Ethnic Pashtun tribes opposed to Taliban control reportedly seized an airport just outside the southern Afghan city. The tribesmen said they seized tanks and heavy weapons from Taliban militiamen who gave up without a fight.
The U.S. meanwhile conducted some of the heaviest bombing of the city since air operations began 55 days ago.
Despite the relentless siege, Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar called on his forces to continue fighting, calling it an “opportunity to achieve martyrdom.”
According to the Pentagon, it is difficult to tell how much progress anti-Taliban forces have actually made.
“We do not know what we cannot see, which is how many actual fighters there are inside the city,” Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace said. “There has not yet been a major ground offensive battle. There are, we know, negotiations going on between the opposition forces and the Taliban leadership for surrender.”
But according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as the territory controlled by the Taliban shrinks, U.S. forces must be on heightened alert.
“Ironically, as the size of the Taliban real estate diminishes, the danger to coalition forces may actually be increasing,” Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon. “Let there be no doubt, there will be further casualties in this campaign, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
A spokesman for the 1,000 Marines that have established an airbase southeast of the city said they stood ready to fulfill their duty regardless of the risk.
“Our mission is to seize and hold a forward operating base and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said the spokesman. “We await further orders whatever they may be, if there are any. And once our overall mission is complete we will leave Afghanistan.”
Rumsfeld says no deal for Kandahar
Secretary Rumsfeld also said the U.S. would not accept any surrender deal that would allow Taliban leader Omar to flee or gain amnesty.
“I can assure you that the United States would vigorously oppose any idea of providing him amnesty or safe passage of any type,” Rumsfeld said at a news briefing. “He is determined to try to re-energize the Taliban, to get the Taliban fighters to consolidate somewhere and to kill people and to the extent they can hang onto Kandahar, and to the extent they can’t, get in the mountains and wait their time and come back.”
According to reports, Pashtun tribal leaders are negotiating a possible surrender of the city. If there is no deal, many worry the situation could result in bloody house-to-house fighting in the city.