U.S. Marines Hunt for Mullah Omar

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A Marine Humvee kicks up dust as it leaves on patrol

The New Year started with some old business in the U.S. war on terror — continuing the hunt for Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden. Today, a contingent of 200 U.S. Marines conducted a 30-hour expedition to search a former compound of Taliban leader Mullah Omar in the Baghran area. The Marines were looking for anything that could lead the U.S. to Omar, who is believed to still be hiding somewhere in the Baghran area north of Kandahar.

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Afghan leaders and U.S. Special Forces personnel are reportedly negotiating for Omar's surrender. However, U.S. officials doubt he's ready to turn himself in, primarily because they believe Taliban officials are speaking on their own behalf, without Omar?s approval. "These are Taliban forces looking to negotiate themselves out of a predicament," said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem.

Also in Afghanistan, the international peacekeeping force continued to grow as the first French troops arrived Wednesday in Baghran, joining British forces already in the country. France has pledged up to 5,000 troops to aid in activities such as securing roads and removing landmines. And Turkey followed up on earlier offers of aid by volunteering to lead peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan. A decision on the final structure of peacekeeping operations has not yet been made.

Elsewhere, the war on terror moved forward on the judicial front in Alexandria, Virginia, where alleged "20 th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to six counts of conspiracy stemming from his alleged involvement in the events of September 11th. Moussaoui actually chose not to offer a plea of any kind; however, Judge Leonie Brinkema said that she understood that to be a not guilty plea, and Moussaoui?s lawyer concurred. Moussaoui is the first and remains the only person to be officially charged in connection with the attacks of September 11 th. He faces the death penalty as the maximum punishment for four of the six counts against him.