NEW YORK – Where in the world is Usama bin Laden (search)?
That's the question many still ask but there's still little sign of the terror mastermind responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 (search) attacks and a myriad of other terror incidents around the world.
"We haven't had real, solid information since the Tora Bora (search) campaign on his location," Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., told FOXNews.com in an interview, referring to the late 2001 battle around the cave complex along Afghanistan's mountainous eastern border, aimed at killing or capturing bin Laden and his Al Qaeda fighters.
Just how many U.S. resources are being put into the search may be more difficult to ascertain these days. While President Bush mentioned the terror mastermind by name more than 10 times in his 2004 State of the Union address, bin Laden wasn't named once by the president during this year's address.
"It isn't the local Iraqis that are a threat to me in Boston," Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy recently told the Boston Herald. "It's Al Qaeda (search) that is the threat to us here … it is unfortunate and tragic we haven't been able to apprehend him [bin Laden] after all this period of time."
Kennedy, a Democrat, noted the lack of mention of bin Laden in Bush's 2005 State of the Union address.
"Why'd he mention him one year ago 15 times? Now he doesn’t mention him at all."
When asked in December how the search for bin Laden is going, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "The war on terrorism is much broader than any one person" but reiterated the theme that the Al Qaeda network has been smashed.
A month earlier, when asked if the United States was still actively looking for the ringleader, McClellan responded: "Yes, we are continuing to pursue him and he will be brought to justice. We are also continuing to move forward on dismantling and destroying the Al Qaeda network, and we have made great progress over the course of the last few years. But there is more to do. And we continue to stay on the offensive."
Experts and observers said that while his name may not be in the headlines every day, the hunt for America's most-wanted man is still on.
"I think that they're continuing to bang away on it … I think that they're still gathering string on it but I don't have the sense that they're going anywhere on it," said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org. "We'll find him in the last place we look and I assume that one day, he'll just fall into our hands and I don't think there's any way of predicting if that day will be tomorrow or a decade from now."
Advertising the Most Wanted
Last month, Col. Gary Cheek, who oversees American forces in eastern Afghanistan, reiterated the belief that bin Laden may be somewhere along the rugged Pakistani border in the lawless region separating the two countries. But others said no place should be left out.
"It's possible he could relocate somewhere," said James Phillips, a research fellow with The Heritage Foundation, who specializes in the Middle East and international terrorism, as well other issues. He also didn't rule out a small city in Pakistan as a possible place bin Laden may be holed up.
"He has many supporters in Somalia but in the other hand, I think he'd stick out like a sore thumb. If I had to bet, I think he'd be much more likely to go to Yemen or perhaps even Iraq — a place where Arabs could blend in."
To aid in the effort, the State Department in January launched an advertising campaign in Pakistan to publicize financial rewards for information leading to the arrest of terrorists — including bin Laden — in the region, as part of its Rewards for Justice program. The ads are now not only running in newspapers, but also are airing on Pakistani radio and television stations in both Urdu and Pashto. People who receive the rewards are relocated for their own safety.
"We don't want people in that region to lose focus that there are terrorists all over the world wanted for killing innocent people for a political agenda," a spokesperson from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the State Department, told FOXNews.com. "People in these regions could provide information that leads to the capture of terrorists."
This spokesperson also acknowledged that the department doesn't know where bin Laden or the other 13 "most wanted terrorists" identified in the campaign are located but officials hope the campaign will cause people to come forward, as they did in the case of locating Uday and Qusay Hussein.
Saddam Hussein's sons each had a $15 million bounty on their heads before they were killed July 22, 2003, in a four-hour gunbattle with U.S. troops in a hideout in Mosul, Iraq. The Bush administration approved a $30 million payment to the tipster who led U.S. troops to the former dictator's two sons.
Is Money Enough?
Kirk, the congressman from Illinois who sponsored the legislation behind the mass-media campaign, said officials are picking up "about a dozen contacts a day" through the effort. The audio and visual aspect of the advertising blitz is key, he said, since about 97 percent of the communities along the Afghan-Pakistan border is illiterate.
Kirk said that the ad campaign may be a way to get bin Laden back on the map.
"This man was the greatest mass murderer in U.S. history and it doesn't matter, the political ups and downs back in the United States — regardless of who is president and regardless of who's in Congress, we have to be dedicated no matter how dim the prospects are," Kirk said. "If the trail is cold, we will use new and innovative techniques like the radio and TV campaign.
But more U.S. troops on the ground are definitely not needed, Kirk added.
"Right now, we've got plenty of people in the region [who can act] the moment we've got a hot lead," the lawmaker said. "The rewards program is initially very frustrating but then can be key. If it takes in 10,000 more leads and gets one good one, it's a success."
But one concern is that with so many bin Laden sympathizers in the region he's believed to be hiding out in, the money may not be enough to do in the terrorist, particularly since bin Laden has been perceived as a charitable person by many.
"In the provinces on the Afghan border where he's hiding, the rural communities support him maybe 80-20 and he has access to a very large number of Chechen and Uzbek fighters who have no place else to go and will fight for him to the death," said Kirk, who visited Pakistan a year ago.
Phillips said tracking bin Laden is far more difficult than tracking Saddam, because there were so few people the former Iraqi president trusted and who were truly loyal to him.
"Bin Laden is believed to have many [supporters], particularly in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region where he's generally believed to be and that is an area not only where U.S. forces aren't allowed to go but even where military forces from the government of Pakistan aren't welcome so it's kind of a sensitive area."
Added Pike: "You're trying to get people to turn in Robin Hood. On the other hand, it's a bizarre amount of money. We do know that Robin Hood did get turned in at times."