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Crack UK troops join hunt for Laden

March 01, 2004 16:31 IST

Crack British troops are part of a dramatic new joint effort to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, reports The Guardian, London.

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"SAS (Special Air Service) detachments will join thousands of US troops - including a 'super-secret' special forces unit transferred from Iraq - and contingents of Afghan soldiers in a huge sweep of mountainous border areas where the terrorists are believed to be hiding," the paper said on Sunday.

According to the report, "the push will be the biggest such operation for 18 months. Attempts to find the fugitives last year were hindered by a lack of special forces soldiers - most of whom had been deployed in Iraq - and the failure of Pakistan to cut off escape routes by closing its border with Afghanistan. Harsh winter conditions in recent months have made movement in the high ground where bin Laden is thought to be hiding impossible.

"Thousands of Pakistani troops and paramilitaries are preparing to move into positions along the 1,520-mile frontier to act as an anvil against which the US-led hammer can strike."

While recent reports from an Iranian news agency saying bin Laden has been captured have been denied by both Washington and Islamabad, "Washington is confident the Saudi-born militant will be killed or captured within a year," the paper said.

Most intelligence analysts believe bin Laden and a small number of his associates, including his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, have been hiding somewhere in the mountains between the eastern Afghan city of Khost and the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta since slipping the net drawn round them by American forces at the cave complex of Tora Bora in December 2001, the report said.

Al-Zawahiri issued two tapes last week calling for attacks on the 'Crusader-Zionist alliance'. 

According to the article, the hunt is being boosted by a computer programme developed in Iraq to locate 'high value human targets'. The programme charts links between thousands of people associated with a fugitive, allowing intelligence officers to detect key individuals who might have vital information.

'The sands in their hourglass are running out. We reaffirm our effort to track these guys down and get 'em," The Guardian quoted Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Beevers, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan, as saying.

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