In the Afghan capital, Kabul, a Northern Alliance military commander says his men in southern Afghanistan have evidence that Osama bin Laden may be preparing to head west toward the Iranian border.

Northern Alliance commander Shah Mamood Pupal says some of his troops in the south have seen followers loyal to Osama bin Laden scouting for an escape route out of the Kandahar area. He says spies for Osama bin Laden are concentrated on a trail that extends west from an area northwest of Kandahar. Mr. Pupal speculates that the Saudi-born fugitive may be trying to slip into Iran.

Two-weeks ago, the Alliance commander told VOA that he was certain that Osama bin Laden and the leader of the deposed Taleban, Mohammed Omar, were both hiding in the rugged mountains near Baghran, about 160 kilometers northwest of Kandahar in Hellmand province. At the time, the United States believed Osama bin Laden was in the Tora Bora area of eastern Afghanistan.

On Monday, dozens of heavily-armed U.S. troops, thought to be Marines, boarded helicopters at their base in Kandahar and were seen heading in the direction of Baghran. A B-52 bomber and a fighter jet accompanied the troops.

Pentagon officials have confirmed that a mission is in progress, but refuse to comment further. President Bush says that the U.S. military is determined to find Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden, adding that it is not a matter of if, but when.