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U-S Officials: No Victory Over Al-Qaida Yet - 2001-12-16


U-S officials warn it is too early to claim victory against the al-Qaida terrorist network, despite claims by Afghan forces that they have captured the last al-Qaida stronghold at Tora Bora.

U-S General Tommy Franks says U-S and Afghan tribal forces are making what he called cave-by-cave progress in Tora Bora, but that it could be some time before the area is secured.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says about two-thousand al-Qaida members are still on the run in eastern Afghanistan.

Afghan Commander Haji Zaman estimates some 200 al-Qaida fighters have been killed in the latest fighting. Afghan militias backed by U-S warplanes and special forces entered the White Mountain range earlier this month to kill or capture al-Qaida terrorists and their leader, Osama bin Laden.

After a lull of several hours, U-S warplanes resumed bombing the area late Sunday.

The whereabouts of Osama bin Laden is unclear, amid new reports that the al-Qaida leader recently slipped into Pakistan. General Franks told A-B-C television that the hunt for Mr. bin Laden is continuing.

Mr. Rumsfeld -- making his first visit to Afghanistan on Sunday -- said the United States is not leaving the region until, in his words, "we get the job done."

Mr. Rumsfeld arrived at an Air Force base north of Kabul today (Sunday) and immediately went into talks with interim Afghan government leader Hamid Karzai. He said Mr. Karzai -- who takes office next Saturday -- is anxious to cooperate with coalition forces, as they pursue the remaining al-Qaida fighters.

In an interview on U-S television, Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated President Bush's pledge that the United States will not rest until Mr. bin Laden is brought to justice. Mr. Powell also said any nation that has an al-Qaida cell should see it as a threat.

Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan today, at least three U-S Marines were injured when one of them stepped on a land mine at Kandahar airport. The incident occurred as the three were clearing the runway area of explosives.

U-S forces arrived at the airport Friday to remove land mines and other munitions so the facility can be re-opened for humanitarian and military use.

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