Assault On Tora Bora Cave
Complex Said Underway

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (UPI) - U.S.-backed Pashtun forces attacked Wednesday the suspected mountain hideout of Osama bin Laden in eastern Afghanistan in an effort to capture the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.
Officials in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad said hundreds of Pashtun fighters have already reached the Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex where bin Laden and his lieutenants may be hiding.
About 35 miles from Jalalabad, Tora Bora was built in the 1980s with U.S. financial support as a hiding place for Afghans fighting the Soviet occupation army.
Bin Laden occupied the caves in 1996 when he moved to Afghanistan from Sudan and is believed to have further fortified the facility.
A tribal commander, Zaman Khan, who is leading the Pashtun forces looking for bin Laden in Tora Bora told journalists in Jalalabad that his troops had occupied parts of the complex.
"Osama's men had already pulled out of these caves when our men arrived there," he said. "They have gone deeper into the caves to avoid intensive U.S. bombings."
U.S. forces have been bombing Tora Bora for almost a week now to force bin Laden and his men out of their hideouts.
The campaign to capture bin Laden intensified over the weekend when CIA chief George Tenet visited the bordering Pakistani city of Peshawar where he is believed to have met some Pashtun commanders now participating in the operation.
Two U.S. gunships and 60 commandos are also believed to have reached eastern Afghanistan in the search for bin Laden.
Pashtun commanders in Jalalabad said the Americans have also asked them to repair the runway at the Jalalabad airport, damaged during U.S. bombings last month when the Taliban still occupied the area.
"The Americans apparently want to bring fixed-wing planes for a possible evacuation of bin Laden and other suspected terrorists," said a local commander, Hazrat Ali.
The airport already has arrangements for accommodating gunships and helicopters.
He said U.S. and British commandos were providing "technical support to hundreds of Pashtun fighters now in Tora Bora but are not directly participating in the fight."
Guided by satellite, U.S. and British troops are expected to call in airstrikes as soon as they see bin Laden's men.
Zaman Khan said that his attempts to persuade al Qaida and Taliban soldiers to surrender had failed and his men were forced to launch a strike. "As the first step toward forcing surrender, we are severing their water sources. It is impossible survive in these inhospitable, arid mountains without water."
Afghan officials in Kabul have described the latest operation against bin Laden as "the beginning of the end game for al Qaida."
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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