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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 17:58 GMT
Bin Laden men 'to surrender'
Al-Qaeda bunker devastated by US bombing
Eight days of bombing devastated al-Qaeda's bunkers
Al-Qaeda fighters have agreed to surrender after a relentless eight-day ground and air offensive on their rugged mountain hideouts, anti-Taleban commanders say.

The top US military officer, General Richard Myers, said the Pentagon had no confirmation of the offer.

But fighting has abated around the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan, our correspondent Peter Greste reports from the front line.

There appears to be disagreement among senior al-Qaeda figures about whether to give up.

  • Spin Ghar: al-Qaeda's 'last stronghold'
  • Caves dug in the 1980s to resist Soviets
  • Complex thought to be about 350m deep

    Hunting Bin Laden

  • Haji Zuman, a commander of the forces ranged against Osama Bin Laden's fighters, said they had agreed to begin handing over their weapons at 0800 local time (0330 GMT) on Wednesday.

    Another anti-Taleban commander, Mohammad Amin, told Reuters news agency that the al-Qaeda fighters had been flushed out of much of the warren of caves and tunnels at Tora Bora where they had taken refuge.

    He said they had been forced to retreat to a last stronghold in the mountains south of Tora Bora, at Spin Ghar - but there was no confirmation.

    Some al-Qaeda fighters had started heading for the Pakistani border, but were trapped by shelling in a rocky canyon, anti-Taleban fighters said.

    Mystery whereabouts

    Pakistani authorities said they had sent reinforcements and helicopter gunships to seal the border.

    Anti-Taleban fighters said the Tora Bora caves were littered with the bodies of al-Qaeda fighters, their defensive positions devastated by the American air raids.

    Bin Laden - the chief suspect in the 11 September attacks on the United States - is said to have been leading the resistance himself. But his current whereabouts remain a mystery.

    US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that American ground forces were in the area after truck-loads of US soldiers were seen.

    Anti-Taleban fighter examines documents found in al-Qaeda base
    Examining al-Qaeda papers left behind at Tora Bora
    Our correspondent says it is still too early to declare the battle for Tora Bora over, but it now seems likely that the end is near.

    Before the fighting abated, our correspondent said the mountain's lower flanks were alive with the rattle of automatic weapons fire and the thud of mortar rounds, while American bombers pounded the caves from the air.

    The ridges and gullies of the Tora Bora area are extraordinarily difficult to move through and al-Qaeda put up fierce resistance despite the bombing, he said.

    Afghan militia have been fighting for eight days to dislodge an estimated 1,000 of Bin Laden's fighters from the mountain caves.

    Mr Rumsfeld stressed that the war would not end with the fall of the Taleban.

    Comparing terrorists to wounded animals, he said they could still hide in caves or cities and then regroup to launch more attacks.

    Baqer Moin, head of the BBC's Persian service
    "Taking over Tora Bora would be the first step to the end of Al-Qaeda"
    The BBC's Clive Myrie
    "Nowhere is there any evidence of Osama Bin Laden"
    Royal United Services Institute's Dan Plesch
    "One has to question how far people have just melted away to fight another day"
    See also:

    18 Sep 01 | South Asia
    Who is Osama Bin Laden?
    18 Sep 01 | South Asia
    Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
    07 Dec 01 | South Asia
    CIA questioned 'American Taleban'
    09 Dec 01 | South Asia
    Kandahar rivals broker deal
    11 Dec 01 | South Asia
    UN upbeat on Kabul peacekeepers
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