The United States has asked the family of Osama bin Laden for DNA samples, to rule out the possibility that he may have been among the casualties of a U.S. missile strike earlier this month.
The request comes as the U.S. military said it would help the former Soviet republic of Georgia train its troops to battle terrorists.
The search for bin Laden's DNA comes after a Feb. 4 U.S. attack. A remote-controlled U.S. Predator spy plane fired two Hellfire missiles at a group of suspected al Qaeda leaders in eastern Afghanistan. Because one of the men was unusually tall, there was also some speculation that bin Laden himself may have been killed.
U.S. forces searching the scene a week later found "biological material," which might possibly include human remains. They are now hoping to compare the DNA from the material with a sample (saliva or blood) from bin Laden's mother because that would provide the closest match.
He is the only child of that mother — but he has close to 50 half siblings through his father. If investigators got several of his siblings to provide DNA samples, officials believe they could have a conclusive result.
Bin Laden's father is dead, but his mother is still living in Saudi Arabia and there is a possibility she will cooperate.
"It was always believed that if we needed to get DNA we could probably do so, so we didn't press the issue. But since the Hellfire missile strike we figured that it was time we got a sample, even though we do not believe it was bin Laden we hit," a senior U.S. official told ABCNEWS.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials feel confidant that bin Laden is still alive — the latest intelligence indicating he remains in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. The main reason that officials believe he is still alive: There is no message traffic indicating he is dead.
From the Hindu Kush to the Black Sea
On the other side of Central Asia, the war on terror appeared to be opening up a new front with the U.S. offer to help Georgia fight terrorists who are believed to have moved into the Caucasus region.
Senior military officials said the United States will begin to "train and equip" missions in Georgia "sooner rather than later" following the recommendations of an assessment team that returned from the region about a month ago.
White House spokesman Ari Fleisher said today that plans are being developed for how the United States can help Georgia deal with its security problems.
"Plans are being made for training and equipping of Georgian forces in their battle in the Pankisi Gorge," Fleischer said. "It's important for fighting terrorists who are operating there."
Georgian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shorena Esakiya said that the goal of the U.S. training mission is "to assist in training a special task force capable of resisting terrorists."
Between 100 and 200 American soldiers will be involved, carrying out an operation described as similar to one under way in the Philippines. There, 660 troops are conducting a joint operation with that country's armed forces, including 160 U.S. special forces soldiers who are training the Filipinos to combat terrorism.
Military officials said they have seen "pretty clear evidence" that some members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network have moved into the Pankisi Gorge — a crime-ridden area near the breakaway Russian province of Chechnya.