Kabul, Afghanistan — A top commander of the northern alliance said Thursday that his forces were moving into Kandahar, the only city the Taliban still control in Afghanistan. The Pentagon said opposition troops could be in the provincial district around the city.
"We entered into Kandahar," Bismillah Khan, the alliance's deputy defense minister, said in the capital, Kabul.
In Washington, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said he could not confirm or deny that opposition forces had entered the city of Kandahar. He indicated that northern alliance troops might be in the province of Kandahar, which covers a large area of southern Afghanistan.
"There have in fact been opposition groups, some of which are from the north, that have been around the Kandahar province to the north of the Kandahar province," he said.
"I can accept that they have entered the province, but not in a large movement," he told reporters, adding he had not seen any reports that opposition groups had managed to get inside the city.
Reports indicated heavy U.S. bombardment of the city.
Khan had no details of the situation in the city, including whether the Taliban there had surrendered or were resisting the advance. Western journalists are not allowed in Kandahar.
Kandahar, 280 miles southwest of Kabul, is the last city held by the Taliban after U.S. airstrikes and offensives by the northern alliance pushed them out of most of Afghanistan this month.
After retreating to the south, the Taliban was left with only four provinces out of 30 and only one city, Kandahar, where the Islamic militia was born in 1994. It seized Kabul two years later.
President Bush launched the military campaign in Afghanistan on Oct. 7 after the Taliban regime refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
U.S. warplanes bombed positions near Kandahar's airport early Thursday after Taliban forces fired rockets at local tribesmen who radioed for American air support, an anti-Taliban tribal official, Abdul Jabbar, said in Pakistan.
Kandahar residents fleeing to the Pakistani border said bombs fell around the city overnight, but could give no details of casualties or damage.
A commander of an anti-Taliban tribal force in southern Afghanistan said his fighters were nearing the city as well.
"Our forces are five kilometers (three miles) east of Kandahar airport," Mohammed Jalal Khan said. "We hope to capture Kandahar soon." He gave no other details.
Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who apparently escaped the massive bombardment of a command bunker near Kandahar on Tuesday, reportedly ordered his men to "fight to the death."
U.S. Marines have set up a base in the desert west of Kandahar, bringing more than 1,000 troops to their forward operating base. Growing numbers of elite U.S. and other Western troops and advisers have been entering other parts of Afghanistan.