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U.S. Says No Trace Of Bin Laden For 'Years'

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the United States has had no reliable information on the whereabouts of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in years.

Speaking in an interview with the ABC News "This Week," Gates said: "Well, we don't know for a fact where Osama Bin Laden is. If we did, we'd go get him."

Asked when the United States last had any good intelligence on the whereabouts of the Al-Qaeda leader, Gates said: "I think it's been years."

When asked whether he could confirm recent reports that bin Laden had been seen in Afghanistan this year, Gates said he could not.

Earlier this week, the BBC quoted an unidentified Taliban detainee in Pakistan as claiming that in January or February he met a trusted contact who had seen the Al-Qaeda leader about 15 to 20 days earlier in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden, who is seen as the driving force behind the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people, has been thought to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan.

But the Taliban detainee said militants were avoiding Pakistani territory because of the risk of U.S. drone attacks.

He claimed Bin Laden was well, though there has been speculation for years that he was in poor health.

The detainee's claims could not be verified. The BBC said a Pakistani interrogator was listening as he spoke.

Pakistan has maintained that Bin Laden is not on its soil.

Pakistani officials insist Osama Bin Laden (right in file photo) is not on their soil.
In London this week, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Islamabad had yet to be given any "credible or actionable information" by the United States on Bin Laden. He also insisted that his government's security forces had been "extremely successful" in tackling terrorism within its borders.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced a decision last week to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. He recalled that the United States was fighting there in response to the 9/11 attacks, and had made the decision to invade "only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden."

Obama said Al-Qaeda leaders had escaped into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002 and had been able to "retain their safe havens along the border."

A recent U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report concluded that Bin Laden had been "within our grasp" in Afghanistan in late 2001. But it said that at the time, calls for U.S. reinforcements had been rejected, allowing the Al-Qaeda leader to "walk unmolested" into Pakistan's unregulated tribal areas.

compiled from agency reports