US Raises Award for Bin Laden to $25m

Published November 20th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

The US military hopes that Afghans seeking a $25 million reward, not American soldiers, will creep through caves hunting for top Al Qaeda terrorist leaders.  

The bounty offered for Osama bin Laden and his top aides, plus additional reward money from the CIA should encourage “a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves, looking for the bad folks,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday, cited by the AP. 

US special forces and CIA operatives for some time have been spreading the word on the ground that money would be given to Afghans who cooperate with the campaign to get bin Laden and Taliban leaders. Starting Sunday, the rewards also were publicized on Air Force radio broadcasts and in leaflets dropped over Afghanistan, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Tuesday. "There is no question there are people out looking," Rumsfeld was quoted by CNN as saying.  

He said the bombing campaign is "targeting caves and closing them up," but US forces are not conducting a "cave-by-cave" search.  

He also told a news conference he couldn't confirm reports that bin Laden might be hiding within a specific area, and he said the United States doesn't know how many terrorist leaders have been eliminated in the military campaign.  

Sources told CNN the best US intelligence indicates bin Laden and his protectors are still in Afghanistan, somewhere in the vicinity of Kandahar.  

Asked about reports that Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar might be trying to negotiate a surrender for himself in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said opposition groups, not the United States, are involved in any talks.  

"It's our hope that they will not engage in negotiations that would provide for the release of al Qaeda forces, that would provide for the release of foreign nationals, non-Afghans, leaving the country and destabilizing neighboring countries," he said.  

Rumsfeld added that if Omar were to be released, the United States would not let him leave the country. He also said the United States has not been in a position to take custody of prisoners because it has no jails or guards to accommodate them.  

Speaking about the fierce fighting in Kunduz, where Northern Alliance soldiers have surrounded the city, Rumsfeld said of the Taliban and other fighters, "My hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner."  

According to CNN, some of the caves Rumsfeld referred to have been converted into elaborate, multi-level shelters capable of storing ammunition and fuel as well as quartering troops.  

Such caves aided Afghan guerrillas in their successful, decade-long struggle against the Soviets in the 1980s, and US forces are hoping intelligence from surrendering or defecting Taliban troops could help them pinpoint bin Laden's location – 

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