U.S. forces in Afghanistan continue to hunt Osama bin Laden. A top defense official has acknowledged for the first time the terrorist leader could be dead.
With U.S. air strikes continuing to target caves and tunnels favored as hiding places by al-Qaida terrorists and their Taleban supporters, a top Pentagon official says it is possible Osama bin Laden may have been killed by U.S. bombs.
But Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem of the military's Joint Staff says it is also possible the terrorist leader may still be alive and that he may be able to flee Afghanistan. Admiral Stuffelbeem said, "It's possible that on one of these strikes, he could be killed. It is also possible that he may survive and as the Secretary has pointed out, it is possible he might slip out."
Admiral Stufflebeem says defense officials are using every possible resource to narrow down the possible hiding places for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders. "We are using every avenue of intelligence gathering," he continued. "We are using every contact that we have with opposition groups and locals on the ground to help narrow the possibilities of where the leadership of al-Qaida may be at, and then targeting those tunnels and complexes accordingly."
Other Pentagon officials tell VOA that intelligence analysts are sifting through a massive number of possible leads.
So far, however, Admiral Stufflebeem says nothing conclusive has turned up. "If we had specific intelligence that would tell us where he [Osama] is at, we'd have him," Admiral Stufflebeem said. "If we knew he had been killed, we'd be able to produce that [body]."
The United States is offering a $25 million reward for information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida leaders. U.S. planes have dropped leaflets over Afghanistan announcing the reward. Special U.S. broadcasts to Afghanistan are also appealing to the Afghan people to help hunt down fugitive terrorist and Taleban leaders.
In the meantime, Admiral Stufflebeem tells reporters that the United States is willing to halt bombings around the besieged Taleban stronghold of Kunduz if opposition leaders ask for a pause to facilitate negotiations on the surrender of Taleban fighters.