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Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda Fighters Routed From Tora Bora, Three Months After Attacks

Anti-Taliban fighters, backed by U.S. air strikes and raids by American special forces, today overran Al-Qaeda's Tora Bora cave complex. Opposition forces have reportedly pushed fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden back to a final stronghold south of Tora Bora in the eastern Afghan mountains. Also today, the United States is marking three months since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, which left more than 3,000 people dead and sparked the war in Afghanistan.

Prague, 11 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition forces today drove foreign fighters loyal to suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden out of the Tora Bora cave complex and back to a final stronghold in the eastern Afghan mountains.

Mohammad Zaman, defense chief for the tribal Eastern Alliance, declared a cease-fire and demanded that members of bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network walk out of the Tora Bora and Milawa valleys by early evening (1630 Prague time) tomorrow and submit to international prosecution.

News reports say some Al-Qaeda fighters have already agreed to surrender, but news of the surrenders has not been independently confirmed.

Across Afghanistan's eastern border, Pakistani soldiers have been deployed in the mountains south of Tora Bora to stop any Al-Qaeda fighter from crossing over into Pakistan. Bin Laden, the prime target of the Eastern Alliance advance, has yet to be found, and there is no confirmation that he is still in the region.

Efforts by alliance opposition forces were coupled with U.S. air strikes and nighttime raids by U.S. Special Forces. The U.S. military said its bombing assault on Tora Bora included dropping a "daisy cutter" -- a 6,800-kilogram bomb that is the largest conventional explosive in the American arsenal.

In southern Afghanistan, U.S. Marines continued to search for fleeing Taliban fighters near the city of Kandahar, which the Taliban surrendered on 7 December after fierce fighting. Although U.S. officials say they believe bin Laden is likely in Tora Bora, they have not ruled out the possibility that he and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar could be hiding somewhere near Kandahar.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, calm is slowly returning as aid shipments begin to flow and bickering warlords appear to be settling their differences. News reports say ethnic Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum sent a message on 10 December to UN special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi, pledging to cooperate with the Afghanistan peace process. Dostum, who rules the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, had criticized the composition of the new Afghan interim government, saying there was insufficient ethnic Uzbek representation.

Brahimi arrived in Kabul this morning and held separate meetings with Abdullah Abdullah and Mohammad Fahim, the incoming foreign and defense ministers of the new interim government, which is due to assume power on 22 December.

Brahimi is expected to meet with outgoing President Burhunaddin Rabbani to talk about the transfer of power to the newly formed interim government. A planned meeting with the designated prime minister, Hamid Karzai, had to be canceled because Karzai was in the southern city of Kandahar.

Brahimi was scheduled to hold a press conference this afternoon (1500 Prague time) to discuss his talks with the Afghan officials.

In Kabul, U.S. Marines moved into the American embassy yesterday for the first time in over a decade. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said today that China also plans to send a team to Afghanistan's capital this week to prepare for the possible reopening of its embassy for the first time since 1993. Iran has already reopened its embassy, and Russia, India, and France have sent special envoys pending the reopening of theirs.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers from the European Union today named German diplomat Klaus-Peter Klaiber as the EU's special envoy to Afghanistan, a role that will focus on coordinating the humanitarian aid effort as well as the reconstruction of the country.

Representatives of Afghan and Japanese nongovernmental organizations and UN agencies today opened a conference in Tokyo on rebuilding Afghanistan. The Japanese government has tentatively put the reconstruction costs at $10 billion, but admits the figure is conservative. The participants in the conference are to draft proposals for a meeting of donor countries scheduled to take place next month in Tokyo.

Also today, the United States is holding a series of solemn remembrances to mark three months since the 11 September terrorist attacks. Exactly three months to the minute after the attacks began -- with a hijacked jet crashing into the north tower of New York's World Trade Center -- U.S. President George W. Bush marked the moment by saying Americans will always remember that day as a call to duty.

Speaking at the White House, Bush said Americans remember the day as one of sadness, anger and "determination to right this huge wrong," as he put it.

"For those of us who lived through these events, the only marker we will ever need is the tick of a clock at the 46th minute of the eighth hour of the 11th day. We will remember where we were and how we felt. We will remember the dead and what we owe them. We will remember what we lost and what we found."

Bush also used the occasion to stress that the U.S. fight against terrorism would continue, saying that the perpetrators of the 11 September attacks would be brought to justice.

"Our enemies have made the mistake that America's enemies always make. They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness. And now they see defeat."

Yesterday, Bush accused Osama bin Laden -- the prime suspect in the attacks -- of being an "incredible" murderer who has "no soul." Bush said he reached this conclusion after viewing a videotape, found outside the Afghan city of Jalalabad, that U.S. officials say provides conclusive evidence linking bin Laden to the attacks.

"For those who see this tape, they'll realize that not only is [bin Laden] guilty of incredible murder, [but] he [also] has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization."

The video, which reportedly offers proof that bin Laden had advance knowledge of the attacks, may be released tomorrow (12 December) following a U.S. national security review to make sure it does not undermine intelligence operations. The U.S. government had previously urged national media not to broadcast videotaped statements by bin Laden, saying they presented a security risk. "The Washington Post" today reported the White House is considering adding subtitles to translate the Arabic in the 40-minute tape to avoid charges of doctoring the soundtrack.