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U.S. Officials Skeptical About News bin Laden has Left Afghanistan

Aired November 17, 2001 - 11:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: We want to check in now to our David Ensor to get reaction on this latest development which we are hearing, that Osama bin Laden has left Afghanistan.

What do you know on this David?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Marty, I've talked to some knowledgeable U.S. officials who obviously (UNINTELLIGIBLE) very closely, indeed. They are expressing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about that suggestion. They say they doubt that is the case. But they do not have any information that they want to go public with beyond that. Just basically skepticism, some real doubt that bin Laden and his family could have left Afghanistan.

SAVIDGE: David, has there been any speculation that the situation going on in Kandahar and whether this could be a delay tactic on the part of the Taliban to aid some sort of escape by Osama bin Laden?

ENSOR: It is possible. It would not be -- truth is sometimes the first casualty in a time of war, as has been pointed out before. And, you know, that is, I guess, what the officials I'm talking to are suggesting; that this may be an effort to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bin Laden, who they believe is still in Afghanistan.

SAVIDGE: And David, what is it that the Pentagon or the administration would be looking for that would, perhaps, be conclusive evidence -- signal to them Osama bin Laden is actually on the move?

ENSOR: You know, they're actually hoping he will be on the move. He will be a lot easier to track when he moves.

But in terms of where he is and what evidence they have of where he is, they're obviously not making that public. They don't want to make it easy for the al Qaeda organization. So information that goes on CNN is available to everybody. They do not want to show their hand, beyond saying they are skeptical.

SAVIDGE: And obviously they don't want to say exactly why they're skeptical. But the belief is, at least on the part of the administration, is that he may still very well be in Afghanistan?

ENSOR: That's correct. One other thing I should just add, you -- we reported yesterday that Mohammed Atef, one of the sort of top three in the al Qaeda organization had -- that there was credible evidence that he had been killed. We now, I gather, have a suggestion from the Taliban itself that Mohammed Atef was killed. U.S. officials saying that after reports from the Taliban, they do believe.

SAVIDGE: All right, David Ensor giving us the latest. And apparently skepticism on the part of the administration that Osama bin Laden, as has been reported, may have fled Afghanistan.

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