The top secret international commando group which tracked down Saddam Hussein is being transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan to spearhead the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Task Force 121, a 1400-strong unit drawn from the U.S. army's Delta Force, Rangers and Green Berets, U.S. navy Seals, and attached elements of British and Australian SAS and Canadian special forces, will be used as the cutting edge of an offensive aimed at netting or killing top al Qaeda fugitives.
The unit, which may be renamed before deploying on the Afghan side of the frontier with Pakistan's lawless tribal lands, is moving in because of improving intelligence on the movements of the terror network's high command.
The 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a 12,000-man Pakistani army division are preparing for a "hammer and anvil" offensive from both sides of the border to trap terrorist leaders and fighters.
The main targets are bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, his deputy, and Sheikh Mohammed Omar, the deposed Taliban regime leader. Two- thirds of the original "inner circle" commanders appointed by bin Laden are already dead or in custody.
The remaining fugitives are believed to be sheltering with Pashtun tribes, guarded by hundreds of Arab, Uzbek and Chechen bodyguards trained in al Qaeda's Afghan camps. Pentagon sources say they are confident of gaining control of the area and keeping the survivors on the run.
The Pakistani army, which until recently refused to interfere in the affairs of the semi-autonomous tribal lands, is using tactics dating back to the era of the British Raj by threatening to punish entire clans for giving sanctuary to terrorists.
On the Afghan side, U.S. troops have been basing platoon- or company-sized units in mountain villages to help win the trust of local people and gather better intelligence on the movement of strangers along ancient smugglers' trails. While Task Force 121 was engaged in Iraq, the secret war against al Qaeda and the Taliban has been waged by relatively small numbers of British SAS and SBS troopers and about 40 soldiers from Canada's Joint Task Force Two, aided by Norwegian army mountain warfare specialists.
In New York, a poll found three in 10 Americans said bin Laden should be the first victim if executions were televised - and 21% said they would pay for the privilege.
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