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Kerry: U.S. 'paying the price' for losing bin Laden

Repeats claim that al Qaeda boss escaped at Tora Bora

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WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Reacting to a new videotape of Osama bin Laden tossed into the closing days of a hard-fought presidential campaign, Sen. John Kerry renewed his claim that President Bush allowed the terrorist mastermind to escape in fall 2001.

In a satellite interview with Milwaukee TV station WISN, Kerry said, "I regret that when George Bush had the opportunity in Afghanistan at Tora Bora, he didn't choose to use American forces to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden."

"He outsourced the job to Afghan warlords. I would never have done that. I think it was an enormous mistake, and we're paying the price for that today," he said.

Kerry also said that he believes he can "run a more effective war on terror than George Bush."

"I'm absolutely confident I have the ability to be able to make America safer. But we are united in our determination to hunt down and kill the terrorists."

In the fall of 2001, U.S. forces launched a vigorous assault on a compound in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, where it was believed bin Laden and other al Qaeda or Taliban forces might be hiding. Bin Laden was not captured, though some intelligence reports at the time and afterward indicated he was there.

During the course of the presidential campaign, Kerry repeatedly has charged that bin Laden escaped because U.S. forces opted to "outsource" the task of capturing him to Afghan forces.

But the man who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time, retired Gen. Tommy Franks, has disputed that charge, saying it "does not square with reality." Franks, who is a Bush supporter, has said that U.S. special forces played an active role at Tora Bora and that intelligence at the time placed bin Laden in any of several countries.

Speaking at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, hours later, Bush blasted Kerry's comments.

"Unfortunately, my opponent tonight continued to say things he knows are not true, accusing our military of passing up a chance to get Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora," Bush said. "It is the worst kind of Monday morning quarterbacking. It is especially shameful in the light of a new tape from America's enemy."

Earlier this week, Bush accused Kerry of making a "wild claim" that amounted to "unjustified criticism of our military commanders in the field."

Friday, Kerry was campaigning in the key battleground state of Florida when news of the videotape broke. Speaking to reporters in West Palm Beach, Kerry called bin Laden's group "barbarians" and vowed to hunt them down.

"Let me make it clear, crystal clear: As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists," he said.

"They are barbarians. And I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes. Period."

Kerry also gave a message of national unity during his interview with WISN.

"All of us in the country are completely united -- Democrat, Republican, there's no such thing. There's just Americans," he said.

The Massachusetts Democrat also said that if elected, "My policy is that there's no such thing as a negotiation with terrorists."

Kerry started his day in Orlando, Florida, where he urged supporters to work for "a fresh start."

The Democratic presidential candidate asked the crowd "do we want four more years of the same failed course? Or do we want a fresh start for America?"

He said, "I see an America of rising opportunity. And I believe hope, not fear, is our future."

Aides said both Kerry and President Bush wanted to focus on broad messages Friday.

"In Iraq, every day, every headline, has brought fresh evidence that our commander in chief doesn't see what's happening -- or he sees it and he won't level with the American people about why we went to war in Iraq, how the war is going -- and has no idea how to put our policy back on track," Kerry said.

Kerry did not specifically mention the battle over more than 300 tons of missing explosives in Iraq -- after several days of hammering Bush on the issue.

Instead, he said, "By now, it is clear that no matter who tells him, no matter how many times he hears it, and no matter how bad things get, George W. Bush just doesn't understand the problems facing America."

"Kerry said Bush's "mistakes and misjudgments have hurt our troops, driven away allies, diverted our focus from Osama bin Laden and the real war on terror."

In addition to Orlando, the senator from Massachusetts had major events scheduled in West Palm Beach and Miami -- before traveling to Wisconsin for the night.

Rock star Bruce Springsteen planned to join Kerry at his rally Friday night in Miami. Springsteen had campaigned with Kerry on Thursday in Wisconsin and Ohio. A campaign aide said Springsteen was "energized" by the events and wanted to continue.

Springsteen is also scheduled to join Kerry for a rally Monday, the evening before the election.

Former President Clinton is back on the campaign trail Friday for a three-day trip to help get out the vote for Kerry.

Clinton travels from New York to a pair of battleground states -- Nevada on Friday and New Mexico on Saturday -- before returning Sunday to rally the faithful in his native Arkansas, which Bush won four years ago

Meanwhile, Hawaii has become an unexpected addition to the list of battleground states. Two recent polls show the race for the state's four electoral votes is too close to call, even though only two Republicans -- Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 -- have carried Hawaii since statehood in 1959.

Vice President Dick Cheney will travel to Hawaii on Sunday, spending about 13 hours in the air for two hours on the ground.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who won Hawaii's electoral votes by 19 percentage points in 2000, will stump for Kerry, as will the senator's daughter Alexandra.

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