General Richard Myers, on a one-day Christmas visit to US troops in Afghanistan accompanied by comedian Robin Williams and other American entertainers, said bin Ladin was probably alive and hiding in the rugged tribal lands along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

   

"It's very difficult to find individuals," Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the US headquarters in Afghanistan at Bagram, north of Kabul.

 

Justice

   

"But what will happen is, with absolute certainty, if bin Ladin is still alive, and I think most suspect he is, that he will be captured some day, just like we captured Saddam Hussein. Some day he will be brought to justice, just like Saddam," he said.

   

Myers said common wisdom had it bin Ladin was somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, "where he has some support, where he can buy support, and probably very difficult terrain".

 

"Some day he will be brought to justice, just like Saddam"

General Richard Myers,
chairman, US joint chiefs of Staff

Lieutenant-General David Barno, commander of the 12,000-strong US-led force in Afghanistan, admitted the southeast of the country bordering Pakistan where the Taliban are the most active was still "a concern".

   

But he said the guerrillas could no longer operate in large groups after heavy defeats earlier in the year.

   

Recently, the US launched what it said was its largest ever operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

   

It says "Operation Avalanche" has involved deployment of thousands of US-led troops mounting patrols and manning checkpoints across an area the size of California.