The armed Afghan opposition alliance says it is making fresh advances against the Taleban in northern Afghanistan as it pushes toward the key city of Mazar-i-Sharif, near the border with Uzbekistan.
Capturing that city would make it possible for the opposition to re-open crucial supply routes from countries in Central Asia. Mazar-i-Sharif is about 70 kilometers from the Uzbek border.
Earlier Monday, the Taleban confirmed that the opposition had captured the town of Zari, 60 kilometers south Mazar-i-Sharif. Zari is located along a highway linking Uzbekistan with central Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, artillery exchanges were reported before dawn Monday in the Panjshir Valley, about 60 kilometers north of Kabul, the Afghan capital. The intensified fighting takes place amid on-going U.S. efforts to redeploy its forces for a possible military strike against Osama bin Laden, who has been given refuge in Afghanistan by the Taleban.
Reports from Afghanistan say Taleban forces are preparing for war - building bunkers, installing anti-aircraft batteries and distributing weapons in border areas to defend against possible attack. The Taleban's defense minister, Mullah Obaidullah, says the Taleban has mobilized 300,000 men to guard the borders and important places in Afghanistan.
U.N. relief workers say there could be a new refugee exodus of up to a million people if Afghanistan is attacked. Thousands of people already have fled the country, despite efforts by neighboring Pakistan and Iran to close their borders.
The United Nations says Afghanistan is the source of the world's worst refugee crisis. Millions of Afghans have sought refuge in neighboring countries and abroad from years of severe drought and decades of civil war.
Some information for this report provided by AP.