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Hunt for bin Laden, Omar Continues - 2002-01-26

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, is in the region and says the hunt for Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and the ousted Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar continues.

Speaking to reporters in neighboring Pakistan, General Franks said that he does not know the whereabouts of Mr. Bin Laden and the ousted Taleban, Mullah Omar. But the American General says the top priority of his intelligence experts is to use the information collected during the search process to prevent further terrorist attacks around the world.

"The business that we have been about is the destruction of the al-Qaida network, the destruction of terrorist organizations with global reach of which al-Qaida is one. Work remains to be done and among that work will be to find the leadership of these terrorist organizations [but that's] not the very first priority for us. Obviously what we want to do is that we want to use the intelligence information we are able to get, first, to prevent future terrorist attacks. That's our first order," he said.

General Franks said that deploying large numbers of American ground troops in Afghanistan will not have increased chances of capturing Mr. Bin Laden or Taleban leader Mullah Omar. The general indicated that the United States is watchful of repeating the mistakes of the former Soviet Union in the 1980s, when the presence of a large number of Soviet forces provoked widespread Afghan resistance.

"I think the tactics in this operation were just the right tactics. I believe one does not want to commit mistakes that have been committed by other people in the past. I believe one does want to cooperate with cooperative allies in pursuit of military objectives. And I believe that those are the characteristics of this particular work," he said.

Suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and leader of the ousted Taleban, Mullah Omar have been at large since Afghan opposition forces backed by U.S. military air strikes toppled the radical Islamic Taleban in November.

Nearly 4,000 U.S. troops are engaged in operations against surviving members of the Taleban and Al-Qaida network in Afghanistan.

Many Al-Qaida fighters have reportedly moved to neighboring Pakistan and Iran, but General Franks says he will not "speculate about the possibility of military action across the Afghan border."

Meanwhile, the American general says that he will not let a standoff between India and Pakistan disrupt his mission in Afghanistan.

"As you know we continue to operate search and rescue efforts out of here [Pakistan], we continue to use airfields inside Pakistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. I have not and will not move our forces away from Pakistan as we move forward with this," he said.

India and Pakistan have been locked in a military standoff along their common border since a deadly attack on the Indian parliament last month. India blames Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatists.

General Franks says that U.S. forces will continue to do their work in cooperation with Pakistan. He says the United States remains hopeful that diplomacy solves the crisis between India and Pakistan.