Taleban hold out

The Taleban are reduced to their last stronghold, their heartland around the city of Kandahar, now under attack from all sides by anti-Taleban Pashtun tribes, supported by US bombing missions.

The Taleban continue to hold half the airport at Kandahar, despite round-the-clock bombing by US military aircraft and wave after wave of attacks by Pashtun tribesmen led by the former governor of Kandahar, Haji Gul Agha.

To the north of the city, an assault led by another Pashtun leader, commander Kharzai, was beaten back by the Taleban, who claim to have killed tem anti-Taleban militia. These reports have not been confirmed by independent sources.

There are now 1,500 US marines inside Afghanistan, and more infantry troops in the north. The number of British SAS Special Forces operating inside the country has not been confirmed. However, it is unlikely as yet that either of these forces will be involved for the time being in direct combat with the Taleban around Kandahar, their role being to prepare for humanitarian aid projects and to support the Pashtun militia against the Taleban.

In the east of the country, sustained bombing raids on the Tora Bora cave complex, where Osama Bin Laden is reported to be hiding, have caused casualties among the Taleban leadership. There are unconfirmed reports that the Al-Qaeda number two, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri has been wounded and that the financial controller of Osama Bin Laden, Ali Mahmud, has been killed.

The claim was made by the anti-Taleban Pashtun commander Haji Mohammed Zaman, who claims to be encircling Tora Bora, but the Pentagon has stated there is no possibility of confirming these claims at present.

For the time being, stalemate as the Taleban regroup around their heartland and continued speculation as to the whereabouts of the leader of Al-Qaeda. Whereas press reports last week expressed near certainty that Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, south of Jalalabad, was the location which Osama Bin Laden had chosen for his hide-out, the language used today is that this is no more than one of many possibilities.

The Taleban claim both Osama Bin Laden and the spiritual leader Mohammad Omar are both in the country, Omar in Kandahar and Bin laden in another location. However, information from this movement has been revealed in recent weeks to be extremely unreliable, this being the reason why when Taleban sources are quoted, reference is made as to whether or not the data has been corroborated by a credible independent source.