Al Qaeda Fighters Issue Demands as Surrender Deadline Expires
A US bomber blasted Osama bin Laden's fighters in the eastern Afghan mountains Wednesday after they failed to meet a deadline to surrender or be killed.
A spokesman for US-backed Afghan commander Haji Hazrat Ali said negotiations were going on with bin Laden's al-Qaeda leaders, who had set conditions for giving up.
Spokesman Amin (eds: one name) said they were insisting on surrendering only to United Nations officials in the presence of diplomats from Saudi Arabia and other countries.
"Haji Hazrat Ali told us 10 minutes ago that they have said they will not surrender before him or commander Haji Zaman. The commanders are holding a meeting to decide the next step," Amin said.
He said "Maybe they will surrender in the next couple of hours," adding: "If they don't do so we will kill them."
Haji Mohammad Zaman, one of the Afghan commanders leading the assault on the Tora Bora cave complex, said on Tuesday that all al-Qaeda fighters had agreed to surrender unconditionally at 8:00 am (0330 GMT) Wednesday.
But two hours after the deadline there was no sign of any surrender, an AFP reporter saw.
Just 50 minutes after the deadline passed, a B-52 heavy bomber carried out the first of two raids. It circled over the mountains before dropping two large bombs to the south of here, closer than usual to the Pakistani border.
Zaman, who had announced the surrender deal, refused to talk to journalists Wednesday.
Militants loyal to Saudi-born militant bin Laden, blamed for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, have been under relentless attack from US warplanes and Afghan ground forces since early December.
It is not clear whether bin Laden himself is in the Tora Bora region, although US officials said Tuesday there were "indications" he was there.
Tora Bora, in the White Mountain range of eastern Nangarhar province near the Pakistani border, contains an elaborate cave system built in the 1980s to house Afghan mujahedin fighting the Soviet Red Army.
Estimates of the numbers of bin Laden followers in the White Mountains range from several hundred to more than 1,000.
Pentagon officials said Tuesday they had seen no signs that a surrender was imminent and vowed to press on with their assault.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon had no confirmation of surrender talks and no ceasefire had been ordered.
Pentagon officials have questioned whether the surrender offer was "legitimate", warning it could be a ruse to stage a breakout towards the Pakistani border.
A US government official said meanwhile that US intelligence services believe they have detected bin Laden and members of his inner circle in the Tora Bora region.
Pentagon officials said the largest conventional bomb in the US arsenal -- a 7.5-tonne (15,000-pound) "daisy cutter" -- was dropped on a cave in eastern Afghanistan over the weekend.
"There were some indications that bin Laden was in the area when the daisy cutter was dropped," one official told AFP.
The US television network ABC News reported that in addition to causing mass destruction, the blast had sparked a series of panicked radio and satellite calls among al-Qaeda members.
Those communications provided confirmation that the Saudi-born Islamic militant and his entourage remain in the region, the network said.
Since the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime which protected al-Qaeda, the focus of the US campaign has been on capturing or killing bin Laden and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Pakistani authorities have sent extra troops to seal the border with Afghanistan near the White Mountains and prevent any escape by bin Laden or al-Qaeda guerrillas.
"The entire border area opposite Tora Bora is virtually sealed and there is constant surveillance by helicopter gunships," a Pakistani interior ministry spokesman said Tuesday.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted, however, that sealing the frontier was easier said than done.
"That is a very difficult thing to do. It is a porous border. It's a long border. It's a very complicated area to try to seal. And there's just simply no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle." -- AFP
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