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Pentagon Plays Down Optimistic Predictions of Bin Laden's Capture


There have been recent predictions by top officials that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden will be captured this year. The optimism coincides with word of plans for a new anti-terrorist offensive in Afghanistan.

First, it was the U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. Bryan Hilferty told reporters late last month he was confident Osama bin Laden would be caught this year.

Then, the U.S. military's top general in Afghanistan repeated the prediction. Lieutenant General David Barno said in Kabul this week that time was running out for both al-Qaida leader bin Laden and the Taleban's fugitive chief, Mullah Mohamed Omar.

General Barno said "their day has ended and this year will decisively sound the death knell of their movements in Afghanistan."

Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have expressed surprise at the optimistic predictions. They note in the past that senior defense officials might say Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar will eventually be captured. But they say these officials would never set a deadline.

Other Pentagon sources have noted the predictions coincide with leaks that the military is planning a major spring offensive in Afghanistan, centered along the volatile border region with Pakistan where terrorists are still believed to be in hiding.

These sources say the predictions and the disclosures about an offensive could be intended to throw the fugitive al-Qaida and Taleban leaders further off balance, perhaps forcing them into hasty moves that could expose them long enough for U.S. and other surveillance units to detect them, enabling them to be captured or killed.

The Pentagon has not officially confirmed plans for any new offensive.

But defense spokesmen have noted U.S. and other forces in Afghanistan are constantly conducting search operations aimed against al-Qaida and the Taleban. The latest, called Mountain Blizzard, has been under way since last month and is focused on the rugged mountain area adjacent to Pakistan.

One recent report in The Chicago Tribune newspaper claimed a planned new spring offensive would see U.S. forces cross into Pakistan, a claim strongly rejected by Pakistani authorities.

Pentagon officials tell VOA U.S. forces are working closely with both Pakistani and Afghan authorities to disrupt al-Qaida and Taleban activities in the border area.

They also say the Pentagon conducts contingency planning for what they term a wide range of potential missions throughout the region, a clear hint military planners may have drafted a plan involving incursions by American troops into Pakistan, possibly in cooperation with the Pakistanis themselves.

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