U.S. ID's Bin Laden's Voice Near Tora Bora

ByABC News
December 16, 2001, 9:11 AM

Dec. 15 -- U.S. forces believe they heard Osama bin Laden's voice giving orders over a radio to his troops holed up in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, a U.S. official told ABCNEWS.

The suspected bin Laden orders, overheard this past week, were not recorded, which might have allowed them to be scientifically compared with known recordings of bin Laden's voice, another U.S. official said. However, the Arabic-speaking special forces who intercepted the transmission are familiar with bin Laden's voice from video and audio tapes, and are reasonably certain it was the alleged terrorist mastermind.

The information may indicate bin Laden is near fighting in the area of his Tora Bora cave hideouts, where reports say U.S. bombing has grown more spread out as some of bin Laden's al Qaeda fighters seem to flee or consider surrendering.

Reports Suggest Scattering Al Qaeda

The Associated Press reported that al Qaeda fighters, believed to number 300 to 1,000 total, could be heard debating whether to surrender over two-way radios. And top opposition commanders fighting al Qaeda spoke of direct surrender overtures.

"They are in collapse," Haji Zahir, an Afghan commander, told ABCNEWS. "They better surrender or they'll have a big problem."

However, alleged surrender deals in recent weeks have turned out to be false, so the opposition commanders say they are wary.

At the same time, there were several reports that some al Qaeda fighters were fleeing the caves. In fact, Pakistan has arrested 31 Arab militants believed to have escaped from fighting in Afghanistan. The men, said to be from Yemen, had crossed the border into Pakistan from the Tora Bora region.

America's Afghan allies already have captured about 50 al Qaeda fighters during punishing combat, and the U.S. plans to interrogate the prisoners, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today during a tour of former Soviet republics.

"There is no question but that [al Qaeda] forces are being significantly damaged in the conflict," Rumsfeld said. "They are fighting, and the fighting in some instances is fierce."