The U.S. military today dropped a 15,000-pound "daisy cutter" bomb on the mouth of a cave where key al Qaeda leaders were suspected of hiding, as American forces stepped up their bombing of a mountainous region believed to be the hideout of Osama bin Laden.
It was not known exactly who was in the cave or how much damage the bomb did, but a Pentagon spokesman said the weapon — which incinerates everything within 600 yards and has been used rarely in the 2-month-old Afghan campaign — was sure to have a "negative effect" on anyone hiding nearby.
Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said the bomb was dropped on the cave because "it was believed that that's where some substantial al Qaeda forces would be, and possibly including senior leadership."
When asked whether that senior leadership might include bin Laden himself, Stufflebeem smiled and said, "It certainly would be hopefully so."
With the surrender of the last Taliban-held province, Zabul, over the weekend, the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan forces that had been fighting to overthrow the hard-line Islamic regime have turned much of their focus to tracking down al Qaeda forces still hiding in the country.
Particular attention has focused on the mountainous region of Tora Bora, south of Jalalabad, where there have been reports that bin Laden and senior al Qaeda members are hiding.
American bombers began hitting the region hard just after sunrise, softening the way for the Northern Alliance to try to take out the al Qaeda forces that have sought refuge in the mountains. Northern Alliance commanders said 2,500 troops were ready to take part in the assault.
One Northern Alliance commander said the bombing raids had already driven bin Laden loyalists from their hideouts.
"There is repeated day and night bombing. All of Tora Bora has been taken by our mujahideen. The enemy is on mountain tops between Tora Bora and Waziri Gorge," Hazrat Ali said.
"Osama may be there too," he added. "He was seen five days ago and an Afghan prisoner who we have confirmed it too. Osama has set up new caves and [an] underground protection system on top of these mountains. His people are putting up extremely tough resistance."
But the al Qaeda loyalists answered the assault with mortar fire and machine guns from their ridge-top positions, trying to hold off the attackers. The anti-Taliban tribesmen were using Soviet-era T-55 tanks left over from the 10-year Afghan war Moscow waged against the mujahideen.
"It's pretty intense fighting and pretty intense activity," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said today. "There are a lot of reports [of] a fair amount of action up there. Fighting remains fierce. ... It's tough.
"The remaining people who are continuing to fight, who are continuing to resist, are pretty hard-core," Clarke said, adding that there is no reason to believe that "this is close to the end."
Sealing Off the Exits
Pakistan has sent thousands of troops to the country's border region near Tora Bora to try to prevent bin Laden or al Qaeda troops from fleeing Afghanistan.
According to an Iranian radio report, people living in the village of Tora Bora saw and recognized bin Laden and eight of his supporters fleeing to the Nangarhar heights on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The radio quoted Mohammad Habeel, a spokesman for the Northern Alliance, who said that after his main base in Tora Bora had been captured by anti-Taliban forces, bin Laden fled toward Pakistan.
In Kabul, U.S. Marines were helping prepare for a possible reopening of the American Embassy, moving in equipment and setting up defensive positions on the roof.
Meanwhile, the White House is determining whether to release for public broadcast a 40-minute videotape found last month in Afghanistan that offers another connection between bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. The tape shows the Saudi dissident saying the World Trade Center attack was more successful than he expected, ABCNEWS has learned.
American ground forces stationed at Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan are shifting their focus away from the Taliban.
Instead, daily patrols of "hunter-killer" teams are concentrating on the remaining die-hard members of bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network. The patrols are blocking roads near Kandahar, looking for al Qaeda members.
If any are encountered, they are first to be told to drop their weapons. Any who fail to comply will be killed.
In addition, every Marine above the rank of sergeant carries photographs of the 10 to 20 most wanted.
Coalition warships are also stopping vessels sailing in the region to search them for bin Laden or other top al Qaeda figures, Pentagon officials said.
In Afghanistan, the country's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has called on Afghan citizens in the search for bin Laden, his deputies and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. He has vowed to turn them over to face "international justice."
"I have asked those villagers to look for Arabs around the clock," Karzai said. "And if they catch them, wherever they are, they must be arrested and brought to Kandahar prison."
Taliban May Be Done, But Not U.S. Role
Wolfowitz said although the Taliban's fall has been swift and resounding, U.S. forces will continue their military effort in Afghanistan and could face a tough road ahead.
"If there is a single thing I would like to say this morning [it] is, it ain't over yet," Wolfowitz said today at a Pentagon briefing. "There is a lot of work to be done, including in Afghanistan. We've created conditions now where, I guess you could say we've accomplished one major objective, which is the defeat of the Taliban government."
But he said that the job of getting the al Qaeda leadership — not only in Afghanistan but in some 60 countries around the world — will be "very long and difficult."
The United States also faces the difficulty of trying to determine which of the many forces in Afghanistan now vying for assistance are true allies, and which, in Wolfowitz's words, have simply "decided, like rats, to leave a sinking ship" and could either turn on Americans or reignite the civil strife that has torn the country since the end of the war with the Soviet Union in 1988.
"It's very different from where we were six or eight weeks ago when we knew the people we needed to supply, who were engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban and we pretty sure what the weapons were going to be used for and that they were needed," Wolfowitz said today.
"Now there are issues of the reliability of the people you're giving them to. I mean, we're getting some very recent defectors or people who have changed sides who now suddenly want weapons. We'd like to make sure that those weapons are going to be used to advance our objectives and not to get involved in some internal fight in Afghanistan."
CIA Agent Buried With Full Honors
In other developments:
The CIA officer killed during a violent prison uprising, the first known American combat death in Afghanistan, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery today with full military honors. Johnny "Mike" Spann, 32, was killed in a firefight after pro-Taliban prisoners seized weapons from their Northern Alliance captors on Nov. 25 and sparked a bloody revolt near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Bin Laden's mother is quoted by Saudi Arabia's English-language newspaper Arab News as saying she's disappointed with her son's ideas and actions, but she's not angry with her son. She adds that she doesn't approve of his ambitions, but she prays to God to guide him and keep him safe. Bin Laden is said to be the 17th of 57 children born to a father who headed a multibillion-dollar construction business before dying in an air crash when his son was a teenager.
The toll of dead and missing at the World Trade Center stands at 3,057. According to city officials, 588 of those are still listed as missing while 486 death certificates have been issued based on identifications. Another 1,983 death certificates have been issued without a body, based on requests from victims' families.
ABCNEWS' Bob Woodruff in Kabul, Afghanistan, John Yang in Germany, John McWethy and Barbara Starr in Washington, Tom Rivers in London, and David Wright with pool reporters in southern Afghanistan contributed to this report.