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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 13:58 GMT
Spy plane hunting Bin Laden
Global Hawk spy plane
The Global Hawk has never been used before
The United States has deployed a new hi-tech unmanned spy plane in the skies over Afghanistan to help search for Osama Bin Laden.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed the long-range Global Hawk had joined the hunt, even though testing of the aircraft had not yet been completed.

Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in caves
Mr Rumsfeld also said the US was seeking to base heavily-armed AC-130 gunships in Uzbekistan on Afghanistan's northern border, while the US navy has been ordered to search ships off the Pakistani coast if they are suspected of carrying Bin Laden.

The slow, low-flying AC-130 aircraft, which fire a deadly 2,500 rounds of ammunition per minute, has already been used in the war in Afghanistan to attack Taleban troop concentrations and convoys of vehicles.

"It would be helpful to have AC-130s up north, particularly when you have a situation like Kunduz," said Mr Rumsfeld.

Thousands of Taleban fighters, holed up in the northern city of Kunduz, have been bombarded by US aircraft and Northern Alliance artillery.

Hunt stepped up

The defence secretary recently announced plans to beef up the number of US special forces hunting for Bin Laden on the ground in Afghanistan.

AC-130 gunship
AC-130: Used to deadly effect

The main suspect behind the 11 September suicide attacks on New York and Washington has proved elusive and is believed to be hiding in a network of specially-built caves.

Mr Rumsfeld said the Global Hawk was still in the development stages and had never been used in a real operation before.

Built by US-defence firm Northrop Grumman, the Global Hawk flies at 350 miles an hour and can cruise at up to 65,000 feet.

The US has already used another reconnaissance drone in Afghanistan - the $3.2m Air Force RQ-1B Predator - but the Global Hawk is faster and has more than twice the Predator's range.

America's air force has a fleet of four Global Hawks, with two more in production, ready for use next year.

See also:

22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Arrests disrupt al-Qaeda
19 Nov 01 | South Asia
Net closes on Bin Laden
18 Nov 01 | South Asia
Where is Bin Laden?
14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden 'safe inside Afghanistan'
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