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February 23, 2004
Washington Times and UK Telegraph: We're Closing In

The UK Telegraph and the Washington Times report that Task Force 121 is on its way to Afghanistan to hunt for "high-value targets":

Telegraph: The top-secret US commando team that spearheaded the capture of Saddam Hussein is heading for Afghanistan in the latest sign that the hunt for Osama bin Laden is coming to a head. Battle-hardened units from Task Force 121 are being shifted as intelligence reports increase on the possible whereabouts of the terrorist leader, according to an article in the Washington Times by a reporter known for his access to the special forces.

Most of the "high-value targets" from Saddam's regime have been caught or killed, Pentagon officials told the paper. "Iraq has become more of a policing problem than a hunt for high-value Iraqis. Afghanistan is the place where 121 can do more."

Times: The new task force to hunt bin Laden in the Afghanistan area likely will be led by a Navy SEAL who was toasted in Washington while working antiterrorism issues in the Bush administration. The Washington Times is withholding his name because of the secret nature of the operation.

Military sources said reports of bin Laden's movements are becoming more numerous as the fugitive Saudi, leader of the al Qaeda terrorist network, hides in the mountainous terrain straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

British tabloids have reported earlier this week that US and Pakistani forces have Osama bin Laden locked into a 100-square-mile area of rugged terrain and caves. While the US initially denied those reports, the redeployment of 121 certainly would make sense only if those reports were true. After all, we have Saddam, but we haven't found all of the high-value targets associated with the insurgency or even all of the Hussein regime Deck of Cards. And since Iraq's insurgency is a political hot potato during this election year, only something very urgent would convince the Pentagon to shift that squad.

The Afghan winter should be clearing up a bit soon, allowing for better reconaissance and more latitude for military action. If they really have bin Laden and his henchmen trapped in the hills, we should know in the next couple of months. While the article stresses that the US would like bin Laden taken alive, I doubt that we'll be all that picky. I know I won't.

UPDATE: CNN reports that this operation may have gone hot on the Pakistani side:

Pakistan has launched a military operation against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the tribal regions along the Afghan border, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan has said.

According to Pakistani intelligence sources, helicopter gunships are part of the force that has been deployed. They also reported exchanges of rocket fire.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 23, 2004 10:50 PM

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