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Taliban: Bin Laden Left Afghanistan

November 17, 2001

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CHAMAN, Pakistan (AP) _ The Taliban envoy to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said Saturday that Osama bin Laden had left Afghanistan and that the Islamic militia did not know his whereabouts.

``Osama has left Afghanistan with his children and his wives and we have no idea where he has gone,″ the envoy, Abdul Salam Zaeef, told The Associated Press at the Chaman border crossing between Pakistan and AFghanistan.

It was not possible to independently confirm this claim.

In the early days of the confrontation with the United States over bin Laden, the Taliban variously claimed that they did not know his whereabouts, then that they were in contact with him but not controlling his movements.

Another senior Taliban official _ Mullah Najibullah, a Taliban leader in the southeast Afghan border town of Spinboldak _ said earlier Saturday that bin Laden was alive, but said nothing more about his status.

Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said the U.S. military had no evidence bin Laden left Afghanistan. He said the Taliban could be trying to misdirect the hunt for bin Laden to protect him.

``Our search continues,″ Flood said Saturday.

As U.S. troops scout a crumbling Afghanistan for the al-Qaida leader wanted for the Sept. 11 attacks, experts have said the few places he could try to flee to include Iraq, Somalia and the disputed land of Kashmir, fought over by India and Pakistan.

Perhaps bin Laden’s best option would be to try to cross the Afghan-Pakistan border. Long and porous, the frontier is jammed with refugees, and Pakistan is home to militant groups sympathetic to bin Laden and his Taliban allies.

But the terrain, especially in the north, is often treacherous and at this time of year, the temperature can drop below freezing. Once over the border, bin Laden would still have to traverse Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the war against him.

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