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US Defense Officials: Bin Laden is Fugitive Without Future


Top U.S. defense officials say Osama bin Laden is a fugitive without a future and they are taking new steps to track him down along with other members of the al-Qaida terrorist group.

With most Taleban and al-Qaida forces now bottled up in two major areas inside Afghanistan, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the future prospects of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden are definitely not good.

"This is a man on the run. This is a man who is being deserted by the same people who sheltered him not so long ago. This is a man with a price on his head and there are an increasing number of people in Afghanistan who may like to collect that reward," he said.

That reward of up to $25 million is producing a huge number of intelligence leads. But Mr. Wolfowitz concedes Osama bin Laden is still at large along with other members of his al-Qaida terrorist network.

So the Pentagon has announced it is expanding its search net outside of Afghanistan and into the North Arabian Sea just as a precaution. Marine General Peter Pace is the Vice Chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"As a precautionary measure, as you would expect us to, we are looking at how they might try to flee the country. One way they might try to flee is by ship so we're making sure we have the assets in place in case that happens," he said.

U.S. Navy ships will stop and board any vessels they suspect might be carrying al-Qaida members. U.S. aircraft are also closely monitoring any activity in the skies in and around Afghanistan in case there is an attempted escape by air.

General Pace says a few suspect aircraft have been destroyed although he was uncertain whether these had actually been shot down while in flight.

"In the last several weeks, we have destroyed two or three more aircraft. Whether or not they had anyone on board fleeing, we do not know," he said.

In the meantime, U.S. aircraft continue to hit suspected Taleban and al-Qaida hiding places inside Afghanistan, including tunnels and caves. General Pace suggests American ground forces will not be called upon to search such locations.

"Our specialized approach to caves and tunnels is to put 500 pound bombs in the entrance," he said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said he hopes the Afghan people, perhaps motivated by reward money, will undertake the job of scouring remote Taleban and al-Qaida hiding places.