Kabul, Afghanistan Osama bin Laden and other militant leaders could be hiding in eastern Afghanistan, the commander of U.S. forces along a key stretch of the Pakistani border told The Associated Press on Monday.
Col. Gary Cheek, who controls U.S. forces in 16 Afghan provinces, also said Taliban leaders appear to be losing control of a stubborn insurgency, three years after their ouster for harboring the al-Qaida leader.
Forces loyal to Taliban commanders such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, and to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar still attack U.S. forces near the mountainous Pakistani frontier, and Cheek said the rebel leaders could also be present in his area of responsibility.
"Leaders like Hekmatyar, Haqqani, bin Laden could possibly be in our region, but any information we have on them would be very close-hold (closely guarded) for operational reasons," Cheek told AP by e-mail on Monday.
American officials insist there is no let up in the hunt for the al-Qaida leader, who is believed to have escaped Afghan and U.S. forces near the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan in late 2001.
There are now about 18,000 mainly American soldiers in Afghanistan, pursuing militants as helping the government of President Hamid Karzai to regain control of the war-ravaged country.