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Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 16:21 GMT
Last al-Qaeda stronghold 'falls'
Senior Afghan commander Haji Zaman
Tribal commanders say al-Qaeda has been flushed out
Tribal fighters in Afghanistan say they have taken the last al-Qaeda positions in the caves and tunnels of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan.

Hundreds of al-Qaeda militants are reported to be on the run.

"We cleared al-Qaeda from our land. We did the job," senior commander Haji Mohammad Zaman told reporters.

We will get Bin Laden, whether it's today or tomorrow

Colin Powell
US Secretary of State
But he said had no information on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said they had no reason to believe the al-Qaeda leader was either killed or captured, but he admitted they did not know where he was.

The reported victory comes after weeks of fighting and relentless bombing, with US warplanes dropping hundreds of bombs on al-Qaeda positions in the past couple of days alone.

  • Tora Bora: The US believes Bin Laden may be hiding in Agam valley
  • Washington: Unconfirmed reports say Bin Laden was heard giving orders over the radio in Tora Bora

    See also:
    Where is Bin Laden?

  • The BBC's Damian Grammaticas, who is in the Tora Bora region, says it appears a decisive blow has been struck against al-Qaeda.

    Another local commander, Hazrat Ali, beamed as he told the BBC that they had killed about 200 al-Qaeda fighters, and captured another 35.

    He said 500 al-Qaeda members were on the run in the forests, without cover, and would be pursued.

    His men, he said, were searching the area "metre by metre."

    Local people have been warned that anyone sheltering them will face death.

    "Anyone who paves the way for al-Qaeda forces to live in the White Mountains will be given capital punishment," Hazrat Ali said.

    In other developments:

    • US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, visiting Afghanistan, says US sole war aim is to defeat terrorism
    • Plans for a possible al-Qaeda terror attack on central London have been found in Kandahar, the Portuguese paper Expresso reports
    • Several US marines injured while on demining duty at Kandahar airport
    • US special envoy James Dobbins to reopen the US embassy in Kabul as a liaison office on Monday
    • A British-led military team is in Kabul to urge Afghanistan's new administration to accept a substantial international peacekeeping presence

    Bin Laden's voice

    The defeat of al-Qaeda on Afghan soil has, however, done nothing to resolve the mystery of Osama Bin Laden's whereabouts.

    "Osama Bin Laden is not here," tribal commander Haji Zaman said.

    An unconfirmed report from Washington said Bin Laden had been heard giving orders over a short-range radio in the Tora Bora mountains over the past week.

    A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was confirmed "with reasonable certainty" that the voice on the radio was Bin Laden's, after it was compared with several videotapes.

    The US blames Bin Laden for the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

    Hot pursuit

    Speaking in Washington, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said it appeard that the al-Qaeda network was defeated.

    "Al-Qaeda is being destroyed in Afghanistan. Now we have to destroy it wherever it exists around the world," Mr Powell said.

    US soldier in Afghanistan
    The US hunt for Bin Laden goes on
    Mr Powell admitted that they did not know whether Osama Bin Laden was still in Afghanistan or had escaped into Pakistan, but that he was being hotly pursued.

    "We will get Bin Laden, whether it's today or tomorrow," he said.

    And in Kabul, where he was making a lightning visit, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cautioned against anticipating victory.

    "There are people trying to escape but that gets harder as night falls. The question is does that mean it's almost over in that area and I doubt it," Mr Rumsfeld said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

    The BBC's Hilary Andersson in Tora Bora
    "The Afghan commanders are claiming victory"
    Commander leading the ground assault, Hazrat Ali
    "We do not know of the exact whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden"
    The BBC's Stephen Sackur in Washington
    "The Americans are actively considering when and how to broaden this war on terrorism"
    See also:

    14 Dec 01 | South Asia
    Marines take Kandahar airport
    15 Dec 01 | South Asia
    UK team lobbies for Afghan force
    20 Sep 01 | Americas
    Profile: Donald Rumsfeld
    16 Dec 01 | South Asia
    Bin Laden's voice 'heard in Tora Bora'
    16 Dec 01 | South Asia
    Afghans told of US war aims
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