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Planes bomb camp



Published: Fri, January 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



If Omar doesn't surrender, the United States might start bombing the area where he's believed to be hiding.

COMBINED DISPATCHES

WASHINGTON -- U.S. warplanes bombed a suspected Al-Qaida base in eastern Afghanistan for the second time in two days today after coalition observers detected some of Osama bin Laden's forces trying to regroup there, military officials said.

The second strike on the Zawar Kili camp near Khowst took place in late morning, after coalition forces detected activity at the base in the hours after the first strike, said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.

Preparing air base: To improve the coalition's ability to conduct strikes, a U.S. team of about 180 people is preparing an air base in Kyrgyzstan for use by fighter-bombers and air tankers, said a defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Within a few weeks, the base will be ready for F-15E Strike Eagles, fighter-bombers that can carry "bunker-buster" penetrating bombs, the official said.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic that borders China, is not adjacent to Afghanistan. But the air base will give coalition forces a northern base from which to fly missions in Afghanistan.

Search continues: The search for bin Laden, whom the United States holds responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, continues by land, sea and air.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon will continue pursuing bin Laden and his top lieutenants, as well as Mullah Mohammed Omar and other Taliban leaders. The military campaign in Afghanistan will not be over until they are found, Rumsfeld said.

"We intend to find them and we intend to capture or kill them," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference Thursday.

Afghan officials said Thursday they were negotiating with tribal leaders to give up weapons as they continued to scour the mountains for Omar and 1,500 of his fighters. U.S. officials were adamant that no deal had been offered to Omar.

Regional Afghan officials said they were negotiating with tribal leaders to surrender weapons as they scoured more mountain areas today for the fugitive Taliban leader.

Village surrounded? One employee of Kandahar's intelligence chief said today that the village where Omar, the Taliban spiritual leader, is believed to be located was "surrounded," though he did not identify it. In Washington, U.S. officials said no deal had been offered to the most wanted man after bin Laden.

The governor of the southern city of Kandahar, Gul Agha, said Thursday his men were not negotiating with Omar but were continuing to search for him and to persuade tribal leaders to disarm, Afghan and Pakistani military officials said.

If Omar doesn't agree to surrender, the Baghran region in the mountains north of Kandahar where he is believed to be hiding faces possible bombing by U.S.-led warplanes.

In a sharp criticism of U.S. bombing, a United Nations representative said Thursday that dozens of civilians were killed Saturday in three waves of attacks by B-52 bombers on an eastern Afghanistan village.

Although it was based upon unverified allegations, the U.N. criticism came amid a growing number of calls by Afghan leaders for the United States to limit its aerial attacks if it cannot prevent harm to civilians.

Rumsfeld defended U.S. bombing decisions Thursday and said: "I can't imagine there's been a conflict in history in which there has been less collateral damage, less unintended consequences."

The American desert base, Camp Rhino, was shut down Thursday and turned over to Afghan government authorities after being returned to its original state -- a simple airstrip, Marine spokesman Capt. Stewart Upton said.

The U.S. Army's 101st Airborne is taking over the Kandahar Airport from the Marines, Upton said today. The handover suggests the area has been secured and the operations have moved into a new phase.

At the daily U.S. Marines briefing in Kandahar, Upton said the advance Army guard had arrived at the airport and the Marines of the 26th Marines Expeditionary Unit would be packing and returning to naval ships in the Arabian Sea. No specific time was given.

Somalia: Meanwhile, U.S. forces are increasing reconnaissance flights over Somalia, looking for signs that bin Laden's Al-Qaida network is reforming in the lawless African country, U.S. officials said.

Dozens of Al-Qaida members fleeing the fighting in Afghanistan have arrived in Somalia, which already had a small presence of the terrorist group, the officials said, speaking Thursday on the condition of anonymity.

Al-Qaida also has ties to a larger, native Islamic fundamentalist movement, called al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, which aims to set up an Islamic state in Somalia.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher acknowledged that the Bush administration is concerned that the country could be a potential hideout.




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