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Official: Bin Laden surrounded in caves

Osama bin Laden, as seen in videotape released Thursday  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Opposition fighters and U.S. troops have surrounded Osama bin Laden in a cave complex near Tora Bora, senior military officials told CNN Thursday.

While acknowledging the al Qaeda leader may have left Afghanistan, one senior official said bin Laden is believed to be in an area bounded by two valleys to the east and west.

Eastern Alliance fighters are bearing down on al Qaeda positions from the north and Pakistani troops are in a "perfect blocking position" to the south, the official said.

"It's not that all roads lead to this valley, but at this time the best ones do," the official said.

U.S. warplanes delivered punishing attacks Thursday on al Qaeda positions in the mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan where bin Laden is thought to be hiding. Eastern Alliance and U.S. troops unleashed machine gun and cannon fire on suspected al Qaeda cave hideouts. (Full story)

The report came on the same day the Pentagon released a videotape showing bin Laden talking with associates about the planning and details of the attacks on New York and Washington.

On the tape, bin Laden brags in Arabic he knew about the attacks beforehand and says the World Trade Center's destruction exceeded his hopes.

"We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower," he says on the tape. "We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all." (Full story)

Meanwhile, anti-Taliban and U.S. forces continued to hunt for Taliban ruler Mullah Mohammed Omar and his supporters. The best U.S. intelligence indicated Omar was in Helmond province, to the west of Kandahar, a senior military official said.

Watch entire Osama bin Laden videotape, released by the Pentagon on Thursday (December 13)

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CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports the Pentagon has beefed up U.S. Special Forces in Tora Bora with orders to try to take Osama bin Laden alive (December 13)

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On a captured videotape released by the U.S., Osama bin Laden talks of organizing the September 11 attacks. CNN's David Ensor reports (December 13)

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Latest developments

• Hundreds of U.S. Marines rolled through Kandahar early Friday en route to the city's airport where they began combing the buildings to secure the location for future operations. The movement came several days after U.S. Special Forces took control of the airport.

• Eastern Alliance commanders had given al Qaeda fighters until noon local time Thursday to surrender bin Laden and his inner circle. After the deadline passed, al Qaeda fighters told CNN in a radio conversation they would not end their holy war until the United States is destroyed. (Full story)

• Following a meeting with Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, California Gov. Gray Davis said the Bush administration is considering a national terrorism alert system similar to the one the governor proposed for California. Davis said he suggested a national, uniform four-stage alert system "so that everybody would be on the same page."

• Federal Judge Barbara Jones Thursday ordered Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent, moved from New York to Virginia to stand trial on conspiracy charges in the September 11 attacks. Moussaoui was arrested on immigration charges in Minnesota a month before the attacks after he aroused suspicion by trying to buy time on a jumbo jet flight simulator at a flight school. (Full story)

• President Bush Thursday made a round of phone calls to moderate Senate Democrats in hopes of pushing through an economic stimulus bill before Congress takes its winter recess. Despite some movement on both sides, Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, said it would take "a Christmas miracle" to get the bill passed.

• A man whose phone number was found in the car of one of the men suspected of carrying out the September 11 attacks pleaded guilty Thursday to a minor check forgery charge. A federal law enforcement official said authorities were not able to tie Mohamed Abdi, a Somali and naturalized U.S. citizen, to the terrorists.

• A shortage of trained security personnel from a fired security firm forced the shutdown of a US Airways terminal at Boston's Logan International Airport Thursday morning, officials said, delaying hundreds of passengers in the early days of the holiday travel season. (Full story)

• Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. forces were conducting their last airdrop of humanitarian supplies over Afghanistan on Thursday. Myers said the airdrops had been rendered unnecessary by the increased flow of humanitarian relief supplies on the ground.

• A Jordanian-born college student held in connection with the September 11 attacks was released Thursday after posting $500,000 bail on charges he lied to a grand jury.

• Law enforcement sources tell CNN no connection can be made between the terrorist attacks and two men picked up on a train in Texas on September 11. The men boarded the train after their flight was grounded following the attacks. Authorities say the men were carrying box cutters similar to the ones used by the hijackers, $5,600 in cash, hair dye, and had shaved all their body hair, as the hijackers were instructed to do.

• U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was meeting Thursday with officials in Spain on the second stop of a European tour aimed at shoring up international law enforcement cooperation to fight terrorism. Last month, Spain jailed eight men on suspicion of collaborating in the September 11 attacks. (Full story)

• As a sign of good will, the anti-Taliban Eastern Alliance on Thursday released 150 Pakistani Taliban prisoners of war who had been held in a makeshift prison since the end of last month. Upon their release, the Pakistanis were loaded overflowing into three trucks and were headed for Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where they were going to be given new clothing and then taken to the border with Pakistan so they could return home.

• Traces of anthrax were found in a diplomatic mail pouch at the U.S. embassy in Vienna, Austria, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday. Mail pouches bound for the U.S. embassies in Peru and Lithuania also tested positive for anthrax last month.

• The United States will reopen its embassy in Kabul this weekend and could re-establish diplomatic relations with Afghanistan's new government "relatively quickly," U.S. officials said Wednesday.

• All four crew members of a U.S. B-1 bomber were in "good health" Wednesday after sailors from the destroyer USS Russell rescued them 30 miles north of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean near where their plane crashed earlier in the day, U.S. defense officials said. The pilot said the bomber "had multiple aircraft system malfunctions." (Full story)


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