11 September 2001>News Stories>US admits Bin Laden may escape

US admits Bin Laden may escape
BBC News . 25 October

Mr Rumsfeld says the problem is bigger than Bin Laden

American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has admitted that Osama Bin Laden - chief suspect in last month's suicide plane attacks on the US - may never be caught.

Mr Rumsfeld told USA Today newspaper that it would be "very difficult " to capture or kill Bin Laden, but he predicted that Afghanistan's Taleban rulers would be toppled.

But Mr Rumsfeld added: "I think there will be a post-Taleban Afghanistan."

On Wednesday, US commanders admitted that Afghanistan's Taleban rulers - who are sheltering Bin Laden - were proving "tough" opponents, and correspondents on the front lines say Taleban morale remains high after four days of regular US bombing.

New air strikes
US aircraft have continued to attack Taleban positions, including areas where they confront the forces of the opposition Northern Alliance.

The BBC's Kate Clark in Shomali, north of Kabul, says the bombing has hit infrastructure targets but the Taleban have not collapsed and their forces appear to be relatively intact.

Northern Alliance walkie-talkies picked up a Taleban soldier singing a song mocking the forces ranged against him even as the US bombs rained down, she says.

In other developments:
  • UK Prime Minister Tony Blair predicts the US-led campaign will result in Bin Laden's death
  • A Taleban spokesman says a crowded bus has been hit by US bombs in Kandahar with many dead
  • The FBI carries out anthrax tests on an apartment used by three Arab men detained after the attacks
  • Aid agencies step up preparations for a flood of refugees into Pakistan
  • Pakistani authorities reinforce security along the northern border to stop armed volunteers going to fight for the Taleban
  • Two scientists who helped Pakistan become a nuclear power are questioned over alleged links to the Taleban.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has previously said rooting out terrorism is a long-term project, told USA Today that Bin Laden would not be easily caught.

"He's got a lot of money, he's got a lot of people who support him and I just don't know whether we'll be successful," he said. "Clearly, it would be highly desirable to find him."

But Mr Rumsfeld said Bin Laden's terrorist network would carry on without him.

"If he were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist."

Earlier, the Pentagon admitted it was taken aback by the tenacity of the Taleban as the US-led bombing campaign continued into its third week.

"I'm a bit surprised at how doggedly they're hanging on to power," said Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem.

"They have proven to be tough warriors."

Unexploded cluster bomblets are reported to litter villages near Herat

There are also reports that the Northern Alliance is unhappy that the US seems to be concentrating on the positions held by the Pakistani and Arab militia fighting alongside the Taleban, rather than those held by the Taleban themselves.

The Foreign Minister of the Alliance, Abdullah Abdullah, said co-ordination between his forces and the US military should be improved.