in exchange for bin Laden

TORA BORA, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A deadline for al Qaeda forces to surrender passed, but anti-Taliban forces held their ground Wednesday and offered a new deal: Surrender Osama bin Laden and his inner circle and go free.

Meanwhile, U.S.-led airstrikes resumed against al Qaeda positions in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Eastern Alliance Commander Hazrat Ali said that al Qaeda had little time to accept the new deal before his forces resumed their relentless attack.

Eyewitnesses at Tora Bora, where a bone-jarring 11-day air attack helped the Eastern Alliance overrun a major mountain fortress, reported Western Special Forces deploying near al Qaeda positions.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre says the Pentagon is worried about sealing Afghanistan's border to prevent Osama bin Laden from escaping (December 11)

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CNN's Brent Sadler takes a look at a former al Qaeda base in Afghanistan's Tora Bora region (December 11)

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The report fueled speculation that the opposition leaders believed suspected terror mastermind bin Laden to be nearby, but Ali said he had "no further information on that."

When asked why Special Forces were being deployed, he said, "That is a dangerous question to ask."

Wednesday's bombing could not be characterized as heavy, CNN's Brent Sadler reported, but it was "sustained."

In the capital, Kabul, Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani pledged Wednesday to support the new interim government led by Hamid Karzai due to take power December 22.

Rabbani said the interim government, set up by an international conference in Bonn, Germany, has many flaws, but he said he would support the government and Karzai anyway.

In other developments Wednesday, U.N. special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who had been in Kabul for sessions with Afghanistan's various tribal and faction leaders, left for Pakistan and a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, U.N. spokesman Yusuf Hassan said.

Brahimi didn't get to meet with Karzai, who was expected to arrive Wednesday in Kabul for talks with other members of the interim government. It was not known if the two men had spoken by telephone.

Brahimi's spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, said the envoy was to have tried to telephone Karzai Tuesday night.

Crowds were gathering Wednesday in the streets of Kabul in anticipation of Karzai's return to the capital.

In southern Afghanistan, a steady stream of fixed-wing aircraft was reported in and out of Camp Rhino, the forward operating base run by U.S. Marines. There has been more than 800 sorties since the airstrip opened two weeks ago.

The base did not have any formal ceremonies Tuesday marking the three-month anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but many vehicles at the base have a stencil of the World Trade Center's twin towers on their sides.

Marines have been building a detention facility there to hold potential prisoners. John Walker, 20, the American fighting for the Taliban who was captured, is the only person being held at the base.

Walker is said to be in good condition, but reporters have not been allowed to see him.


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