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As Marines Search Caves, Bush Confident bin Laden Will Be Found - 2001-12-21

President Bush says he is confident the United States will eventually find terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. U.S. Marines are preparing to search caves in eastern Afghanistan looking for the al-Qaida leader.

President Bush says he is not the least bit anxious that coalition forces in Afghanistan have still not found the man he calls the "prime suspect" in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Mr. Bush says [Mr.] bin Laden may have been killed in U.S. bombing or escaped to Pakistan. Either way, he says, the terrorist leader will be found.

"I haven't heard much from him recently. Which means he could be in a cave that doesn't have an opening to it anymore, or he could be in a cave where he can get out. Or he may have tried to slither out into neighboring Pakistan. We don't know. But I will tell you this. We are going to find him," he said.

Mr. Bush said he is a patient man in the war against terrorism, that the United States is in this fight for the long haul. After driving the Taleban from power and destroying al-Qaida defenses, President Bush says the difficulty of the mission in Afghanistan has "increased significantly" with a cave-by-cave hunt for terrorist leaders.

"Now we are on the hunt and we are chasing one or two, three or four, twenty individuals at a time. This is pretty rugged country as you know. So we are slowly but surely chasing down every single lead and as our friends and allies take over more and more of the country and as the new government gets into place, we will continue to get good intelligence and we will continue to chase Mr. bin Laden," he said.

Mr. Bush says al-Qaida leaders are making a "terrible mistake" if they think they can hide from the United States. The president said U.S. and coalition forces will track down terrorist leaders and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes.