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U.S. Soldier: We Let Osama Get Away

A Special Forces soldier back from Afghanistan claims that troops and CIA agents had Osama bin Laden pinpointed in November, but leaders took too long to decide to go after him and he slipped away.

Military officials have discounted the Friday story in the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. "If we knew exactly where he was and when he was there, we would have gotten him," said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke Friday.

Meanwhile, it was reported Friday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has ordered an acceleration in covert missions in the U.S.-led war on terrorism because he is impatient with the pace at which al Qaeda fighters are being captured or killed

Asked about the Washington Times report, Clarke did not confirm Rumsfeld's impatience.

"We've said all along the hunt for these people would get harder the further along we get. It would be harder and harder to find them, to find the dead enders," she told reporters.

"The Secretary wants everyone to understand the sense of urgency about what we're doing here, that the threats out there are very, very real, despite the success thus far in Afghanistan," Clarke added. "We have a long way to go."

The Special Operations soldier, who requested anonymity, said he was on the ground at Tora Bora when bin Laden was located.

The Observer said it has been unable to find other soldiers who can corroborate the claim.

American and Afghan troops spent weeks attacking and searching the caves late last year in the hunt for bin Laden and al Qaeda terrorists.

"We had 'the man' and lost him," said the Special Forces soldier. "We knew the exact cave he was in and had the coordinates. It was 30 minutes away from our position. But we couldn't get orders quickly enough."

In Afghanistan, president Hamid Karzai has dismissed reports the United States covered up evidence of air strikes on a village which locals say killed dozens of civilians celebrating a wedding.

Afghan authorities have said 48 civilians were killed and 117 wounded in the July 1 raid, which became a public relations disaster for the United States in its bid to win over broad Afghan support for its self-styled "war on terror."

A preliminary U.N. report two to three days after the attack estimated the number of dead in the attack in the rugged Uruzgan region at around 80, and questioned U.S. assertions that the air strikes had been in response to enemy fire.

But Karzai, speaking to reporters in the southern city of Kandahar after visiting the attack sites on Thursday, told reporters:

"It is not a correct report. I was just there. It is a report of the first day when there were lots of people and misinformation."

The preliminary U.N. account has since been superseded by a more comprehensive report which the United Nations has turned over to the U.S. and Afghan authorities rather than releasing it to the public as expected.

Four police officers were injured in eastern Afghanistan in a grenade attack and their assailant later died of his wounds, U.S. military officials said on Friday.

On Thursday police officers in Orgun-e, Paktika province, saw a man they described as a "foreigner" loitering near the police station. The term "foreigner" in Afghanistan usually denotes an Arab or Pakistani.

"When they approached, he threw a hand grenade," said Roger King, U.S. military spokesman at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.

King said there had been no U.S. casualties in the attack. The attacker later died of his wounds.