By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military has again unleashed a giant "daisy cutter" bomb in Afghanistan, aiming at a cave where al Qaeda leaders -- possibly including Osama bin Laden -- were believed hiding, the Pentagon said Monday.
The 15,000 pound bomb was dropped Sunday in the mountainous Tora Bora area near Jalalabad and fighting remained so intense that the military was unable to assess damage, said Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also warned at a briefing that despite the ouster of Afghanistan's radical Taliban leaders by opposition forces, the war against the Taliban and bin Laden's al Qaeda network was far from over,
"The war in Afghanistan is not won," Wolfowitz said. "It is a classic military mistake to leave a partially defeated enemy on the battlefield."
Stufflebeem and Wolfowitz said fighting between opposition forces and al Qaeda guerrillas, accused by Washington of masterminding Sept. 11 attacks on America, was still raging in Tora Bora and that U.S. warplanes were supporting the Afghan forces in eastern Afghanistan.
The so-called daisy cutter, used only on two or three times since the U.S.-led air campaign began on Oct. 7, was dropped on a cave, Stufflebeem said. He said the weapon, which explodes just a few feet above ground, has both a military and psychological effect.
AIMED AT AL QAEDA LEADERSHIP
"It was believed that that's where some substantial al Qaeda forces would be, and possibly including senior leadership," the admiral said. He said it was not known if bin Laden was among them.
"There is a psychological effect of having ammunition of 15,000 pounds of explosive capability that's brought into a very narrowly-defined area," said Stufflebeem, a senior official on the U.S. military's Joint Staff.
"This cave complex is literally on the sheer walls of a valley and there the reverberation effect that goes up in those caves should have some sort of negative effect," he added.
Wolfowitz said the United States believed that the supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was still in the area of his former stronghold of Kandahar, which fell to opposition Afghan forces last week.
"To the extent we have reports on his presence, they still keep him in that area," he said.
Bin Laden and Omar are the two top fugitives wanted by the United States in the hijack attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center that killed nearly 3,900 Americans.
Wolfowitz said that no al Qaeda leaders were being held by the United States or Afghan opposition leaders, although he told reporters that at least two senior Taliban officials had been captured by opposition forces in recent days.
NO END IN SIGHT?
Earlier Monday, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said 12,000 bombs and missiles had been used so far in the U.S. air campaign in Afghanistan.
"The total number as of last week was about roughly 12,000," she said. About 60 percent of those were prcision-guided weapons, while the others were "dumb" bombs not guided to targets using satellites or laser beams.
Clarke refused to predict when the Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex might be overrun by anti-Taliban Afghan forces with the help of heavy U.S. air strikes.
"We certainly don't have any information that would allow us to assess the situation as close to the end or anything like that," she said.
A force of 1,300 U.S. Marines based at a desert site south of Kandahar has been searching that Afghan region for Omar.
"They are working those roads. They are looking for al Qaeda and Taliban leadership," Clarke said.
In the Afghan capital of Kabul, a small contingent of Marines moved back to the American Embassy after a 12-year absence, along with a State Department team sent to check the condition of the building.
Frenzied Taliban supporters burned the mission on Sept. 26 in anticipation of the U.S. bombing campaign that helped to topple the militant anti-Western movement from power.
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