Hamid Karzai, the country’s newly-appointed interim leader, told the Associated Press earlier today Taliban leaders and soldiers had left the city, but took their weapons with them.
A surrender deal brokered between the Taliban and Karzai’s allies had required the militia fighters to turn over their weapons.
U.S. Central Command Chief Gen. Tommy Franks said his forces were firing on those Taliban soldiers who continued to bear arms.
Asked if U.S. Forces were blocking or pursuing retreating Taliban, Franks said, “We are blocking in some cases from the air, we are blocking in some cases with direct fire from the ground.”
U.S. Marines patrolling an airstrip near Kandahar killed seven “enemy forces” last night, Marine Captain David Romley told Reuters.
Franks said some of the 1,500 Marines stationed near Kandahar had been involved in several skirmishes on the ground and in the air. He said he had not ruled out sending Marines into the city.
Despite the continued fighting, Karzai said opposition forces had broken the Taliban’s hold on the war-torn country.
“The Taliban rule is finished,” he told the AP. “As of today, they are no longer a part of Afghanistan.”
The Taliban have also reportedly been pushed from the city of Spin Boldak near the Pakistan border. Pashtun tribal leaders are said to have assumed control there.
Tracking Mullah Omar
Reportedly lost in the shuffle of the Taliban retreat is Mullah Mohammed Omar, the militia group’s supreme leader.
Karzai told the AP Omar may have left Kandahar, but that he would be arrested if forces loyal to the new Afghan government found him.
“I have given him every chance to denounce terrorism and now the time has run out,” he said. “He is an absconder, a fugitive from justice.”
Karzai said he believed Omar and others were headed for mountain hide-outs in the Zabul province northeast of Kandahar. But Franks said he had no reason to believe Omar had left Kandahar.
“We simply do not know where he is right now, but that does not lead me to believe that he has vanished,” he told reporters today.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld yesterday said Omar was “the principal person” who had allowed alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network to operate in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is the U.S.’s prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 4,000 people.
Rumsfeld said that, if found, Omar must be brought to justice.
“If you’re asking, would an arrangement with Omar, where he could ‘live in dignity’ in the Kandahar area or some place in Afghanistan … the answer is no,” he told a Pentagon news conference.