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Capture of Saddam will not mean more forces available to find bin Laden

Saddam Hussein's capture is unlikely to prompt U.S. officials to intensify their search for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, terror experts said Sunday.

The CIA and Pentagon are unlikely to return to Afghanistan the scores of U.S. commandos and intelligence agents that had been seeking bin Laden before they were shifted to Iraq to crack down on Iraqi rebels killing one or two U.S. soldiers a day.

That mission remains more important than turning up the heat on bin Laden, who they believe to be all but isolated in a remote corner of Afghanistan, the analysts said.

"The priority of the effort in Iraq is not just finding Saddam. It's trying to identify and neutralize the resistance," said Vincent Cannistraro, former director of the CIA's counterterrorism operations and analysis.

Nearly half the U.S. intelligence and commando agents who had been in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan were reassigned to Iraq starting last summer after the resistance began intensifying. The redeployment raised complaints in Washington that President Bush was easing the pressures on bin Laden.

Many of the new arrivals in Iraq wound up in Task Force 121, an elite force of CIA analysts and linguists, Army Green Beret, Delta Force and Navy SEAL commandos and CIA paramilitary units created in October to track down and capture or kill Saddam and resistance leaders.

"Clearly, the resources devoted to bin Laden were diluted, but I don't expect a switch back to Afghanistan just because of the capture of" Saddam, said Cannistraro.

He and other analysts argued that the manhunts for Saddam and bin Laden are quite different and therefore require different types of resources.

The search for Saddam required more of a military than an intelligence operation because he was hiding out in a country occupied by more than 130,000 U.S. troops and had little support among his people, said Stanley Bedlington, a former senior analyst in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center.

"This one was a more specifically military operation because it involved regular infantry along with the CIA and (the Pentagon's) Defense Intelligence Agency," Bedlington said.

The hunt for bin Laden, on the other hand, is more of an intelligence operation because he is widely believed to be hiding out in the mountains along the remote Afghan-Pakistani border, with help from Muslim radicals and local tribal leaders.

"Getting bin Laden consists largely of making deals with Pashtun and Baluchi tribal chiefs, not to mention various Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency people," said James F. Dunnigan, author of several books on military affairs. "This is more of a CIA job.

"Moreover, Osama is neutralized, so there's no rush to get him," Dunnigan added. "More urgent attention must be paid to bin Laden followers outside Afghanistan and Pakistan who are actively planning operations."

"Eventually, someone up in the hills will decide to collect the reward," he said, referring to a $25 million U.S.-offered bounty—the same amount that was on Saddam's head and now may go to a relative of Saddam's who provided the information that led U.S. forces to him on Saturday.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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