- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Taliban and opposition forces continued fierce fighting in southern and northern Afghanistan yesterday as the Pentagon said it would halt air strikes during surrender talks, if asked by anti-Taliban leaders.
Meanwhile, U.S. military forces are set to move into northern Afghanistan, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said yesterday.
"The U.S. military will soon begin to work with coalition members in the area to clear selected roads in and around Mazar-e-Sharif to pave the way for future humanitarian-assistance operations," she said. "That work may include engineers for road repairs and explosive ordnance details to clear mines and booby traps."
Mrs. Clarke would not say when the troops will be deployed but said discussions are under way within the Bush administration and with coalition partners.
Special-operations commandos continued the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders in Afghanistan.
"The situation in Kunduz and Kandahar remains the same, which is at a standoff," said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff.
In opposition-controlled Mazar-e-Sharif, the Northern Alliance issued an ultimatum to the Taliban: Surrender in three days or face assault. Alliance spokesman Attiq Ullah told the Associated Press that the Taliban forces must lay down their arms by Friday, or alliance forces now surrounding the northern city will attack.
Several thousand fighters in Kunduz are said to be made up of many foreign fighters in addition to Afghans and reports say that defectors seeking to flee to the opposition have been killed.
"If there is a fight in Kunduz, it will be a bloody one because there are 3,000 foreign fighters and they have nowhere to go," the Alliance spokesman said.
U.S. air strikes, including bombing by B-52s, continued yesterday although winter weather appeared to be hampering operations, according to news agency reports from the region.
U.S. military forces also are dropping leaflets that promise a reward of up to $25 million if bin Laden is found in southern Afghanistan, where Pashtun tribes are battling Taliban forces around Kandahar.
The U.S. military and intelligence effort to find bin Laden, the chief suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks, received a boost from the new governor of Jalalabad, Abdul Qadeer, who offered to help find the Saudi terrorist leader. "I know every inch of the area" where bin Laden is believed to be hiding out, Mr. Qadeer told reporters.
Adm. Stufflebeem described the battle near Kunduz as "very active fighting" in what the Taliban views as a "refuge" within Afghanistan. Opposition forces captured two key cities, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul on Nov. 9 and 13, respectively.
"It's not clear as to whether or not some or all will be able to negotiate their way out," he said. "It's not clear if all want to negotiate their way out."
Adm. Stufflebeem said opposition forces were leading the talks with the Taliban for the surrender of its forces in the Kunduz and Kandahar areas.
Asked about the surrender talks, Adm. Stufflebeem said U.S. warplanes are providing air support for the opposition. As of yesterday, there had been no halt in U.S. bombing strikes, he said.
"But we are responsive to the opposition groups, whom we are supporting in that effort right now," Adm. Stufflebeem said. "And I think that it would be fair to say that if the opposition groups were to ask us not to bomb a specific facility or a location so they could continue their discussions, we'll certainly honor that."
Mrs. Clarke said last night she was not aware of any requests from the Afghan opposition to limit U.S. air strikes. If one were made, "we would take it under consideration," she said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday said U.S. forces are advising Northern Alliance forces surrounding Kunduz and hopes the foreign forces will not be allowed to escape the country.
"It would be most unfortunate if the foreigners in Afghanistan, the al Qaeda and the Chechens and others who have been there working with the Taliban were set free and in any way allowed to go to another country and cause the same kind of terrorist acts, it would be most unfortunate," he said during a meeting with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
On Monday, Mr. Rumsfeld said Taliban or terrorist forces that refuse to give up should be killed or taken prisoner.
Adm. Stufflebeem said U.S. Special Forces troops are working with opposition groups "to establish civil order and consolidate their gains." The opposition now controls about three-fourths of the country, he said.
The combat forces also are helping to eliminate Taliban and foreign fighters holed up in "pockets of resistance," he said.
Bombing strikes Monday focused on raids on tunnel complexes believed to be used by Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists.
U.S. air strikes on positions near Kunduz are "providing good pressure" that may help the outcome of negotiations, Adm. Stufflebeem said. A similar situation exists near the city of Kandahar, he said.
Adm. Stufflebeem said U.S. forces are conducting assessments of airfields in northern Afghanistan to check their use for humanitarian deliveries and for the security from foreign aircraft.


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