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Franks: Al Qaeda 'contained' near Tora Bora

Smoke rises from an explosion near the Tora Bora region on Friday.  

(CNN) -- Opposition fighters, aided by U.S. special forces and intensive airstrikes, have "contained" a major pocket of al Qaeda in the mountainous Tora Bora region in eastern Afghanistan, Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of the U.S. Central Command, said Friday.

While saying he did not know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, Franks noted "we know where the fight is" -- an area between two valleys near Tora Bora. Eastern Alliance fighters to the north have made "steady progress" against the al Qaeda from the north, while to the south Pakistan has beefed up its military presence along its border with Afghanistan.

U.S. bombs and Eastern Alliance forces hammered at al Qaeda positions in the snow-covered mountains Friday, narrowing the locale in which the enemy can operate, Afghan commander Hazrat Ali said. (Full story)

"We can wait longer than they can," Franks said. "And we'll maintain pressure on this pocket of al Qaeda until they are ours."

Meanwhile, the fallout continued Friday from the release of a videotape showing bin Laden bragging about the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11. President Bush dismissed accusations that U.S. authorities had doctored the tape, calling it "a feeble excuse to provide weak support for an incredibly evil man." (Full story)

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

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CNN's Christiane Amanpour takes a look at the bombed-out ruins of Osama bin Laden's Leva training camp near Kandahar airport (December 13)

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CNN's Ben Wedeman, who speaks Arabic, talks with al Qaeda members in Tora Bora by two-way radio (December 14)

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Latest developments

• Convoys of U.S. Marines moved from their base at Camp Rhino southwest of Kandahar to the city's airport early Friday. Much of this force has been replaced at Camp Rhino by hundreds of Marines flown into southern Afghanistan from ships in the Arabian sea.

• A chlorine dioxide cleansing in the Hart Senate Office Building has significantly reduced the presence of potentially deadly anthrax spores, environmental officials said Friday. Workers have worked to disinfect the building since a staffer of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle opened a contaminated letter in the building nearly two months ago. (Full story)

• U.S. officials said Friday they believe the sheik seen on a recently released videotape featuring Osama bin Laden is Ali Ben Said al-Ghamdi, a former Islamic theology professor once jailed by the Saudi government. Unnamed Saudi officials quoted in The New York Times describe al-Ghamdi as a militant cleric from the same southern Saudi tribe as several men suspected of hijacking and crashing U.S. airliners on September 11. (Full story)

• Law enforcement officials in Illinois and New Jersey have conducted raids against two Islamic charity organizations suspected of aiding terrorists, federal law enforcement sources told CNN on Friday.

• The Bush administration's Homeland Security Office plans to unveil a "national threat alert network" early next year, a government spokesman said Friday. The system would rank threats and inform state and local agencies how to deploy their resources.

• There was heavy skepticism in some Arab and Muslim communities around the world about the veracity of the bin Laden videotape, with some calling it U.S. propaganda. But some experts on the region said the tape may have convinced many Muslims of bin Laden's role in the September 11 attacks. (Full story)

• A government commission on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction Friday called for increased cooperation between federal authorities and state and local governments. The report said the U.S. Armed Forces' role in deterring, preventing or responding to terrorist threats remains ambiguous and that there is a lack of detailed planning for its use in combating terrorism, especially inside the United States.

• John Walker, the American citizen captured with Taliban fighters in Mazar-e Sharif, has been transferred from a U.S. Marines camp inside Afghanistan to the USS Pelileu in the Arabian Sea, Gen. Tommy Franks said Friday.

• President Bush said Friday he wanted bin Laden captured "dead or alive. It doesn't matter to me." Talking to reporters during a brief photo opportunity with the prime minister of Thailand, he said of bin Laden: "He may hide for awhile, but we'll get him." Bush also said it was "preposterous" to suggest the videotape of bin Laden released Thursday was doctored. "That's just a feeble excuse to provide weak support for an incredibly evil man."

• Texas officials on Friday withdrew their warning about a possible attack against Texas schools, saying the FBI has concluded the threat was "not credible." Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry said the FBI had warned Texas of a "vague" and "unsubstantiated" threat that had been issued against the state's schools.

• All 15 European Union nations agreed Friday to participate in a peacekeeping mission to Afghanistan, pending the authority of the United Nations. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana confirmed the agreement, which will mark the first time all members of the European Union are involved in a military operation. (Full story)

• 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.

• The British government on Friday passed its emergency antiterrorist legislation, but only after being forced to ditch a key element of the bill -- a controversial attempt to make a new criminal offense of inciting religious hatred. (Full story)

• The number of dead in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks continued to edge downward Friday, falling to 3,018, the Office of Emergency Management said. Officials initially estimated the attacks had killed as many as 6,500 people, but the toll has steadily decreased because of duplicate reports and other reasons.


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