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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 16:37 GMT
Bin Laden fighters make a stand
Anti-Taleban fighters near Tora Bora
Under attack from the skies and the ground
Diehard al-Qaeda fighters are ferociously resisting an onslaught by tribal forces in Osama Bin Laden's underground hideout in the rugged Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Attacked from the skies by American bombers and on the ground by anti-Taleban forces, the al-Qaeda fighters are holding out with barrages of rockets and mortars.

The whereabouts of Bin Laden himself, however, remain a mystery.


Osama was not in Tora Bora during the past days of fighting and if he had been, he has probably slipped into Pakistan

Northern Alliance spokesman
Intense fighting was reported as Northern Alliance troops overran part of the complex of caves and tunnels near Jalalabad where Bin Laden is believed to have set up his headquarters.

But commander Hazrat Ali told the Associated Press news agency that his forces had later pulled back to let American bombs soften up the al-Qaeda positions before resuming the offensive.

A Northern Alliance spokesman, Mohammed Habeel, suggested that Bin Laden, accused of masterminding the 11 September suicide attacks in the United States, may have fled to Pakistan.

Mr Habeel said troops attacking the caves had not found Bin Laden himself.

'Children in the line of fire'

Several hundred members of Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network were thought to have lived in the caves, some with their families.

Anti-Taleban fighters said that during lulls in the fighting, they had seen Arab children playing near the entrances to caves high in the mountains.

Mr Habeel said Arabs, including women, had been captured, along with weapons and vehicles.

"Osama was not in Tora Bora during the past days of fighting and if he had been, he has probably slipped into Pakistan," Mr Habeel said.

Some fighters, however, reported sighting a man resembling Bin Laden visiting the al-Qaeda fighters on horseback.

(Click here to see map of Tora Bora caves)

Many of Bin Laden's Arab fighters are reported to have moved up to high ground above the caves.

From there, they could escape to other parts of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

The cave complex, about 56 kilometres (35 miles) south-west of the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, was used by mujahideen forces fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s.

The US secretly helped to build the base.

Civilian casualties

The complex has taken a battering from American B-52 warplanes which have been dropping 110kg and 225kg bombs.

The explosions set off huge orange flashes and filled the valley with clouds of smoke and dust.

Anti-Taleban fighters near Tora Bora
Waiting for US bombs to soften up the enemy

The French humanitarian group, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), said more than 80 Afghan civilians had been killed and 50 others wounded by US bombs around Tora Bora in recent days.

MSF workers have recovered the bodies, the group said.

The Pentagon insists that all its strikes in the Tora Bora region have successfully hit their targets.

But the Pentagon is investigating how a satellite-guided American "smart" bomb missed its target and accidentally killed three American soldiers and five anti-Taleban fighters in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday.

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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"They have not yet brought to justice the key leaders"
The BBC's Clive Myrie
"Certainly members of Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network are in the area"
See also:

07 Dec 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Tora Bora battleground
06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden's fortress caves
02 Dec 01 | South Asia
Taleban told 'surrender or die'
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