Bin Laden twice escaped capture: French general

3rd June 2004, Comments 0 comments

KABUL, June 2 (AFP) - Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden has been within reach of the US-led coalition force in Afghanistan several times, the chief of staff of the French armed forces General Henri Bentegeat said Wednesday.

KABUL, June 2 (AFP) - Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden has been within reach of the US-led coalition force in Afghanistan several times, the chief of staff of the French armed forces General Henri Bentegeat said Wednesday.

"The coalition on several occasions has had Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda operatives directly within reach," Bentegeat said during a press conference following a 24-hour visit to Afghanistan.

"Since 2002, on at least two occasions, they have been able to locate him but he has managed to escape," he said, adding that there was a difference between finding and trapping an individual.

"To my knowledge, there has not recently been any incidents of this nature... but sooner or later, he will be arrested."

Asked about the possible places of refuge for the suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Bentegeat said he did not have any information which would help locate the Saudi dissident.

In a radio interview with Europe 1 in March Bentegeat said bin Laden had slipped past French commandoes on several occasions.

France is one of the members of the US-led coalition which has been fighting against remnants of the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda and other militants since late 2001.

About 200 French special forces soldiers have been working in the Spin Boldak region on the border with Pakistan since August 2003 to destroy Taliban and Al-Qaeda networks.

"French special forces are continuing their mission without change in the (southern) Kandahar region," Bentegeat said Wednesday.

Bentegeat also said France would also increase the number of its troops serving with the NATO-led peacekeeping International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, a force which will be led by a French general from mid-August.

"France has decided to strengthen her participation in the ISAF mission beginning next August," he said.

An extra 300 French troops will be stationed in the Central Asian nation, bringing the country's contingent to a little more than 1,000 servicemen and women.

"From August 11, a French general will take command of ISAF," the general said without identifying the officer who will take command of the 6,500 troops from more than 30 nations.

The peacekeepers work under a UN mandate to maintain security in the capital Kabul. Late last year the mandate was extended to the rest of the country but so far the force has only moved to the northern city of Kunduz.

Bentegeat ruled out a French-led provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan, saying his country had more than 15,000 troops outside France and as such was obliged to limit its commitment in Afghanistan.

The general, who met with senior Afghan, US and ISAF security officials while in Kabul, said despite an increase in attacks in the south and southeast the overall security situation in the country was improving.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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