Feb 18, 2004

Hunt for Osama Bin Laden

KAGAN: Today, the top American commander in Afghanistan said there are no certainties that Osama bin Laden will be caught, but that U.S.-led forces are turning to new tactics to catch him, recruiting Pakistanis' forces to help flush out extremists on its border with Afghanistan. And Lieutenant General David Barno said that the sand in the hourglass is running out for Osama bin Laden.

Joining us from Washington, Peter Bergen, CNN terrorism analyst.

Peter, good evening.


KAGAN: What do you think of Barno's comments? Do you think time is indeed running out for Osama bin Laden?

BERGEN: The sand may be running out in the hourglass, but the hourglass might be rather large.

After all, bin Laden was first secretly indicted back in '97. In '99, there was a $5 million reward put on his head. After 9/11, a $25 million reward. We've had two wars since 9/11 under the rubric of the war on terrorism, and we still haven't found him.

Moreover, he's not doing the sorts of things that get people caught. He's not yakking on his satellite phone or cell phone. We don't have a mole within al Qaeda giving real-time information where he is. Cash rewards haven't worked, as they have worked for some other terrorists. People in his immediate circle don't seem to be motivated by dropping a dime to pick up the big reward on his head.

So the general may well be right, that time is running out for bin Laden. But the question is, will that happen tomorrow or will that happen several years from now? The answer is, I don't think anybody can tell. The last time that we really knew where he was, was in the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001, when he was in an area of a couple of dozen, perhaps several dozen square miles in Afghanistan. Now we really don't know where he is.

We know that he's somewhere in the Northwest Frontier Province of Afghanistan. That's a bit like saying we know that someone is in Virginia, an area of 40,000 square miles, a huge area. We may have slightly better intelligence than we have had in the past in terms of his location. There's some indication that he might be in an area called Waziristan.

But Waziristan is an area where the Pakistan army has been very reluctant or has never really gone into in the past.

KAGAN: Well, Peter, let me just ask you this in terms of the Pakistani Army, because this is one of the new tactics or the newer tactics that the general was talking about, about turning up the heat on the Pakistani army, turning up the heat on these al Qaeda members and flushing them out of Pakistan, out of Pakistan, into Afghanistan, where the U.S. military could get their hands on them. Do you think that will be effective?

BERGEN: Well, I think it could well be.

President Musharraf has just recently survived two very serious assassination attempts, almost certainly directed at him by members of al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of al Qaeda, has called for attacks on President Musharraf. So I think he's very keen to get the Pakistani Army looking for al Qaeda in these regions. There's no doubt about it.

But there's a problem that al Qaeda certainly has sympathizers within the ranks, not necessarily not very large members within the Pakistani army. But we know, for instance, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the military commander of al Qaeda, had a army major who was working with him to some degree in the Pakistani army. So it's possible that they could get tipped off.

However, I do think that the situation is moving in a way that's positive. And, certainly, this hammer-and-anvil idea of flushing people out of Pakistan, the American Army getting them inside Afghanistan as a result, has some promise.

KAGAN: Peter Bergen, thanks for stopping by tonight.