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US Confident Pakistan Will Capture al-Qaida Members - 2001-12-18

The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan says he is confident that authorities in neighboring Pakistan will capture members of the al-Qaida terrorist network, who are fleeing their mountain hideouts.

Special Envoy James Dobbins told reporters Pakistani officials have assured him that their reinforced patrols along the border with Afghanistan will try to intercept escaping al-Qaida members.

Mr. Dobbins met officials in Islamabad after arriving from Kabul, where he reopened the U.S. diplomatic mission on Monday. "Pakistani officials reaffirmed their commitments to us as regards the strict border controls," he said. "It is a mountain range, so I think the passes are sealed. I do not think it is possible to prevent individuals from crossing the border. [But] I think it is possible, once they have done so, to apprehend them over time and to ensure they are dealt with appropriately."

U.S.-backed Afghan forces say they have taken control of the stronghold of terror suspect Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area of eastern Afghanistan. But the whereabouts of the Saudi-fugitive and other members of al-Qaida remain unknown.

The possible escape route for bin Laden and his associates would be the difficult trek over frozen mountain passes into Pakistan. The Pakistani government has sent reinforcements to the region to prevent such crossings.

In the past few days, authorities have reportedly captured several dozen Al-Qaida fighters fleeing the attacks on Tora Bora.

Mr. Dobbins says Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai has already begun high-level talks with neighboring Pakistan. "I know he has been in contact with the government of Pakistan at the highest levels, and that they have established a good relationship and I am sure that will continue," said James Dobbins.

Pakistan has been nervously watching developments in neighboring Afghanistan since the Northern Alliance took control of Kabul last month.

The relationship between Islamabad and the Alliance has been traditionally hostile because of Pakistan's past role in the rise of the Taleban movement.

The U.S. envoy says Afghanistan's Northern Alliance "will cease to exist" after the interim government assumes power in Kabul later this week.