CHAMAN, Pakistan – The Taliban envoy to Pakistan said Saturday that Usama bin Laden has left Afghanistan and that the Islamic militia does not know where he went.
"Usama has left Afghanistan with his children and his wives, and we have no idea where he has gone," the envoy, Abdul Salam Zaeef, told The Associated Press at the Chaman border-crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan as he was returning to this country.
The claim could not be independently confirmed.
Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said the U.S. military had no evidence bin Laden left Afghanistan. He said the Taliban could be trying to misdirect the hunt for bin Laden to protect him.
"Our search continues," Flood said Saturday.
In the early days of the confrontation with the United States over bin Laden, the Taliban claimed that they did not know his whereabouts, that they were in contact with him but not controlling his movements.
Another senior Taliban official — Mullah Najibullah, a Taliban leader in the southeast Afghan border town of Spinboldak — said earlier Saturday that bin Laden was alive, but said nothing more about his status.
As U.S. troops scout a crumbling Afghanistan for the Al Qaeda leader wanted for the Sept. 11 attacks, experts have said the few places he could try to flee to include Iraq, Somalia and the disputed land of Kashmir, fought over by India and Pakistan.
Perhaps bin Laden's best option would be to try to cross the Afghan-Pakistan border. Long and porous, the frontier is jammed with refugees, and Pakistan is home to militant groups sympathetic to bin Laden and his Taliban allies.
But the terrain, especially in the north, is often treacherous and at this time of year, the temperature can drop below freezing. Once over the border, bin Laden would still have to traverse Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the war against him.