Finding Osama bin Laden would not mean the end of al Qaeda, but it would be a key step to eventually defeating al Qaeda, the commander in charge of Afghanistan told Congress on Tuesday.
“I believe he is an iconic figure at this point, whose survival emboldens al Qaeda as a franchising organization across the world," Gen. Stanley McChrystal told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It would not defeat al Qaeda to have him captured or killed, but I don't think that we can finally defeat al Qaeda until he's captured or killed."
The trail of the al Qaeda mastermind behind the September 11 attacks has grown cold. The Secretary of Defense told NBC News he has not seen any credible intelligence about bin Laden since he took over at the helm of the Pentagon almost three years ago.
Bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, is believed to be hiding in the mountains on the Pakistan side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. McChrystal said that bin Laden is not a major occupation for the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
"I am responsible as commander of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] for inside Afghanistan. Were Osama bin Laden to come in there, of course, that would become a huge priority for all of our forces," McChrystal said. But he said if bin Laden is not in Afghanistan, it "is outside of my mandate right now."
The Pakistani Taliban are waiting the weather out and will take on the military when winter arrives in Pakistan's tribal region, said Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud in a phone call with CNN.
"We will wait till January for our offensive since we are stronger during the snowing season," Mehsud said.
He told CNN he remains confident despite the large-scale military operation currently targeting him and his fighters in the province of South Waziristan.
David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times report that the Obama administration is “turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders.”
“The blunt message was delivered in a tense encounter in Pakistan last month, before President Obama announced his new war strategy, when Gen. James L. Jones, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief, met with the heads of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service,” they write.
Women and girls continue to lack access to justice and education and suffer from high rates of violence eight years after the fall of the Taliban, according to a report released this week from the Human Rights Watch. The group calls on Afghanistan and the international community to keep women's rights a priority, even as President Obama outlines a new security strategy.
CNN's Atia Abawi examines the plight of a particular group of women - Afghan widows. Left without a husband and often no other male family member, widows struggle to survive because of few options for women to earn an income. Options outside the home are limited where the Taliban holds sway in Afghanistan. And even in areas not overrun by the Taliban, women face risks outside the home because of cultural and societal pressures.
Update: Many readers have asked how they could help. Here are some organizations that have been approved in the past as part of CNN's Impact Your World project:
Women for Afghan Women
Women for Women International
Vital Voices Global Partnership
Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Karl Eikenberry, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, face Congressional hearings on Tuesday about Obama's Afghanistan strategy. McChrystal told the House Armed Services Committee early in the hearing that the next 18 months will be "critical" in the war in that country. "I believe the next 18 months are critical, especially in the eyes of the Afghan people and the insurgency. I believe for these 18 months we're going to make tremendous progress ... while we simultaneously grow the Afghan capacity to provide for long-term security," McChrystal said.
What do you think? What will be the most critical part of the plan in the next 18 months? Can the strategy succeed?
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is traveling with the U.S. military all week in Afghanistan and reports on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' unannounced visit to the country. Gates arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday, a week after President Barack Obama announced he was sending 30,000 additional troops to the central Asian nation. Gates met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, as well as other American military officials on the unannounced visit.
Starr talks with CNN Radio's John Lisk on the reception Gates has received so far from Karzai and the U.S. troops, the winter weather's effect on his travel and how the troops are reacting to the Obama strategy announcement.
A look at Afghanistan news from the local U.S. level, from CNN's affiliate network:
Army doc gives to Afghan kids
An unusual peace process will play out soon in Afghanistan. There will be no shiny limos, or summits for talking heads. The diplomacy will turn on an everyday item: a child's knit cap, stuffed in a U.S. soldier's rucksack and given to a ragged Afghan youngster for battling the biting cold. Read more at Philly.com
Peace groups urge end to war
Protesters marched outside U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, in protest against sending more soldiers into war-torn Afgahnistan. Watch and read more from KXAN
Vet: I don’t think it is Vietnam
Don Landin like many Americans has questions over the war in Afghanistan. And as someone who served in Vietnam, he wants answers. Landin believes the Afghanistan War won't become Vietnam if government supports the military and the American public understands why. Watch and read more from KBCI
London, England (CNN) - Britain's prime minister on Tuesday defended the mission in Afghanistan as "vital" to protecting his country from terrorists, following the death of the 100th British serviceman in Afghanistan this year. The soldier, from the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, was killed Monday by small arms fire in the Nad-e Ali area of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, Britain's Ministry of Defence said.
The soldier was the 100th member of the British armed forces to die in Afghanistan this year, the ministry said. Britain has lost more than 200 service personnel in the country since the start of fighting in 2001. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown emphasized the "real impact" of the Afghan mission as he offered his condolences to the soldier's family.
The UK has the largest contingent in Afghanistan after the United States. The figure of 9,500 does not include special forces, said Brown, who declined to say exactly how many of those were there, but indicated it is more than 500.
The Pakistani Taliban are waiting the weather out and will take on the military when winter arrives in Pakistan's tribal region, said Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud in a phone call with CNN. "We will wait till January for our offensive since we are stronger during the snowing season," Mehsud said. He told CNN he remains confident despite the large-scale military operation currently targeting him and his fighters in the province of South Waziristan. "We have conserved our energy and have not lost our morale," he said.
The leadership of his organization is safe, he said, but he didn't say where they are taking refuge. He neither denied nor confirmed that the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for Monday's suicide blast outside the district courthouse in Peshawar.