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Omar orders Taliban to fight to the last

Omar orders Taliban to fight to the last

Publication: The Times of India - Internet Edition
Date: November 29, 2001
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow.asp?art_id=284598006

Desert Airstrip, Afghanistan: Mullah Mohammad Omar, defiant after a U.S. raid failed to hit him, ordered his beleaguered Taliban to stand firm on Wednesday, sources in the radical Afghan militia said.

Pinned down by American bombing, in the sights of U.S. marines and under assault from Afghan tribal foes, the fundamentalist Taliban are trapped in their southern stronghold of Kandahar but their supreme leader said there should be no surrender.

"This is not a question of tribes. This is a question of Islam," one source at the Pakistani border quoted Omar, who faces U.S. wrath for hosting Osama bin Laden, as saying in a radio message telling his forces to stand and fight.

"Don't vacate any areas," he said.

His order came as the Taliban clung on to Spin Boldak on the border with Pakistan, despite bombing and chaotic talks with thousands of tribal fighters nearby on possible surrender.

Tribal leaders also sent delegations to seek a peaceful settlement in Kandahar, where fighters talked tough but civilians feared being sacrificed in the war on terror.

U.S. bombs have rained down on the Taliban for over seven weeks to punish them for protecting bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant accused of masterminding the airliner attacks which killed about 3,900 people in New York and Washington.

The militia held 90 percent of Afghanistan but now controls just a swath of heavily mined desert and mountains.

On the ground as well as at talks in Germany, Afghan factions are scrabbling over the spoils since the Taliban lost Kabul and most of Afghanistan to their Northern Alliance foes.


On day two of the U.N.-sponsored talks in Bonn, the dominant alliance and three exile groups agreed on the need for an interim cabinet for three months, and seemed ready for the ageing ex-king Zahir Shah to be a transitional figurehead.

But the United Nations played down hopes the talks would reach a comprehensive accord on a future government.

Events on the ground raced further ahead of the complex diplomatic bargaining which aims to bring stable government to a country ravaged by war since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

U.S. marine reinforcements streamed into their desert airstrip bridgehead near Kandahar where a 1,000-stong force is assembling to hunt bin Laden and back the Taliban's enemies.

The marines stayed out of combat, busying themselves with mundane chores, but U.S. planes bombed a compound near Kandahar used by Omar. The Taliban said he had not been there.

"No harm was done to the Leader of the Faithful," a spokesman told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.

He said bin Laden was gone -- a claim the Taliban have often made, and which the United States has largely ignored. "We don't know about his whereabouts. He is not in our territory."

U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said troops would begin a ground search for bin Laden and his al Qaeda network cohorts, tracking them in their underground tunnels and caves.

"We will pursue them until they have nowhere else to run," he said.

His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, said military operations were far from over and the primary function of the marines' base was to give more active support to Pashtuns, the biggest ethnic group from which the Taliban drew support.

With U.S. support, the Northern Alliance, made up mainly of Uzbeks, Tajiks and other minorities, swept across the country and into the capital Kabul over the last three weeks, to the consternation of Pashtuns who fear they will be sidelined.

General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. military campaign, said the marines would put pressure on Kandahar, but were not there to attack the ancient walled city.


Many ordinary Kandaharis were trying to flee but those left behind were terrified.

"We are innocent victims in the front line," said one shopkeeper. "We'll just be sacrificed."

The city is awash with Taliban soldiers and al Qaeda fighters, feared for having nothing to lose and nowhere to run.

"What difference does the arrival of the Americans make?" said one Arabic-speaking foreigner. "This is our home now and we are at war."

The foreigners' apparent willingness to fight to the death -- and, they may believe, to martyrdom -- was brought home when al Qaeda prisoners in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif seized arms from guards and rose up earlier this week.

Northern Alliance jailers, aided by U.S. air strikes and British and American special forces, ended the riot in a mud- walled fort by killing all or many of an estimated 500 inmates.

The human rights group Amnesty International called for an inquiry into the carnage and the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was in talks about helping bury the dead.

Apart from Kandahar, Franks said the U.S. military was closely watching the areas around Jalalabad for clues to the whereabouts of bin Laden, who is reported to have been sighted in the Tora Bora area near the eastern city.

He also said his forces identified over 40 sites possibly linked to weapons of mass destruction bin Laden was reportedly trying to acquire. Experts were collecting samples for analysis.

Echoing British concerns, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cautioned against calls for President George Bush to expand the war on terrorism to countries like Iraq and Somalia.

"We should be particularly careful about a discussion about new targets in the Middle East -- more could blow up in our faces there than any of us realise," he said.

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