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Pakistan concludes bin Laden died during war

Pakistan concludes bin Laden died during war

Author: Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad, Pakistan
Publication: The Financial Times
Date: August 29, 2002

Osama bin Laden was probably killed in a US air attack in eastern Afghanistan earlier this year, Pakistan's security officials have concluded in their latest assessment of the whereabouts of leaders of Qaeda'.

According to senior government officials, the presumed mastermind behind the September 11 attacks - who was said by some analysts to be suffering from a serious kidney ailment at the time - is unlikely to have survived the intense US bombardment of the militants' mountainous Tora Bora camp in eastern Afghanistan.

"Our assessment remains that Osama bin Laden, who was not too well when last year's terrorist attacks happened, could not have survived the attacks on Tora Bora," a senior Pakistani official told the FT on Thursday.

"Even if he didn't get hit fatally, it was impossible for him to have survived, literally surrounded by scores of hostile troops with no possibility of receiving regular medical care."

That assessment coincides with that given by General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, who on Thursday told BBC radio that Mr bin Laden was "probably dead".

Pakistani officials have been anxious this week to insist on Mr bin Laden's demise, after a US military commander suggested the US-led anti-terror campaign might have to be extended to countries surrounding Afghanistan.

On Sunday, General Tommy Franks, head of the US Central Command, said the war on terror could not be limited to Afghanistan, triggering fresh alarm bells for some Pakistani officials.

"The relationship that we have with surrounding states around Afghanistan will permit us over time to do the work that all of us recognise needs to be done. It won't be finished until its all done," Gen Franks said during a visit to Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Pakistani officials are worried that even the faintest trace of Mr bin Laden on their soil would provoke US demands to send in US troops.

General Musharraf's government has taken the unprecedented step of sending the military to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas in the north, where fiercely independent tribesmen have defied efforts by successive governments to establish their control.

Up to 60,000 Pakistani military and paramilitary troops are on duties to guard at least 178 passes along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, maintaining a strict vigil against members of militant groups trying to cross over.

Pakistani troops have also carried out house-to-house searches in some areas. But Pakistani officials warn that if US troops were sent in to the area, the tribesmen - who are well armed - are certain to rise in revolt.

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