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Afghan rebels must be tackled before Osama: US

US military official said their current priority is to combat insurgent groups inspired by the Al-Qaeda chief.

india Updated: Aug 08, 2006 17:37 IST

Coalition forces in Afghanistan have not lost sight of Osama bin Laden but their current priority is to combat insurgent groups inspired by the Al-Qaeda chief, a US military official said on Tuesday.

"Bin Laden has never fallen off our scope, neither has his lieutenant (Ayman al-) Zawahiri," said Chief Master Sergeant Curtis Brownhill, a senior advisor to General John Abizaid, the US commander in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

"But you know the most important (thing) that we as a coalition do is to defeat the network that has grown from the extremist ideology that comes from the bin Ladens and the Zawahiris."

Bin Laden and Zawahiri were sheltered by Afghanistan's Taliban regime before and after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for.

They fled after a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban late the same year and are thought to be hiding in mountains along the Pakistani border, from where they issue audio and video messages.

Thousands of foreign troops are still in Afghanistan where they now face a surge in violence blamed on remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

"They (bin Laden and Zawahiri) are hunkered down, they have no room to manoeuvre," Brownhill said.

"But the network is active, the enemy is the network and that is what we have to defeat. So that's where the primary focus is."

The coalition -- which transferred command of southern Afghanistan to NATO last week but maintains control of the east -- would continue to hunt bin Laden and his henchmen, the US official added.

"Those guys haven't fallen from our list of things to do," he said.

"It would be a real bonus day if all of a sudden we announced to the world that they have been captured or killed, and that will happen.

"But the most important thing is to focus on what has to be defeated and that is that network, that extremist ideology network."

First Published: Aug 08, 2006 17:37 IST