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Bin Laden's Hand Seen in Afghanistan

September 12, 2004|From Associated Press

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his No. 2 are still directing attacks in Afghanistan, a top U.S. commander said Saturday, three years after the attacks that drew U.S. forces into the country.

Maj. Gen. Eric Olson said that the trail was cold in the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader -- even though strikes such as the recent bombing of an American security firm in Kabul, the capital, bear hallmarks of the militant network.

The Aug. 29 attack killed seven people, including three Americans, in front of Dyncorp, the U.S. security firm that provides guards for Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

Olson, the operational commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, said the military had not intercepted radio traffic from either Bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. Still, the involvement of well-trained foreign fighters in attacks near the Pakistani border convinced him that they are pulling strings.

"What we see are their techniques and their tactics here in Afghanistan, so I think it is reasonable to assume that the senior leaders are involved in directing those operations," he said.

"I don't think we're close at all" to defeating the insurgents, he added.

Reports poured in Saturday of fresh fighting in the country.

In the southern province of Zabol, Afghan officials said that two Arabs were killed and two captured in a firefight with U.S. and Afghan troops, and that Taliban gunmen had executed two elders for supporting the government. In Kandahar, eight Taliban fighters and three Afghan soldiers were reported killed.

Olson said some militants along the Pakistani border who are armed with mortars and rockets expertly adjust their aim -- betraying a level of training that is not commonly seen among Taliban fighters.

Arabs were among fighters recently detected in Kandahar province. Russian chatter was intercepted in the former Al Qaeda stronghold of Khowst, suggesting the presence of Chechens and Uzbeks, he said.

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