Ben Wedeman: Al Qaeda defiant
NEAR TORA BORA, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Despite continued bombing from U.S.-led war planes, and increasing pressure from Eastern Alliance forces, al Qaeda members remain defiant in the mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan.
CNN's Ben Wedeman spoke by radio with representatives of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. He filed this report from an area near the front lines.
WEDEMAN: There's been fairly steady bombardment by U.S. warplanes in this area. It's a fairly focused bombing, basically hitting the same spot over and over again. We're also hearing AC-130s, those converted C-130 aircraft that are mounted with Gatling guns, used to very deadly effect. It's basically an anti-personnel weapon.
So, there's been no letup at all. But nonetheless, the al Qaeda fighters seem to be alive and seemingly well. When I spoke to them, they told me their morale is high, that they lack nothing, that they will continue to fight. And they laughed at the idea of surrendering and told me that any talk of surrender is just lies.
CNN: Give us an idea about the amount of return fire coming from the al Qaeda side. Can you gauge that?
WEDEMAN: Yes, actually, we came under some of that fire today. There were two outburst of machine-gun fire when a group of journalists went up to the front lines. Also, we saw one incoming mortar round hitting a hilltop.
But, by and large, the amount of return fire has diminished dramatically from the recent days. We were up at the front about four or five days ago and really had to hightail it out of there, because they were dropping mortars very close to the road we were on.
Today, with the exception of that very dangerous sniper fire, that was about the sum total of the return fire from al Qaeda positions.
CNN: You asked a critical question to those al Qaeda fighters. You wanted to know if bin Laden was still in that area. It's our understanding that your radio contact ended there. Do the people around you, on behalf of the Eastern Alliance troops, believe that bin Laden is still in that area?
WEDEMAN: It appears that the belief is growing that Osama bin Laden is in there. Now, whether that is based on actual intelligence or optimism is hard to say. Their intelligence-gathering resources are limited, at best.
The feeling of the commanders at the front is that, given the intensity and the doggedness of the resistance by the al Qaeda forces and they're unwillingness to surrender, it is an indication to them that they are defending someone or something very important. The conclusion being drawn on the ground is that this could very well be Osama bin Laden. But at the moment, this is really a supposition, and nothing more than that.
U.S. officials: Al Qaeda protecting something
December 14, 2001
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