Video: The hunt for bin Laden

Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/19/2006 7:53:04 PM ET 2006-01-20T00:53:04

In the past six years, the U.S. twice had Osama bin Laden in its sights.

In 2000, when caught on tape in Afghanistan by a CIA Predator drone, the Clinton administration failed to pull the trigger. Then, three months after 9/11, bin Laden was reportedly wounded in the battle of Tora Bora but still managed to escape.

The U.S. hasn't come that close since.

“The fact that he has managed to elude capture for four years,” says Brookings Institution military analyst Michel O’Hanlon, “bodes well for his long-term ability to stay at large.”

But how has a 6-foot, 5-inch man of bin Laden's notoriety managed to avoid capture all this time?

U.S. military and intelligence officials believe bin Laden remains in hiding somewhere on either side of the rugged Pakistan-Afghanistan border — his whereabouts closely guarded by local tribesmen. It's believed he rarely travels, and when he does, it's alone. No large entourage — a potential dead giveaway — and probably on motorbike.

He makes no phone calls that could be traced. And when he does communicate, it's most likely by courier.

But U.S. officials believe they are closing in. The officials claim a more aggressive Pakistani military and vastly improved intelligence have led to the killing or capture of several high ranking al-Qaida operatives in the past year — but still no bin Laden.

Some experts believe this latest tape suggests bin Laden feels under no immediate threat.

“Bin Laden himself feels more secure in coming out of his cave and asserting to the world that he's alive and still relevant,” saysterrorism expert Steve Emerson.

Publicly, U.S. officials say bin Laden is so deep in hiding he can no longer operate, so killing or capturing him is less important. Privately, they want him badly.

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