Rumsfeld: Leaflets offer $25 million for bin Laden
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is offering "substantial monetary rewards" as incentives to Afghans to rout Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda terrorists from caves and other suspected hiding places in Afghanistan, the top U.S. defense official said Monday.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he hopes the reward money will provide incentives to "a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves looking for the bad folks."
Is the plan working?
"There is no question there are people out looking," he said.
Rumsfeld said information on the rewards -- the FBI's bounty for bin Laden is $25 million -- is being distributed via leaflets dropped "like snowflakes in December in Chicago."
He wouldn't say whether any of the hundreds of U.S. special forces on the ground in Afghanistan are involved in those searches for the suspected terrorist and his followers.
He said the bombing campaign is "targeting caves and closing them up," but U.S. forces are not conducting a "cave-by-cave" search.
He also told a news conference he couldn't confirm reports that bin Laden might be hiding within a specific area, and he said the United States doesn't know how many terrorist leaders have been eliminated in the military campaign.
Sources told CNN the best U.S. intelligence indicates bin Laden and his protectors are still in Afghanistan, somewhere in the vicinity of Kandahar.
President Bush, asked Monday if U.S. forces know bin Laden's location, replied, "If our military knew where Mr. bin Laden was, he would be brought to justice." But Bush said that as anti-Taliban opposition forces make advances on the ground, "the more people we've got looking" for the suspected terrorist mastermind.
"The noose is beginning to narrow. The net is getting tighter," he said.
Rumsfeld said the military conflict has reached a turning point, as it evolves from airstrikes to delivering humanitarian aid and rebuilding the country.
Special forces will help rebuild roads and bridges, especially north of Mazar-e Sharif, to get food and other supplies to the starving population, he said.
Asked about reports that Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar might be trying to negotiate a surrender for himself in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said opposition groups, not the United States, are involved in any talks.
"It's our hope that they will not engage in negotiations that would provide for the release of al Qaeda forces, that would provide for the release of foreign nationals, non-Afghans, leaving the country and destabilizing neighboring countries," he said.
Rumsfeld added that if Omar were to be released, the United States would not let him leave the country. He also said the United States has not been in a position to take custody of prisoners because it has no jails or guards to accommodate them.
Speaking about the fierce fighting in Konduz, where Northern Alliance soldiers have surrounded the city, Rumsfeld said of the Taliban and other fighters, "My hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner."
Caves can be multi-level shelters
Some of the caves Rumsfeld referred to have been converted into elaborate, multi-level shelters capable of storing ammunition and fuel as well as quartering troops.
Such caves aided Afghan guerrillas in their successful, decade-long struggle against the Soviets in the 1980s, and U.S. forces are hoping intelligence from surrendering or defecting Taliban troops could help them pinpoint bin Laden's location.
Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Andy Neil searched caves as a so-called "tunnel rat" in Vietnam, and he told CNN the missions were among the most "nerve-wracking" of his career.
"The air is bad. There's all kinds of critters," Neil said. "Nerves are very tense. You can't see, and it's very dangerous -- mines, booby traps."
Neil said soldiers going into caves are lightly armed and typically chosen for their small stature.
"Once you get in the holes, it's a very psychological disadvantage to the individual who is doing the crawling," he said in an on-air interview.
"You're on their territory and you can't see. If you're using a light -- a flashlight, for instance -- you can only see a small distance, where that light will reflect great distances that they can see."
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