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Bin Laden will be caught, White House vows

Al Qaeda leader believed to be on Pakistan-Afghanistan border

Osama bin Laden appears in a video aired by Arabic-language news network Al-Jazeera in September.
Osama bin Laden appears in a video aired by Arabic-language news network Al-Jazeera in September.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four days after Saddam Hussein's capture, the White House vowed Tuesday to find another most-wanted fugitive -- terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

"We're continuing to pursue other leaders within that al Qaeda terrorist network, including Osama bin Laden. I think he can fully expect that he will be brought to justice by this administration," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Although the president once said bin Laden was "wanted dead or alive," recent White House practice has been to respond to questions about why he has not been apprehended by saying al Qaeda is about more than one person.

McClellan said "some two-thirds" of al Qaeda leaders have been killed or detained.

In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll taken this month, 50 percent of Americans said they would not consider the war in Afghanistan or the fight against terrorism to be successful unless bin Laden is captured.

It is believed bin Laden is hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Bin Laden was last seen in a videotape broadcast in September by the Arabic-language TV news network Al-Jazeera. (Full story)

A number of audiotapes also have been released purporting to carry his voice, most recently in October. (Full story)

Alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed said he met with bin Laden in December 2002, according to Pakistani intelligence officials who captured Mohammed in March.

A large ground offensive is under way in southern and eastern Afghanistan in an effort to eliminate remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban regime overthrown in 2001.

In recent months, Taliban and al Qaeda rebels have been increasingly bold in their assaults, raiding police stations, killing aid workers and confronting U.S. troops in growing numbers.

Many of the attacks have taken place in the south and east, near the border with Pakistan.

Afghan and Western officials have long complained that the insurgents have found haven in Pakistan, crossing the border to launch attacks.

"Operation Avalanche," involving between 2,000 and 11,500 troops, began two weeks ago and is the largest ground operation yet in Afghanistan, a military spokesman said.

Coalition intelligence sources say there are persistent reports that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is in western Afghanistan, particularly in the Kandahar region, once a stronghold of the Taliban.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.


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