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Taliban Denies Knowing Bin Laden’s Whereabouts

Tayab Agha, spokesman for Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, said, ”There is no relation now, there is no communication.”

“We have no idea where he is because our areas are limited now to three or four provinces, so we do not know where he is.”

The United States has accused the Taliban of harboring bin Laden, suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 5,000 people.

Even though the Taliban has lost nearly 65 percent of its land to opposition forces over the past two weeks, Agha said the Taliban militia would never abandon its southern spiritual center of Kandahar.

“We will not give any chance to anybody to disturb our Islamic rule in Kandahar and other provinces,” Agha said.

Agha asserted the Sept. 11 attacks were “not something concerned with Afghanistan.” In retaliation for the U.S. strikes against the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network hiding in Afghanistan, the Taliban “hope mighty Allah will break America,” Agha said.

Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, said the U.S. and its allies would continue to put pressure on the Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.

“We need to complete the work in Kandahar … and most importantly we need to complete the destruction of the al-Qaida terrorist network,” Franks said during a press conference in Uzbekistan.

To aid in capturing bin Laden, the U.S. military has instructed the Navy to stop and inspect merchant ships off the coast of Pakistan if the ships are suspected of carrying al-Qaida leaders.

Lt. Gen. Peter Pace, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. warplanes are targeting al-Qaida hide-outs in cave and tunnel complexes in the rugged Afghan terrain.

Asked about military methods of destroying such complexes, Pace said “our specialized approach to caves and tunnels is to put 5,000 pound bombs in the entrances.”

U.S. warplanes also flew in and around Kandahar and the northern city of Kunduz today in support of anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces. Bombing was relatively light because cloudy winter weather obstructed visibility.

The stand-off in Kunduz, the only northern city still occupied by the Taliban, continued today as thousands of Taliban fighters inside the city tried to negotiate a surrender with the Northern Alliance forces surrounding them

The Northern Alliance has said it will accept the surrender of Afghan Taliban troops, but not of the Arab, Pakistani or Chechen fighters that entered Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Refugees fleeing Kunduz have said the foreign fighters, left without an escape, were killing Afghan Taliban troops who wanted to defect.

Tracking bin Laden

In other military news, the Pentagon is employing various new tactics to aid in the capture of the Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan.

AC-130 gunships, loud and low-flying aircraft capable of firing 2,500 rounds of ammunition per minute, could be moved closer to northern Afghanistan to support anti-Taliban forces around Kunduz, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

Also, the Global Hawk, a new unmanned surveillance plane, has been operating over Afghanistan for about a day to help collect intelligence.

U.S. aircraft continued to drop thousands of leaflets advertising the $25 million reward for the capture of bin Laden. Radio messages touting the reward are also being broadcast into Afghanistan via radio transmitters aboard EC-130 Commando Solo airplanes.

A battalion of Marines trained for counterterrorism could soon join Army and Air Force special operations troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

U.N. talks to be held in Bonn

Representatives from four different Afghan groups plan to attend the U.N.-sponsored talks on the formation of a post-Taliban government in Bonn, Germany next week.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, said he hopes fewer than 30 Afghan leaders will participate to allow for a quick decision on a provisional administration for Afghanistan. However, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Sparwasser says she is expecting between 50 and 70 participants.

The Northern Alliance delegation will be led by Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni. Former King Zahir Shah, an ethnic Pashtun in exile in Rome since 1973, plans to include at least one woman in his delegation. No Taliban representative was invited.