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American Forces Press Service

Gates: Search for bin Laden Must Continue, Though Power Diminished

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2006 – While defense secretary nominee Robert M. Gates considers it important to continue searching for Osama bin Laden, he told senators today the al Qaeda leader “has become more of a symbol for jihadist terrorists than an active planner and organizer of terrorist attacks.”

Gates, responding to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing, said he has “no doubt that our forces have been trying their best to find Osama bin Laden,” but that he isn’t familiar with specific details of the effort.

Gates assured committee members he “would make it a priority to find out what our tactics have been and the efforts that we have had under way” if he is confirmed as defense secretary.

“It’s important to keep him on the run,” Gates said of bin Laden, but he downplayed the role the terrorist leader now plays in the al Qaeda organization. “I think that his ability to directly organize and plan the kind of attacks against us that hurt us so badly in September of 2001 is very limited now,” Gates told the committee.

“In fact, one of the consequences of our success in Afghanistan has been the denial of that country as a place to plan these sophisticated terrorist operations, such as the attacks that took place on 9/11,” he said.

Finding a single person, particularly in the rugged Afghanistan mountains, is far more difficult than many people realize, Gates said. He noted the difficulty U.S. troops faced in locating U.S. hostages in Beirut, Lebanon, in the early 1980s, and in finding former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1990, despite having great familiarity with the countryside.

“The challenge is figuring out where they're going to be, not where they've been, and getting the information in a way that is timely enough to act on it,” Gates told the committee members. “And frankly, I just think we haven't had that kind of intelligence on bin Laden.”

Gates expressed confidence that bin Laden will be found, in time. “The way we'll catch bin Laden, eventually, in my view, is that, just as in the case of (former Iraqi dictator) Saddam Hussein, one of his own people will turn him in,” he said.

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