The Pentagon on Tuesday launched an airstrike on a compound southeast of Kandahar after receiving intelligence reports that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar might be there, amid estimates that several hundred members of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network had already been killed, said reports.
Sources told CNN that the pilot reported hitting the compound near Kandahar, the milita's last real stronghold, but officials said they did not know if anyone on the ground was killed, or if Omar was present.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that US planes attacked a "leadership compound," but would not elaborate, said the news network.
Meanwhile, ground fighting continued amid signs the former Taliban regime was slowly losing its grip on the south.
A Taliban commander told CNN Tuesday he had surrendered after 25 of his men refused to fight rival tribesmen, indicating that the militia's hold on the Afghan border city of Spin Boldak could be slipping.
More than 600 US Marines are on the ground in Afghanistan, added the network, and the Pentagon said the troops occupied an airport about 70 miles outside Kandahar.
Meanwhile, AP reported that US forces in Afghanistan were scouring more than 40 laboratories and other facilities suspected of conducting secret work on chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
The agency said, however, that so far none of the searches had yielded clear evidence of such work.
Near the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, meanwhile, CNN said that Northern Alliance fighters - aided by U.S. and British special forces - had nearly "contained" a Taliban POW uprising.
The network said no US military personnel were killed in the uprising, but added that a US government "employee" was missing.
BIN LADEN STILL ELUSIVE; AL QAEDA NOT SO LUCKY
US Army Gen. Tommy Franks said Tuesday that there were now two main areas of focus in the search for fugitive Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands in the US.
One is Kandahar, which has harbored bin Laden, and the other is an area between the eastern city of Jalalabad and a mountain base called Tora Bora, AP quoted Franks as saying.
But even as their leader slipped through US hands, members of his Al Qaeda network were said to be suffering heavy casualties.
Out of an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 members of bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan, several hundred have been killed, one US official told the agency on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another official told AP that seven people considered Al Qaeda leaders are among the dead, including Mohammed Atef, one of Osama bin Laden's top two deputies, and Mohammed Salah and Tariq Anwar, two high-ranking members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
DIPLOMATS MULL NEW AFHGAN GOV'T IN BONN
In Bonn, Germany, delegates to a summit conference of Afghan groups began discussing a plan for an interim Afghan government, said CNN.
"Very encouraging words from the heads of the delegations this morning," the news network quoted a spokesman for the top UN envoy for Afghanistan as saying.
Nevertheless, the talks opened on a somber note as the UN warning rival groups not to waste their successes by starting a civil war as they did in 1992, said Reuters.
Opening the conference, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the 38 Afghan delegates and advisers the world would help rebuilt their shattered country if they agreed to a transitional government and ensured respect for human rights, said the agency.
The Northern Alliance, which gathers many minority Tajiks and Uzbeks who have long opposed the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, had the biggest delegation with 17, including the powerful figure of Haji Abdul Qadir, the governor of Jalalabad, said Reuters, which reported that royalists had 11 delegates and the two other exile groups five each - Albawaba.com
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