New Bin Laden Videotape Broadcast

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Osama bin Laden's appearance in a defiant videotape redoubled the difficulties of the new Afghan government Thursday in bringing peace and rebuilding a land where the militant and his al-Qaida fighters are at large.

But Afghan anti-Taliban forces have dismissed U.S. reports that they are reluctant to commit troops to scour the jagged eastern Tora Bora mountains for the Saudi-born millionaire militant and his men, saying hundreds had joined the manhunt.

One pocket of al-Qaida resistance was under pressure after Afghan guards surrounding eight Arab fighters holed up in a hospital in the southern city of Kandahar said they were running out of patience and might storm their ward within hours.

But in a sign of potential problems simmering between the new Afghan government and the U.S. military, whose bombing campaign helped sweep them to power, interim leader Hamid Karzai ordered an investigation into U.S. strikes on a convoy of tribal elders.

Karzai had agreed to ask the United States to halt aerial attacks on eastern Paktia province where a caravan of guests to his weekend inauguration was bombed with many killed last Thursday, a tribal chief from the region told reporters. The bombing adds to Karzai's myriad problems, multiplied by the possibility bin Laden is alive and at large in his country.

Bin Laden may be confined to a shrinking corner of Afghanistan, he may even by dead, but the broadcast on al-Jazeera television Wednesday of what appears to be a recently recorded videotape shows he may well have evaded the might of the world's most powerful army in trying to trap him.

The hunt will only intensify for bin Laden, alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 hijacked airliner attacks that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, sliced into the Pentagon and killed some 3,000 people in the United States.

Dressed in a camouflage jacket, a Kalashnikov propped beside him as ever, bin Laden looked gaunt and grayer.

He seemed undaunted, but less jubilant than in the private amateur video recovered from a house in Afghanistan and shot some time in early November in which he chuckles and smiles.

"Our terrorism against the United States is blessed, aimed at repelling the oppressor so that America stops its support for Israel," he says in the tape -- almost a challenge to the United States to try to track him down.

"He wanted to show ... he is alive," said Pakistani editor Hamid Mir, the last person to interview bin Laden in a secret meeting in Afghanistan on Nov. 8.

The al-Qaida's tenacious hold in remote deserts and mountains in this landlocked country is prompting the arrival of more U.S. troops on the ground and more bombing that is complicated by the increasing difficulty of identifying targets on the ground.

Up to 40 people were killed when U.S. jets bombed eastern Paktika province early Thursday, said sources in Pakistan's border tribal rim.

One tragic error may have taken place last Thursday, when a convoy packed with tribal elders -- apparently double-crossed -- came under attack in neighboring Paktia province en route to the inauguration of Karzai's government over the weekend, leaving about 65 people dead, witnesses and survivors said.