Heavy Fighting Rages around Taliban Last Stronghold

Published December 2nd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

As fighting raged Saturday around the last stronghold of Afghanistan’s shattered Taliban regime, the US military officially denied reports that bombs from overnight American airstrikes killed dozens of civilians in two villages, said reports. 

The regional security chief for Nangarhar province was quoted by CNN as saying that 50 civilians were killed and at least five others were wounded when bombs landed in Talkhel and Balut, near Tora Bora, which is believed to be an Al Qaeda base.  

But Maj. Brad Lowell, a spokesman for the US Central Command, was quoted by the news service as saying the planes were attacking a cave and tunnel complex.  

"We've reviewed all means available," Lowell said, according to CNN. "We had good imagery on these. We saw the weapons hit their targets, which were cave and tunnel systems. There were no buildings in view to depict or suggest residential areas." 

He said a similar analysis led US military officials to discount earlier reports that off-target bombs had destroyed the village of Kama Ado, some 30 miles south of Jalalabad, where witnesses had reported that 100 to 200 civilians had died, added CNN. 

The Pentagon has repeatedly ridiculed Afghan claims of civilian casualties in the heavy bombing, despite confirmations in some cases by the UN and the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel. 

 

FINAL ASSAULT ON KANDAHAR? 

 

US Marines were digging in near the Taliban’s last stronghold of Kandahar on Saturday, as tribal warriors claimed to be making a major assault on the city’s airport, said reports. 

Thousands more fighters from another anti-Taliban factions were headed toward the city from the north, said AP. 

At the same time, a battalion-size force of US Marines dug in near the embattled city, awaiting orders. CNN quoted one Marine spokesman as saying the orders would be accomplished "with a vengeance." 

South of Kandahar, US jets blasted Taliban positions around the airport, refugees from the embattled militia's last stronghold told AP.  

Meanwhile, more than 80 Taliban fighters emerged Saturday from a prison near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, where hundreds of their comrades and a CIA operative were killed in what CNN called a “POW uprising” this week.  

 

DIPLOMATS TRUDGE FORWARD 

 

In Germany, negotiations for a post-Taliban government advanced when the Northern Alliance reversed itself and submitted nominees to serve on an interim administration alongside three other factions, said CNN. 

The opposition group also said it no longer opposed international peacekeepers, if the force was set up by the UN, added the news network.  

In addition, ousted Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani will not head the country's new interim government, Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said on Saturday, according to AFP.  

"The head of the transitional authority will not be the president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan," Abdullah told a news conference.  

Rabbani, a key Northern Alliance leader who was ousted from Kabul by the Taliban in 1996, is still the UN-recognized head of state, but is controversial for his role in Afghan infighting. 

Abdullah added that the Northern Alliance, also known as the United Front, did not expect to name one of its own members to lead the interim council.  

The head "will not be necessarily from the United Front," he said, sidestepping a question on the role of former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah, who is favored by the international community to act as figurehead for the new power-sharing government – Albawaba.com

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)


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