Pakistan's Musharraf: Bin Laden probably dead
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's president says he thinks Osama bin Laden is most likely dead because the suspected terrorist has been unable to get treatment for his kidney disease.
"I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a ... kidney patient," Gen. Pervez Musharraf said on Friday in an interview with CNN.
Musharraf said Pakistan knew bin Laden took two dialysis machines into Afghanistan. "One was specifically for his own personal use," he said.
"I don't know if he has been getting all that treatment in Afghanistan now. And the photographs that have been shown of him on television show him extremely weak. ... I would give the first priority that he is dead and the second priority that he is alive somewhere in Afghanistan."
U.S. officials skeptical
In Washington, a senior Bush administration official said Musharraf reached "reasonable conclusion" but warned it is only a guess.
"He is using very reasonable deductive reasoning, (but) we don't know (bin Laden) is dead," said the official, who requested anonymity. "We don't have remains or evidence of his death. So it is a decent and reasonable conclusion -- a good guess but it is a guess."
The official said U.S. intelligence is that bin Laden needs dialysis every three days and "it is fairly obvious that that could be an issue when you are running from place to place, and facing the idea of needing to generate electricity in a mountain hideout."
Other U.S. officials contradicted the reports of bin Laden's health problems, saying there is "no evidence" the suspected terrorist mastermind has ever suffered kidney failure or required kidney dialysis. The officials called such suggestions a "recurrent rumor."
Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in central and southwest Asia, said Friday that he had not seen any intelligence confirming or denying Musharraf's statements on bin Laden's condition.
The United States has said that bin Laden is the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed about 3,000 people.
Hunt for bin Laden
The United States launched its campaign in Afghanistan after the country's ruling Taliban refused to turn over bin Laden.
Earlier this week U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he believed bin Laden and Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar were inside Afghanistan but "we are looking at some other places as well from time to time."
Rumsfeld noted there were dozens of conflicting intelligence reports each day and said most of them were wrong. Most of the reports are based on sightings by local Afghans that cannot be verified.
There are reports that bin Laden and his convoys have been sighted recently by a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.
A senior Defense Department source said the lack of credible information about the two was so severe that many officials believe the U.S. would catch bin Laden or Omar only through pure luck, or an "intelligence break" -- essentially one of their associates turning them in.
Top CIA analysts who track bin Laden and Omar have been asked for their best assessment on the two men's whereabouts. That has led to a variety of thoughts, placing bin Laden in Afghanistan, in Pakistan or Iran, on the open ocean onboard a ship, or headed north through Tajikistan or Uzbekistan -- if he is still alive.
The videotape seen worldwide several weeks ago of bin Laden talking about the September 11 attacks was made in Kandahar. He then apparently disappeared -- possibly going north to Tora Bora.
Franks said there was evidence bin Laden was in Tora Bora but he gave no indication of when that might have been. In October, intelligence officials thought they had bin Laden pinned down to a 10-square-mile area in the eastern central mountains of Afghanistan.
Two senior military officers told CNN it would not have been hard for bin Laden to change location several times because vast areas of Afghanistan are virtually unseen by the U.S. military, and he would have been even harder to spot if he moved without his telltale large security contingent.
Even before the war, bin Laden moved around frequently, making it difficult for the United States to determine his location and launch an attack against him.