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Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Taliban to fight to keep territory

November 21, 2001

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— The Taliban vowed Wednesday to stand and fight on their home ground, but the U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan said the allies would drive them from their stronghold of Kandahar and destroy Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Having clinched control of three-quarters of the country, anti-Taliban forces were preparing to talk about how to govern Afghanistan.

The northern alliance, which controls the capital and the largest share of territory, has agreed to attend power-sharing talks in Germany next week, and the search was on for leaders to represent the dominant Pashtun ethnic group.

A spokesman for the top Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said the Taliban would defend territory they still control _ including their home base, Kandahar _ after a week of sweeping retreats across Afghanistan.

"They have decided to defend the presently controlled areas," said the spokesman, Syed Tayyad Agha. "We will try our best and we will defend our nation ... and we will not give any chance to anybody to disturb our Islamic rule in Kandahar and other provinces."

At a news conference in the Afghan border town of Spinboldak, where the Taliban had brought a group of journalists, the spokesman also claimed _ as the militia has claimed before _ to know nothing about bin Laden's whereabouts.

"We have no idea where he is," Agha said. "There is no relation right now. There is no communication."

The American commander of the military campaign in Afghanistan, Gen. Tommy Franks, told reporters in Uzbekistan that U.S.-led forces would keep up the pressure on the Taliban and al-Qaida to the end.

"We need to complete the work in Kandahar ... and most importantly we need to complete the destruction of the al-Qaida terrorist network," Franks added.

Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, said he was confident a dlrs 25 million reward for bin Laden's capture will help locate the suspected terrorist.

"I believe the incentives that have been placed on the table will in fact lead to information that will assist us in this effort," he said.

The Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, suggested that the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan and Muslim suffering elsewhere had counterbalanced the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed about 4,000 people.

"You should forget the 11 September attacks because now there is new fighting against Muslims and Islam," Agha said, because "the international and global terrorists like America and Britain ... are killing daily our innocent people."

U.S. President George W. Bush launched the military campaign against Afghanistan on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden for his alleged role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Franks said the siege of the northern city of Kunduz _ the last Taliban redoubt in the north _ would end in defeat for its defenders: Taliban forces and fighters loyal to bin Laden.

"I don't know how long that battle will continue, but at the end of the day, we will prevail in the city of Kunduz," said Franks.

He traveled into northern Afghanistan Tuesday night to meet with anti-Taliban leaders _ the first trip inside the country by such a senior U.S. military official.

The northern alliance's Gen. Mohammed Daoud said late Tuesday he was optimistic that he could finish brokering surrender of Afghan Taliban at Kunduz, perhaps within a day.

"We are hopeful that (Wednesday) will be the conclusion of talks," he said in the northern city of Taloqan.

Talks have been carried out in the no man's land between Taliban and northern alliance front lines east of Kunduz, and were resuming Wednesday. Daoud has been negotiating with the Taliban commander of Kunduz, Dadullah, and former deputy defense minister Mullah Fazil Muslimyar.

Daoud said the talks are being carried out independently of the foreign fighters holed up at Kunduz _ mostly Arabs, Chechens and Pakistanis loyal to bin Laden _ and that there have been no negotiations with them.

The alliance's main commander in the north said the Taliban were being increasingly squeezed. But Atta Mohammed, speaking by phone from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, suggested there would be little mercy for those fighters loyal to bin Laden.

"We can't guarantee the safety of the foreign fighters because they have created a humanitarian calamity in Afghanistan," he said.

U.S. bombing of Taliban positions outside Kunduz was light despite clear skies, with only a few bombs dropped by heavy warplanes and by smaller attack aircraft.

Also Wednesday, the bodies of four journalists dragged from their cars and killed by gunmen in eastern Afghanistan on Monday arrived in Pakistan with a Red Cross convoy. Two were from the Reuters news agency, one from the Italian daily Corriere della Sera and one from the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

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