Col. John Mulholland 

At a Special Forces Forward Operating Base

5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) 

Posted at 2:18 p.m. PST Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2002 

U.S. Special Forces Commander: bin Laden not likely to be found alive in Tora Bora
BY SUSAN SEVAREID
Associated Press Writer


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- Osama bin Laden isn't likely to be found in caves being searched by U.S. Special Forces in the Tora Bora area of eastern Afghanistan, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force said Wednesday.

``I don't think he's up there. 

What we've brought up there (to search) was pretty significant,'' 

Col. John Mulholland 

told a small group of American journalists at a special forces forward operating base outside Afghanistan.

 ``I do think he's either dead, buried under some tonnage of rock or he's out of there.''

_________


But commanders at the base said U.S. Special Forces Teams continue searching caves in the Tora Bora area looking for anything that might help dismantle bin Laden's al-Qaida network and catch the man accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 terror attacks. They were not specific about what had been found.

The country where the forward operating base is located could not be identified under ground rules for journalists visiting a place that until recent days has been off-limits to reporters.

In a war in which the United States hasn't relied on conventional ground troops, small groups of Special Forces work with local Afghan fighters to overthrow the Taliban leadership and hunt down al-Qaida militants.

Reporters were taken to a Special Forces base in southern Afghanistan later Wednesday and heard members of the 5th Special Forces Group describe the activities of their teams in the Kandahar area. Here, the goal is to help secure a city that was the birthplace and the heart of Taliban territory.

A few residents waved at the armed special forces as they rode on pickup trucks to a base in the city. The Americans said most Afghans have been friendly.

Through unilateral and joint patrols with Afghan allies, the Special Forces in Kandahar are keeping watch for any hard-line fighters who may remain, checking residents' tips on hidden weapons or locations used by former fighters and assessing humanitarian needs.

``What I call it is keeping my finger on the pulse of the city,'' said Col. Dave, commander of the Special Operations Command and Control Center and military adviser to Kandahar governor Gul Agha. Citing security concerns, many soldiers will give only their first name and rank.

Caves searched in the Tora Bora area in recent days by other special forces teams haven't been elaborate, the U.S. Commanders said.

Americans saw nothing of the elaborate cave network bin Laden was reputed to have there, or of any tunnels created to connect caves, Mulholland said. Often, he added, caves had been looted by the time the U.S. Special Forces Teams went inside.

He did not rule out that more elaborate complexes exist.

Though the Special Forces search in the Tora Bora area appears to be winding down, Mulholland said he's not prepared to say the role for special forces in Afghanistan has peaked.

Parts of the country, particularly in the north, are in a transition phase, while the south still requires the United States to play more of a military role, he said.

 

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