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Brett Sadler: Demand for bin Laden surrender



(CNN) -- Anti-Taliban ground forces surrounding al Qaeda fighters in the mountains near Tora Bora, Afghanistan, offered a new deal: Surrender Osama bin Laden and his inner circle and go free.

CNN's Brett Sadler is in the region. He filed this report on the offer.

SADLER: A surrender deadline passed today with no result. But a short time ago, Eastern Alliance commanders came out after many hours of top-level meetings between the leadership here and said they were putting a new deal on the table. There wasn't much time left for al Qaeda to accept it, but they were going ahead with the offer anyway.

They're saying that if Osama bin Laden gives himself up, along with around 20 of his top lieutenants in his al Qaeda network, then all other al Qaeda or Taliban fighters in these Eastern Afghanistan mountains could go free. There were no details about the mechanism of how those fighters could go free. The main issue for the Eastern Alliance was getting Osama bin Laden to give himself up so there could be a peaceful end to this siege of Tora Bora.

That report was coming out as we were getting eyewitness information that a significant number of special forces have now been deployed in a forward area pretty close to the al Qaeda positions, which is still entrenched in the mountains behind me.

It's not clear what the mission of those special forces is going to be, but certainly their deployment is going in tandem with this amazing offer that's come out of the Eastern Alliance for bin Laden to give himself up.

The significant question to ask is, does the Eastern Alliance think Osama bin Laden is here? Otherwise, why make that offer? When I asked that question, the commander simply said, "We have no further information on that." Asked what the special forces were doing, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "That is a dangerous question to ask."

If there is no surrender, the Eastern Alliance said it will resume attacks; its ground forces will be ordered again into action. What we've also seen today is a resumption of U.S. airstrikes against positions in the mountains. Many bombing runs have taken place today, sustained bombing.

Just 24 hours ago, when I was reporting about getting access to those caves and tunnel complexes at that advance position well, we're nowhere near that today; the media is being kept well away from that area. Right now, the guns are silent, but pretty soon they might be ordered into action.

CNN: If the Taliban and the al Qaeda leaders take this deal, what are the concerns of the Eastern Alliance if these other Taliban fighters go free?

SADLER: There's no answer to those very important and fundamental questions. When you look at it at face value, it's a pretty wide offer and there's no mechanism for what should happen to them.

When asked how they would be released, there was no answer. But we do know, from what we've heard, that bin Laden is the focus of attention here both for the Eastern Alliance and from the deployment of special forces.

Certainly, this is an interesting development. It gives room, perhaps, to create divisions within the al Qaeda forces still holding out here. But the Eastern Alliance is not giving much time, threatening to resume the assault within hours of there's no surrender.



 
 
 
 


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