November 21, 2001,
USA targets caves in Kunduz
Islamabad, November 20
With the US military campaign in Afghanistan running into the seventh week amidst fear of a bloody showdown in Taliban’s last remaining northern stronghold of Kunduz, the Northern Alliance today gave the militia three days to surrender or face an all-out assault.
Nearly 30,000 Taliban fighters, mostly foreigners including Arabs, Pakistanis and Chechens, are holed up in Kunduz, the hub of Bin Laden’s Al-Qaida network training.
While talks between US and UN envoys and Northern Alliance leaders on the formation of a broad-based government gathered momentum, diplomatic sources at the United Nations said that its envoy to Afghanistan was planning to convene a meeting of Afghan ethnic faction groups in Berlin on Saturday.
The Alliance Information Minister, Younis Qanooni, said in Kabul that during the talks of Alliance leaders, including Burhanuddin Rabbani, with US envoy James Dobbins and UN representative Fracesc Vendrell an agreement had been reached “in principle” on a UN blueprint for constituting a new government but technical details needed to be ironed out.
As speculation ran high that Bin Laden could evade American forces and slip out through Pakistan, the US Fifth Fleet is searching all ships leaving Pakistani territorial waters to cut off marine escape route for him and his Al-Qaida associates.
The combing operation started yesterday after the Bush administration issued orders to this effect through its maritime liaison office in Bahrain.
Warning Bin Laden that time was running out for him, US President George W. Bush said: “The net is getting tighter around him.”
“We are hunting him down. He runs and he hides,” Bush told reporters in Washington adding ultimately he will be hunted down. “Our strategy is well thought out. We won’t leave Afghanistan before the strategy is completed.”
As local tribal leaders tried to strike a deal with the Taliban supremo over the future of the militia’s southern stronghold Kandahar, where he is believed to be, US Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the USA would prefer death or capture, rather than negotiated surrender of Mullah Omar and his Al-Qaida backers.
He also said he did not want Taliban and Al-Qaida forces to be allowed out of Kunduz, which Northern Alliance earlier said the Taliban had agreed to surrender.
Stating that the US bombing campaign “is targeting caves and closing them up” in the hunt for Bin Laden, he said the information on FBI’s bounty of 25 million dollars for the suspected terrorist mastermind is being distributed via leaflets.
The reward money would provide incentives to “a large number of people to begin calling through those tunnels and caves looking for the bad folks.” The Pentagon, meanwhile, increased the US presence in Afghanistan and said it now had a few hundred special forces in the country.
US warplanes continued to pound Taliban positions around the besieged city of Kunduz, where foreign fighters backing Taliban are vowing to fight to death, and Alliance artillery joined in what could be considered the heaviest attacks at the front in days.
The US airstrikes were also reported today in the Taliban’s home-base Kandahar. The opposition commander laying siege to the last northern Taliban stronghold said today he was not hopeful that Arabs and other foreign fighters holed up in Kunduz would ever agree to surrender.
“Then, war is essential,” said Gen Mohammed Daoud, as he headed into a second day of talks in the no man’s land between opposition and Taliban front lines to the east of the Taliban-held city of Kunduz. PTI
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