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US Diplomat Doubts Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar Are in Afghanistan

Zalmay Khalilzad

The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan says Osama bin Laden and former Taleban leader Mullah Omar are no longer in the country, but did not say where they may be.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad rejected suggestions that the two fugitives are still in Afghanistan.

"Mullah Omar is not in Afghanistan. I do not believe that Osama is in Afghanistan," he said.

Mr. Khalilzad did not say where he received his information or provide any details to back up his assertions. His comments came a day after a Pakistani media report that Mullah Omar is still alive and helping lead the Taleban insurgency in Afghanistan.

In an interview with the Pakistani television news program GEO, a reputed Taleban commander claimed both Omar and Osama bin Laden are in good health.

The man, identified as Mullah Akhtar Usmani, refused to say where the two men were, but insisted Mullah Omar is still in touch with Taleban forces.

The United States has been hunting both men for more than three years for their alleged connection to al-Qaida and the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Security experts believe the two are hiding in Pakistan's northern tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan.

Ambassador Khalilzad said it is unclear how much control Osama bin Laden still has over al-Qaida.

And while the man remains a powerful symbolic figure, Mr. Khalilzad said his organization has definitely been weakened.

"A lot of progress has been made. Significant numbers of the leaders of al-Qaida have been captured," he said. "Their network has been disrupted. The financial network has also been disrupted."

U.S. military officials are also claiming progress in the fight against Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Coalition forces say the rebels are losing ground, and insist recent counterinsurgency operations are showing results.

Nevertheless, Taleban attacks are on the rise, especially in southern Afghanistan.

A doctor and six local staff were killed earlier this week when rebels attacked a medical clinic in Khost province, near the border with Pakistan.

Taleban insurgents say they hope to derail Afghanistan's national parliamentary elections, scheduled for September.