The United Nations was hopeful Sunday that a deal between rival Afghan factions on to finalize a post-Taliban government could by hammered out as far as Monday, while the US intensified its bombardment of Kandahar, with civilians reported killed, according to reports.
The dominant Northern Alliance, which controls most of the country, and three exile factions have agreed to the outline of a power-sharing government during six days of intense talks in Germany, but are still haggling over its 25 to 30 members, said Reuters.
The agency said that in the early hours of Sunday, UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi presented a draft seven-page agreement to the four different factions.
Later, said AFP, the rival Afghan factions examined the draft for a six-month interim government of 20 to 30 members to replace the defunct Taliban regime.
In Bonn, a UN spokesman said the plan under consideration by four Afghan factions also provides for a 21-member special commission to call an emergency Loya Jirga -- an assembly of tribal elders -- as a step towards a new constitution and a broad-based government for the war-torn country.
The draft also addresses a major sticking point at the Bonn conference: the creation of a multinational force to be deployed until Afghans build their own security force, said the spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi.
Such a force has been strongly opposed by the Northern Alliance, which controls much of the country after a stunning series of battlefield victories.
The UN proposal comes with the proviso that it will be "deployed when the Afghan administration decides," Fawzi said.
He also said the hardest part was for the four delegations in Bonn -- the Northern Alliance, former king Mohammed Zahir Shah's followers and the so-called Peshawar and Cyprus groups, backed, respectively, by Pakistan and Iran -- to submit names for the new government.
"There is an important missing link here: The names -- we are still waiting for the names," Fawzi said. "We've not yet a list from the (Northern Alliance), or any other group for that matter.
"When it comes down to names, it gets very difficult," he said. "It is important we discuss and finalize a list of names in Bonn."
Still, he said, he hoped the agreement would be signed on Monday, one week after the conference opened.
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned the Islamic militia to surrender their Kandahar bastion or die.
"If (the Taliban) don't surrender they will be killed," Rumsfeld told NBC television as the United States launched its heaviest air raids yet around the southern city and threatened to have its Marines join an opposition ground assault.
Rumsfeld warned that the Afghan campaign was far from over and said further US casualties should be expected.
Under non-stop US air strikes, Pashtun tribal forces said they were engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban forces three kilometers (two miles) from the Kandahar airport.
A wire service pool report said a US Marine task force stationed at an airstrip near Kandahar, backed by British, German and Australian liaison officers, could "potentially" join an attack on Kandahar.
French troops also arrived in the battlefield, said AFP.
"You have a lot of forces at play: The opposition groups coming from the north down, the southeast up and us potentially coming from where we are" in an eventual attack on Kandahar, said a US military intelligence officer -- but without pinpointing the US unit's location.
Rumsfeld said Sunday that the United States had "1,500 to 2,000" troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
Dozens of civilians and at least 12 Arab fighters were Sunday reported killed in the heavy fighting outside the Taliban's southern stronghold of Kandahar, as US warplanes backed tribal militias with some of the most intense airstrikes of the campaign, added AFP.
POWELL: TROOPS GETTING CLOSER TO HUNT BIN LADEN
Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sunday the United States believed Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden) was in the “southern and eastern part” of Afghanistan and it was “just a matter of time” before he was found and the ruling Taliban defeated.
Appearing on the CBS “Face the Nation” program, Powell was quoted by Reuters as saying that the Taliban was ``still hanging on in Kandahar and some of the southern provinces and the mountains to the east and to the south but they are under enormous – Albawaba.com
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