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Kandahar Situation Confused, Clarke Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2001 – Press reports from Afghanistan indicate Taliban fighters in the stronghold of Kandahar are surrendering to opposition forces, but Pentagon officials cannot confirm this.

"We've got lots of different reports coming in about talks, discussions, negotiations," but the Kandahar situation is confused, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has made the U.S. position clear on the fate of Taliban leaders. The United States wants them to face justice. News reports out of Kandahar say Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has disappeared. Clarke said reports "about his general whereabouts" are circulating, but she wouldn't be any more specific than that.

Clarke said fighting continues around the cave complex of Tora Bora, south of Jalalabad. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is rumored to be in the area.

"There are many different reports and scraps of information of where (Osama bin Laden) may be, and you get a sense that he may be in the general region, but we just don't know," Clarke said. "We have no reason to believe he is not (in Afghanistan).

U.S. special operations forces are in the area helping opposition fighters attack the cave complex. DoD officials said the U.S. support includes pinpointing occupied caves and calling in close air support to attack them.

If reports of the Taliban surrender in Kandahar are true, then the Jalalabad area is one of the remaining areas of Taliban resistance in the country.

In addition, a U.S. Marine light armored reconnaissance element south of Kandahar destroyed a convoy of Taliban and Al Qaeda vehicles on Dec. 6. The Marines engaged three vehicles that were attempting to run a roadblock, Clarke said. The Marines killed seven Taliban with no U.S. casualties.

There has been no let-up in U.S. activity in Afghanistan. Clarke said U.S. goals and objectives remain the same: Destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership. The United States will "continue to go after them and root them out. Where we have opportunities, where we have good targets, we'll go after them," she said.

U.S. forces launched 147 strike sorties on Dec. 6, mostly near Kandahar and Jalalabad. One C-17 dropped 17,220 Humanitarian Daily Ration packs near Kunduz. Commando Solo radio broadcasts and leaflet drops also continued.

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