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Hunt for bin Laden a daunting task

Discussion /

February 12, 2003 Posted: 11:15 PM EST (0415 GMT)
Hunt for bin Laden a daunting task

CIA Director George Tenet said Wednesday that messages from terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden are usually followed by terrorist attacks. So the audiotape released Tuesday that reportedly contains bin Laden's voice is under close examination, as U.S. officials listen for possible clues about a pending assault.

Bin Laden has been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list for years. But catching him has posed a major challenge for the U.S. Six days after the September 11 attacks, President Bush said he wanted bin Laden brought to justice. "There's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive'," Bush said.

But 16 months later, bin Laden is believed to be the voice on a new tape, and many are wondering what the U.S. is doing to catch him. Bob Baer, a former CIA field officer, said that "the Pentagon and the CIA have limited resources," and that the organizations are "not geared up to fight two wars in the Middle East."

Catching bin Laden is a very different job from removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power - another major focus of U.S. officials. In Afghanistan, 10,000 U.S. military troops work mainly to gather intelligence on bin Laden's al Qaeda network. But 150,000 are being assembled for a possible war in Iraq.

Though law enforcement officials continue to pursue leads in their search for bin Laden, the act of catching him could cost many American lives. The U.S. has never sent a large armed force into the anti-American tribal region along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it is in that location that bin Laden may be hiding.

Baer, who has run CIA operations in the area, says searching there would require 150,000 troops. And in terms of the risk, Baer says he thinks the cost "would be horrendous... Going into a full-fledged war in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan would draw us into a swamp..."

Bin Laden remains surrounded by his allies who shelter him from being caught. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "There have been people on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted for decades. There have been people all over the globe. A manhunt is a manhunt; it's a big world."

But military leaders think they will eventually catch bin Laden. "Somebody's going to give him up, if he's not already dead," said General Michael DeLong of the U.S. Central Command.

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon is not distracted by the standoff with Iraq in its manhunt for Osama bin Laden. But the latest tape attributed to the al Qaeda leader has the Bush administration worried that another terrorist attack may be coming.

The U.S. State Department is offering as much as $25 million for information leading to bin Laden's capture or conviction. Airline organizations are throwing in an additional $2 million, which brings the total reward to $27 million for bin Laden.

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