Karzai: bin Laden 'probably' dead
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Osama bin Laden is "probably" dead, but former Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said.
Karzai's comments came on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan as part of the war on terrorism.
The campaign ousted the Taliban regime, which the United States said harbored bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorism network, the group blamed for the September 11 attacks.
"I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead," Karzai said on CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday.
"But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive.
"The more we don't hear of him, and the more time passes, there is the likelihood that he probably is either dead or seriously wounded somewhere."
But he said Omar is certainly alive. "We know of that," he said. "And we have come close to arresting him several times, but he's been able to escape."
U.S. forces also have searched for Omar.
Karzai, leader of Afghanistan's interim government, said Omar is a difficult man to track down "because nobody knows him by face. Nobody can recognize him. If you came across him today, somewhere in Afghanistan or in the rest of the world, you wouldn't recognize him. So that's part of the problem with him.
"I believe he is most of the time inside Afghanistan. He could go, from time to time, toward our borders, but he stays around the Afghan area, sometimes close to the borders," Karzai said.
He contended the Taliban, which the United States designated a "terrorist" group, is a minimal threat to his government.
"They are now a group on the run. They are no longer a government. They are no longer a political movement. They are no longer a reality in Afghanistan," Karzai said.
"We don't see them as a danger in any way, of course. As a terrorist organization, as terrorist individuals, they may try to strike and they may try to assassinate or shoot people or lob bombs. That kind of activity they can do, but not a political or military threat anymore."
Karzai, who was the target of an assassination attempt September 5, said the perpetrator has been identified and is "someone very, very close to the Taliban."
He insisted he is not afraid for his life: "I trust God's keeping, and when he decides I'll not be here anymore, that will be the moment. Before that, I have no fears."
Karzai said U.S. and allied forces are helping to stabilize and keep Afghanistan "away from dangers," partly by training Afghan security forces.
But "there are other areas in which the international community has not delivered the promises that they made, especially in the reconstruction of the basic infrastructure of Afghanistan."
Karzai said his country has not received the economic support it expected from the international community for rebuilding efforts.
It is not clear how much longer the United States and its allies will need to keep a military presence in Afghanistan, Karzai said. But "at this point, I think it will be very, very unwise to think that Afghanistan can be left alone."
In the midst of a U.S. debate over possible military action against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, Karzai said he is unconcerned that the United States might shift its attention from Afghanistan to that country.
President Bush's administration has threatened Iraq with military action, accusing it of expanding and developing weapons of mass destruction.
"But I would like to remind our friends in the United States and in the international community that we have to really finish the job in Afghanistan completely," Karzai said.