US troops stationed in Afghanistan marked Christmas with improvised celebrations while the hunt for Osama bin Laden continued.
At a special service in a newly constructed makeshift chapel at a US base near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, some US Marines celebrated a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The service followed carol singing in the cold Afghan winter as US troops heard a message from Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of US Central Command, wishing them a Merry Christmas.
In the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, US and French soldiers gathered in the cafeteria of a school they are currently stationed in to sing carols and receive special food rations.
From Washington, US President Bush made telephone calls to nine US soldiers in various overseas posts on Monday, assuring them that Americans were grateful for their services and sacrifices during the holiday season.
Cave Complex Flushed Out
As international troops stationed across Afghanistan marked the festival, anti-Taliban Afghan commanders said an al Qaeda cave complex in the Tora Bora region eastern Afghanistan had been flushed out.
The hunt for bin Laden had centered on the cave complex. But while a number of al Qaeda fighters were captured by anti-Taliban forces, the whereabouts of bin Laden and his associates are still not known. US officials believe bin Laden is behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America.
More than two months into the military campaign in Afghanistan, there was even speculation that the Saudi terrorist mastermind might be dead.
During an official visit to China on Monday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf denied reports that bin Laden had slipped into Pakistan and raised the possibility that the Saudi construction tycoon was killed.
"Maybe he is dead because of all of the operations that have been conducted, the bombardment of all his caves that have been conducted," Musharraf said, according to The Associated Press. "There is a great possibility that he may have lost his life there."
Uranium Found in Bunker
Although the airstrikes in southern Afghanistan appeared to have tapered off, US B-52 bombers dropped eight smart bombs on a munitions dump on Monday near Kandahar, where Taliban or al Qaeda forces were believed to be hiding.
US military sources told reporters that depleted uranium had been found in an underground bunker near Kandahar airport. The material is believed to have been salvaged from old Soviet air-to-air missiles, and was found near barracks formerly used by Taliban or al Qaeda leadership.
US officials are now trying to determine if anyone had been trying to use it to make some kind of dirty bomb.
A dirty bomb is easier to construct than a conventional nuclear device and is designed to disperse radiation over a large area. It consists of radioactive material wrapped around a conventional explosive.
Controversial Warlord Gets Political Post
In other developments:
In a widely hailed diplomatic move in the capital of Kabul, Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's newly sworn in interim prime minister, announced the appointment of controversial warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum as deputy defense minister on Monday. The announcement suggests General Dostum, who had expressed reservations about the political solution agreed for Afghanistan, is now supporting the new government.
(China Daily December 25, 2001)