The U.S.-led military campaign has devastated al-Qaeda's training infrastructure, destroyed its sanctuary and scattered its forces. But thousands of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters survived the war, and some are regrouping at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The latest fighting is taking place on the border in Paktia province, where some 1,000 allied troops are hunting down about 100 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. "That is where most of these guys have gone to ground," a Central Command officer says.
But no one knows whether the most prized targets--Osama bin Laden; his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri; and Taliban leader Mullah Omar--are among them. Last week a London-based Arab newspaper carried a purported interview with Omar in which he claimed that bin Laden is alive, warned that "we don't consider the battle has ended" and vowed to bring "fire and hell and total defeat" on the U.S.
Bin Laden's ability to plan more attacks has been degraded, but the danger he poses will mount the longer he stays at large. Intelligence officials say they continue to pick up "chatter" from al-Qaeda operatives vowing to strike another huge blow. Last Friday Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he hasn't seen "good, hard information" on the fate of bin Laden and Omar since December. "We continue to see scraps," he said. "But none of it seems to prove out."
After Sept. 11, the Bush Administration tried to bolster the federal counterterror effort by creating the Office of Homeland Security under Tom Ridge. The office is responsible for plugging holes in the bureaucracy and coordinating some 70 federal agencies and thousands of local government organizations--but Ridge wields little clout over any of them. Bush gave him no authority over Cabinet departments; as a result, many of Ridge's proposals have stalled. Now the Administration is studying ways to give Ridge's office the power he needs to get the job done. The redesign will be unveiled in July.
The CIA and the FBI, taking blame for failing to share information with each other and Administration officials about the hijacking threat, are trying to make up for their mistakes. The staff of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, where FBI and CIA agents work side by side, has doubled to 1,000 since Sept. 11. Analysts from both agencies have worked closely to investigate al-Qaeda materials recovered by the military in Afghanistan for clues to possible terror plots. Bush now receives reports from both agencies in a single daily briefing. But the intelligence community is still struggling to get up to speed. Last week FBI Director Robert Mueller announced plans to create a "supersquad" of Washington-based agents to handle terrorism investigations. It will require the bureau to hire almost 2,000 new agents in the next 18 months.