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US Air War Closes on Kandahar, Pentagon Denies Massacre of Taleban Prisoners - 2001-11-29


The U-S-led air war in Afghanistan is closing in on the Taleban capital Kandahar.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem told reporters (Thursday) U-S warplanes are expanding their efforts to cripple Taleban and al-Qaida command and communications in the Kandahar region.

Admiral Stufflebeem says he has no information to confirm that U-S Marines near the Taleban front lines have entered the ground war. He says he cannot confirm media reports quoting Northern Alliance leaders as saying Afghan troops have entered Kandahar. The spokesman added that the reports could mean Alliance troops are in Kandahar province, not the city itself.

Admiral Stufflebeem described the Taleban military as "fractured." He says U-S officials have confirmed that some Taleban fighters have fled to Pakistan while others have dropped their weapons and rejoined Afghanistan's civilian population. He says some Taleban fighters have vowed to fight to the death, while others are considering surrendering to local tribal leaders.

The admiral also said he could not confirm the reported arrests of senior Taleban officials or suspected al-Qaida leader Ahmed Omar Abdel-Rahman. He said there is no agreement between U-S and anti-Taleban forces to transfer al-Qaida prisoners to U-S custody, but that U-S officials have made it known they want access to such prisoners.

The Pentagon also has denied reports saying 160 Taleban prisoners have been massacred or mistreated by anti-Taleban forces south of Kandahar. Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters U-S intelligence agents inside Afghanistan say the reports are -- in her words -- "not believable."

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