A U-S Defense Department spokesman says he does not believe reports saying Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar will surrender control of Kandahar to local officials within 24 hours.
Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem told a Pentagon news conference (Friday / today) U-S forces will continue to treat the area around the Taleban stronghold as a "hostile environment." Admiral Stufflebeem also said opposition forces continue to make headway in attacks against Taleban military positions around Ghanzi and Jalalabad in southern Afghanistan. He said the Taleban has lost control of more than two-thirds of Afghanistan during ground attacks backed by U-S aerial raids in the past week.
The Pentagon spokesman also said he could not confirm reports that fugitive terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden's chief aide was killed in a recent U-S bombing attack near Kabul. Admiral Stufflebeem said the death of a senior al-Qaida member would be significant, as the primary goal of the U-S campaign in Afghanistan remains to put the terrorist network out of business.
Earlier Friday, U-S intelligence officials said there was reason to believe al-Qaida military chief Mohammed Atef had been killed by U-S warplanes. U-S officials say the former Egyptian police officer was involved in planning the September 11th attacks on the United States, and have indicted him in connection with the 1998 bombings of two U-S embassies in east Africa.
In related news, Admiral Stufflebeem says humanitarian efforts continue in northern Afghanistan, with more than 17-thousand food packets delivered Thursday. He also said U-S and British cargo planes are using runways at Bagram airport for aid shipments, while French forces have taken the lead in opening the airport at Mazar-e-Sharif for coalition use. In a televised address, French President Jacques Chirac said he will send combat aircraft to Afghanistan to boost his country's military presence there.