Walter Rodgers: Al Qaeda location unknown
TORA BORA, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The status and location of al Qaeda fighters in eastern Afghanistan was unknown on Sunday, as unconfirmed reports surfaced suggesting that they have moved out of their caves in the Tora Bora region. CNN Correspondent Walter Rodgers is in Tora Bora, and filed this report.
RODGERS: What we've heard from the Eastern Alliance commanders throughout the day is that they have been conducting military campaigns through the valleys in the Tora Bora region just a few miles behind me.
At this point, they are saying they did not encounter the al Qaeda fighters, they did not find Osama bin Laden and they are now saying that they believe most of the al Qaeda fighters have fled the western area of Tora Bora and they believe they are heading for the Pakistani border. There is just one mountain ridge, a very high mountain ridge, which the al Qaeda fighters would have cross to make it into Pakistan.
Of course, we've also been told that the Pakistanis have special forces units along that border as well and helicopter patrols. But at least the Eastern Alliance commanders say they think that bin Laden has fled the area. They also think that most of the al Qaeda fighters who support bin Laden have also evacuated the Tora Bora region.
They are speculating they went into Pakistan. We can't confirm that, but we've been getting the reports, as I say, from two Eastern Alliance commanders that al Qaeda isn't here anymore, at least not where they thought they'd be.
CNN: Well, Walt, this has been the concern for some time that that porous border into Pakistan might be an escape valve, if you will, for al Qaeda. There's a lot of Pakistani regulars on the Pakistani side there. Is it possible they could still get through that particular region?
ROGERS: Well, they might be able to get through in small numbers. There are several other possibilities here. One of those possibilities is, of course, that the al Qaeda fighters may have gone underground in the extreme eastern sector of Tora Bora. Remember, there has always reportedly been a very large cave complex in that area, which could take tractor-trailer trucks, Jeeps, large vehicles. So it is possible that they had gone to ground and the Eastern Alliance fighters simply could not find them. Or it is possible, as I say or as the Eastern Alliance officers say -- commanders say, that they may have escaped.
It's not clear how thorough that the Eastern Alliance soldiers, about 2,000 of them, were when they went up those valleys or how much resistance they may have encountered. As I say, the Eastern Alliance commanders have about 2,000 soldiers in this area, 2,000 anti-Taliban Afghan fighters. It is estimated that there are between 300 and perhaps a 1,000 al Qaeda fighters left up there or there were before this campaign up the valleys into Tora Bora today.
But now, the Eastern Alliance commanders say they went up those valleys. They believe al Qaeda has fled.
What we think is that, according to the Eastern Alliance commanders, they may have simply fled up towards Pakistan. We don't know that they've crossed the border because the Pakistanis would have sent some sort of signal if that had been the case.
They could, however, have gone deeply into the tunnels and the caves in the mountains. And at this point, the Eastern Alliance soldiers simply did not want to pursue them into those caves. So they reported back that in their incursions of the valleys here in Tora Bora, they did not encounter any al Qaeda resistance today in these two-prong campaign up there.
Consequently, they're reporting that they can't find al Qaeda. But we can't be sure because, as I say, we're not allowed that last five miles up into the valley at this point.
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