U.S. special forces are on the trail of accused terror mastermind Osama bin Laden but reports that they have him and the leaders of his al Qaeda network penned in are premature, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.
"The al Qaeda and Taliban leadership can be any number of places, and they move frequently, and therefore, to try and think that we have them contained in some sort of a small area I think would be a misunderstanding of the difficulty of the task," Rumsfeld said.
To that end, the CIA has also been handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars for information about bin Laden, and to encourage Afghans to go hunt for him themselves in the treacherous caves and tunnels where he is believed to be hiding.
The United States is already offering a $25 million reward for anyone who helps capture or kill bin Laden.
"Our hope is that the incentive — the dual incentive of helping to free that country from a very repressive regime … coupled with substantial monetary rewards will … incentivize a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves looking for the bad folks," Rumsfeld said.
The U.S. is also preparing to add Marines to the mix of forces available in Afghanistan. More than a thousand are now off the coast of Pakistan and officials say within days they will be ready to go ashore.
Kunduz in the Balance
U.S. air power was continuing operations at the Taliban's last remaining northern stronghold of Kunduz, said ABCNEWS' Don Dahler, reporting just six miles from the front lines around the city.
Throughout the day, a pair of B-52's pummeled front lines there, as negotiations for a surrender continued.
But the defense secretary said the United States was not interested in bargaining with the Taliban. "The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders, nor are we in a position with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground to accept prisoners," he said.
Rumsfeld said talks were "for the most part, taking place with the opposition forces and elements that are putting pressure onto … Kunduz or Kandahar, whichever."
"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, which is not your first choice either. The idea that they would keep their weapons is not a happy one, from our standpoint either."
A number of them the Taliban fighters in Kunduz are foreign mercenaries — primarily Arab, Pakistani and Chechen — and fear retribution from the Afghan forces of the Northern Alliance if the city is taken. But their avenues of withdrawal are limited.
A Northern Alliance spokesman called them "terrorists. Foreigners fighting in Afghanistan. They can't possibly allowed to surrender to the U.N."
Nevertheless, opposition troops reportedly eased off in their assault today to give negotiators a chance to work a deal to spare civilian lives.
Abdul Vadut Kudusi, Northern Alliance military attache in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, told Reuters that Afghan troops fighting for the Taliban wanted to surrender, but they feared reprisal from the Pakistani, Chechen and Arab mercenaries fighting as part of the al Qaeda network.
Al Qaeda fighters on Sunday turned their guns on Afghan comrades who wanted to surrender, killing 53 of them, Kudusi said.