A senior U-S Marine officer in Afghanistan says the battle for Kandahar may be nearing a "culmination point."
Major James Higgins -- based at the airstrip south of Kandahar that the Marines seized a week ago -- says ethnic Pashtun forces approaching the Taleban stronghold from the north and southeast are squeezing Taleban forces in the city like a snake.
U-S warplanes conducted some of their heaviest air raids yet on Kandahar today (Sunday). Earlier, ethnic Pashtun military commanders said their forces are advancing toward the airport just south of Kandahar, but are waiting for air strikes to subside before launching an all-out ground assault. Commanders reported stiff resistance by Taleban and foreign fighters.
Meanwhile, U-S Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today that pro-Taleban forces defending the city will be killed if they do not surrender. Mr. Rumsfeld said he hoped Taleban fighters would lay down their arms and save Kandahar from destruction. But he said he did not expect foreign-born al-Qaida fighters to do so.
Mr. Rumsfeld also warned that further casualties within the U-S-led coalition could be expected, and said reinforcements will probably be needed to liberate the city.
More than one thousand U-S Marines are patrolling nearby desert areas to prevent al-Qaida terrorists and their Taleban sponsors from escaping into Pakistan. Media reports today say that the Marines have been joined by a handful of officers from Britain, Australia, and Germany.
Meanwhile, overnight U-S bombing raids against suspected terrorist hideouts around Jalalabad triggered reports that U-S bombs flattened villages and killed dozens of civilians. But the U-S military says it has videotaped evidence showing the bombs avoided civilians and struck their intended targets.