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U.S. may up high-tech ante in bin Laden hunt

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

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Al-Jazeera aired a video in September 2003 that appeared to show Osama bin Laden, left, with top deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

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A new U.S. push to find Osama bin Laden is under way in the Afghan border region
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon is considering beefing up the already enhanced technology U.S. forces are using to search for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden along the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, sources said.

CNN reported last week troops will start using ground sensors, U-2 spy planes and unmanned Predator drones to monitor the area 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The U.S. military also is examining using the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, sources said. The nonpartisan international policy-research group GlobalSecurity.org describes the E-8 Joint STARS as a long-range, air-to-ground surveillance system designed to locate, classify and track targets in any type of weather.

The craft has a range of more than 150 miles (250 kilometers) and can receive a video feed from a Predator drone and mark ground targets for attack.

Sources said the U.S. military also may use the RC-135 Rivet Joint. The aircraft allows the U.S. military to monitor electronic activity, according to GlobalSecurity.org.

The U.S. military is counting on constant surveillance of the border region and the "squeeze play" by U.S. and Pakistani forces surrounding the border to present the best chance to net the world's most-wanted terrorist.

Pentagon officials said they think bin Laden is hiding along the Pakistan-Afghan border, but they said they do not know the al Qaeda leader's exact location.

Top Bush administration officials said they believe that bin Laden may begin to feel the heat from troops now hunting for him and that he might start to move.

U.S. intelligence recently found signs of a network of al Qaeda couriers and safe houses on the Afghan side of the border, sources said. Such a network could be a sign bin Laden might be planning to flee Pakistan.

"We are putting the pieces in place to throw the net over him," one official said.

Officials warn bin Laden is elusive, has slipped through the U.S. military's grip before and may do so again.

Among the devices that will be in place within days are the U-2 spy planes, which fly at 70,000 feet, taking pictures, using radar and intercepting communications.

Unmanned Predator drones, flying at 25,000 feet, are equipped with cameras that can spot vehicles and people and special radar that can operate through clouds. Some of the Predators also may carry Hellfire missiles.

In addition, ground sensors may be placed along mountain passes to listen for vehicles.

The planes and sensors will send data via satellite to analysts. The U.S. military has bought up satellite transmission capacity in the region, to ensure it can respond quickly.

None of the measures are being acknowledged officially.

"Of course you've heard and seen in the press that Osama bin Laden is surrounded, we have him cornered and we know where he is, etc., etc. And of course, we don't know that," said Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, in an interview with PBS' Jim Lehrer.

Abizaid added no American troops are on Pakistani soil, saying U.S. efforts with Pakistan are focused on cooperation and coordination.

When asked if he thought bin Laden would be captured this year, the general said he had no way of knowing.

But he said, "I think that we will make it very painful for al Qaeda between now and the end of the year."

CNN's Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.


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