Hunt For Osama Heats Up

Allied officials in Afghanistan hailed the capture of Saddam Hussein, saying Sunday the blockbuster arrest might make it easier to catch the world's other top fugitive: al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Afghan officials said the former Iraqi dictator's capture also could help dampen support for a burgeoning insurgency here.

"This is obviously good news for the people of Iraq who suffered for so long under Saddam's tyrannical regime and it is a warning to all the other outlaws who are at large like bin Laden, (Taliban chief) Mullah Omar and (renegade warlord) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who hopefully sooner or later will be brought to justice," Omar Samad, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press.

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the mountainous no man's land between Pakistan and Afghanistan, possibly feeding off the support of deeply conservative tribal villagers who share his hardline vision of Islam.

But CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston reports some analysts say U.S. troops, who have searched the region for months, have come up empty, in part because they have been unable to find reliable sources willing to talk.

"The problem with the U.S. effort in Afghanistan and the northwest province of Pakistan has always been the same: lack of intelligence," says CBS News consultant Jere van Dyk.

In fact, Osama remains a hero for many in the region, because he fought against the former Soviet Union and is seen as a religious leader.

"Osama bin Laden is not hated," says Van Dyk. "Saddam Hussein was hated by probably half the population of Iraq."

Bin Laden's declaration of jihad, or holy war, against the United States and his role in the September 11th attack on the U.S. made him the world's most wanted man.

A $25-million bounty on bin Laden has been around for more than two years, but analysts doubt that anyone will ever claim the money.

"The most important thing is the honor, Koran and, some people say, a rifle. But most importantly, is a man's honor. They will never give him up," Van Dyk says.

If the U.S. does decide to mount an all-out effort to find Osama, more troops will likely be needed: 130,000 were available to find Saddam, but just 15,000 are based in Afghanistan where Osama may be hiding.

But U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said Saddam's arrest would help American forces in their hunt for bin Laden.

"The fate of Saddam Hussein will increase the human intelligence the people here are already giving us as they help in the fight against the enemies of Afghanistan," he told the AP from Bagram Air Base, U.S. military headquarters.

Taliban rebels and their al Qaeda allies have been waging an ever-fiercer campaign against U.S. troops, the Afghan government and aid workers seeking to rebuild the country. A cascade of bloodshed in recent months has forced the United Nations to pull international staff out of huge swaths of the southeast.

Security officials have said they saw signs that rebels in Afghanistan were feeding off tactics employed in Iraq, targeting U.N. workers and others seen as helping the United States.

Talat Masood, a Pakistani military analyst who closely follows Afghanistan, said news of Saddam's capture would echo loudly through al Qaeda and the Taliban's mountain lairs.

"There is a psychological synergy between the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan, so if there is any setback in Iraq it will have a ripple effect in Afghanistan," he said. "Bin Laden and his group will be on the defensive and demoralization may set in."

News of the capture rippled through the enormous Kabul tent housing a historic Afghan constitutional council, or loya jirga, with many of the 500 delegates expressing solidarity with the Iraqi people, and passing along congratulations to the United States.

But on the streets of Kabul, there was a more ominous message from many ordinary Afghans.

"It's a black day," said Mohammed Sharif, a 20-year-old student from Kabul University. "Saddam was a great holy warrior in the Islamic world and a supporter of Islam."

Even some of Afghanistan's new Western-trained police said they were saddened to hear of the capture, despite the scenes of jubilant Iraqis celebrating Saddam's downfall.

"I don't want any Muslim to be captured by infidels," said Zulfiqar Jalali, a 27-year-old officer standing outside a police station on a traffic-congested Kabul street. "Saddam is an Iraqi and has the right to live freely in his country."
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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