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Kamal Hyder: Pakistan searches for al Qaeda fighters

Kamal Hyder
CNN's Kamal Hyder  

AT THE AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER (CNN) -- CNN's Kamal Hyder is reporting on the search by anti-Taliban forces, U.S. troops and the Pakistani military for any remaining al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the White Mountains.

He reported from the border area via videophone Friday morning.

CNN: What's the latest Kamal?

HYDER: Catherine, the authorities here have been very successful in rounding up almost 193 people in the last 10 days. We have reports now that yesterday one of the Pakistani law enforcement agency people was killed in a gunbattle with suspected al Qaeda members, and two al Qaeda members were also killed in that gunbattle yesterday.

You can see behind me the highest point of the Spin mountain range. That is Sikh Aram, sitting at almost 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) above sea level, and you'll see the forward posts of the Pakistan army. Combing operations have been going on and there is a heightened state of alert -- as one officer put it to me by saying that we are at this moment on a war footing.

CNN: Kamal, can you turn behind you and tell us what exactly is going on behind you and who is actually involved in the rounding up of the al Qaeda forces in this area?

HYDER: These people sitting behind me, they are from the regular Pakistan army. It must be remembered that the Pakistan army had not been in this area -- in the tribal area -- since independence because these were federally administered tribal areas. But because of such suspected terrorists trying to cross over from Afghanistan, a lead unit of the Pakistan army has for the first time been placed on the border and are now beginning to show results, sending a signal to the al Qaeda people and the terrorists that this would be a bad choice if they tried to come into Pakistan.

CNN: Kamal, it would have to be a difficult area to patrol. How difficult was it for you to get to the area where you are now?

HYDER: We're sitting here at about a little over 10,000 feet. Some of these men were dropped in over 12,000 feet by choppers. The infantry men are trying to cover all the ravines, all the secret routes. This is an operation, which is being held by the constabulary -- the local population here is also trying to help the army and they are trying to fill all the gaps. It is a difficult task. The army admits that it is a difficult task, and there are strains on the army's budgets when they're on a war footing. But the morale here is very high and most people we spoke to told us that it was Pakistan's duty to the international community to show that Pakistan was with the international community and its war against terror.

CNN: We're hearing and reading that there may be al Qaeda fighters in the thousands in that region. Are you hearing that there? I know you said that more than 100 have been rounded up recently.

HYDER: That was 183, to be precise, that were rounded up. Most of them have been taken for interrogation to the city of Kohat, and security (is) heightened out there. There are apprehensions that some of them may have filtered through. Mop-up operations are going on. We were told today that about five are still at large from the people who ran away and that they've apprehended the majority of those people. These five are also hold up, they said, but they do not want anybody to go into that area for their own security. They said that they will be rounded up by tonight.

CNN: And Kamal, can you tell us, certainly the big question is, where is Osama bin Laden? Any idea if his hiding place could be anywhere near the region where you are?

HYDER: Pakistan has always been very helpful in the past. ... Ramzi Yousef (convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center) and Amil Kansi (convicted of the 1993 shooting deaths two CIA employees in Virginia) were apprehended in Pakistan with the help of the authorities, and of course with the relationship that Pakistan and the United States have enjoyed over the years. At this moment, I think Osama bin Laden would not try to venture close to the Pakistani border because logistically it would be easier for the Americans or the Pakistanis if the need arose, to be able to apprehend him. Osama bin Laden would be trying to go into the mountains and away from the frontiers from where he would run the risk of being arrested.

CNN: That's CNN's Kamal Hyder on the White Mountains in Pakistan. Thank you, Kamal.


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