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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Eastern Alliance: Bin Laden Has Fled to Pakistan

Aired December 16, 2001 - 08:02   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.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Some breaking news to report from the White Mountains in Eastern Afghanistan. Anti-Taliban commanders there are reporting that the al Qaeda troops have abandoned their positions. Now, it's not clear at all whether they fled to the Pakistani border or merely retreated to the heavily fortified caves in the region for a possible last stand.

CNN's senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers joins us with more from Tora Bora -- Walt.

WALTER ROGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Miles.

A two-pronged military offensive by the anti-Taliban Eastern Alliance here in the Tora Bora region has ended. And the commanders of that military force have concluded that the al Qaeda forces have simply disappeared. That is, they are at least on the run; they could not find them in any great numbers.

One of them, Mohammed Haji Zaman, says he believes that they have escaped into Pakistan. He also speculates -- and we have no independent way of confirming this -- but Haji Zaman says he believes Osama bin Laden has also escaped into Pakistan.

Now, we do know there were some casualty figures. That is to say, there were al Qaeda fighters killed, according to another Eastern Alliance leader, that being Hazrat Ali. He says that 80 al Qaeda fighters were killed in the campaign up into the Tora Bora region. He also says 21 Afghan Arabs were captured.

What they are not saying is what happened to the numbers of the Taliban and al Qaeda forces who were believed to be in the mountains about five miles from where I'm standing. They say they're on the run; they say they believe they've escaped. It's not clear, however, whether perhaps some of those al Qaeda fighters and perhaps bin Laden himself may simply have gone to ground -- gone into the deep and complex tunnel complex that was here in those mountains. Particularly, that last string of mountains that form the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Now, again, there's speculation that some of these al Qaeda fighters may have gone into Pakistan. We can't -- we can't say that's true at all, because we were also given to believe that the Pakistanis have put substantial numbers of troops along the border to prevent any such exodus of al Qaeda fighters from this particular region.

There was bombing in this area today, substantial B-52 attacks in the morning and midday. Also, attacks by U.S. Navy fighters. But by late afternoon, those bombing raids in this area had quieted down. And this has been perhaps the quietest day in the past 10 days or so in this particular Tora Bora region.

Again, the local commanders -- Eastern Alliance commanders -- saying they believe most of al Qaeda has simply dissolved, disappeared or gone away -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Walt Rodgers in Tora Bora. Thank you very much.

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