Pakistan border could be escape route

Saturday, November 24, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Narrow tracks cling to bleak, rocky slopes. Some lead to caves hidden away in crevices or under jagged overhangs. Others climb thousands of feet to obscure mountain passes. Routes used by smugglers for centuries could be Osama bin Laden's way out.

A former Afghan guerrilla commander who lived in mountain hide-outs for years while fighting Soviet invaders says there are many such places for bin Laden to take shelter.

Ghulam Mohammed also thinks it would be easy for the United States' top terror suspect and his allies to hike over tortuous passes through the mountains and sneak into sympathetic areas of western Pakistan.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mohammed said the same caves that protected Afghan guerrillas from Soviet troops in the 1980s can shelter al-Qaida fighters hiding from U.S. commandos trying to crush the network blamed for the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The footpaths to these hide-outs weave treacherously through rock outcroppings, and anyone approaching is easily seen, he said.

Mohammed described conditions on Maroo mountain, where he served during the Soviet war with Hezb-e-Islami, one of two guerrilla groups that had bases hidden in the mountain.

The mountain links Afghan-istan's eastern Nangarhar province to Pakistan's remote Tirah Valley.

Nangarhar is no longer under control of bin Laden's Taliban allies, but his old friend Mullah Yunus Khalis still controls large areas in the province, where he owns a farm.

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