Rumsfeld hopes Afghans will flush out bin Laden

AP Military WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon is hoping Afghans will flush Osama bin Laden out of his hiding place so Americans don't have to go into caves to find him, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.

He said he hopes a $25 million reward will help convince local people to look for the No. 1 suspect in the terrorist attacks in America.

"Our hope is that the dual incentive of helping to free that country from a very repressive regime ... coupled with substantial monetary rewards" will convince "a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves looking for the bad folks," Rumsfeld said.

He also said that the United States would not let Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar escape from his stronghold city of Kandahar, even if opposition figures negotiate a deal with him to depart.

A southern opposition group has said Omar was negotiating a handover of power in Kandahar to Haji Basher, a tribal leader who is affiliated with the Taliban.

Asked what would happen if Omar struck a deal, Rumsfeld said:

"If the thrust of that question is would we knowingly allow him to get out of Kandahar, the answer is 'No, we would not."'

Rumsfeld also said several hundred special forces now are operating on the ground in Afghanistan.

More U.S. commandos have slipped into Afghanistan to help in the hunt for bin Laden, the Pentagon said.

Meanwhile, American planes pounded Taliban front lines just outside the city of Kunduz, where Taliban and al-Qaida forces have been holding out for days as the rest of the north has fallen to opposition forces.

With U.S. bombs still falling, the Taliban regime cracking and Afghan opposition forces rising, Bush administration officials say chances of finding bin Laden are improving.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said earlier Monday that more American troops were sent Friday into the country's south, where special operations forces have been gathering intelligence and setting up roadblocks to try to catch bin Laden and fleeing Taliban.

Clarke said Rumsfeld will visit Fort Bragg, N.C., Wednesday to watch a demonstration of special operations and to receive a briefing on special operations forces from Air Force Gen. Charles Holland, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees all of the services' special operations units. Fort Bragg is home to the Army's Special Operations Command.

The Taliban's envoy to Pakistan said Saturday that bin Laden had left Afghanistan, but that has not been substantiated. Later, the diplomat said he meant only that bin Laden was outside areas under Taliban control.

As U.S. bombing continued Sunday in the Kandahar area in southern Afghanistan and the Kunduz area in the north, the Pentagon said 75 strike aircraft had participated in Saturday's attacks in six target areas near Kabul. It said tunnels and caves used by Taliban and al-Qaida leaders were among Saturday's targets.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the CIA has been doing "some rather splendid work with respect to our activities in Afghanistan, working alongside our military forces that are inside in Afghanistan."

Rumsfeld confirmed CIA forces has been working closely with the military in Afghanistan.

"I think we've got a very fine linkup between our intelligence assets, our military assets, all within the framework of a good political and military strategy," Powell said. "And it's now starting to show rather significant results."

If bin Laden were to flee Afghanistan, the United States would keep up the hunt, said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

"We are going to continue pursuing him," he said. "Let's also remember, we're going to continue pursuing the entire al-Qaida network, which is in 60 countries, not just Afghanistan and, worst of all, here in the United States. ... This is a campaign against all the global terrorist networks and the states that support terrorism."

Powell said no country on the periphery of Afghanistan, including China, would give bin Laden a haven.

"I don't think this fellow is going to be welcome anywhere," the secretary said. "He is an outcast. He is a murderer, he's a terrorist. ... He is on the run, just as the president said he would be. And we will get him."