Hours after the Taliban surrendered Kandahar, their last stronghold, the situation in the southern Afghan city was chaotic and the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader remained unclear.
U.S. fighter jets continued to drop bombs on the Tora Bora complex in eastern Afghanistan, even as Afghan opposition forces began a cave-by-cave search for bin Laden, the prime suspect on the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
In Kandahar, rival mujahideen leaders reportedly sent their troops into the city that once served as the spiritual capital of the Taliban, but the U.S. commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, said it would take two or three days for the United States to receive a reliable assessment of the situation.
Speaking to reporters about the possible location of the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, at a news conference today in Tampa, Fla., Franks said, "We do not have any reason to believe Mullah Omar has left Kandahar, nor do we have information that he is in Kandahar."
"We simply do not know where he is right now but that does not lead me to believe he has vanished," he said.
Likening the situation in Kandahar today to the fall of the northern Afghan cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz last month, Franks cautioned that the conditions in Afghanistan were still "unstable, chaotic and dangerous."
Responding to reports that a number of Taliban fighters had fled Kandahar with their weapons, Franks said U.S. troops were engaging the Taliban fighters with strikes from airplanes, helicopters and "with direct fire from the ground."
Franks said U.S. forces were working with anti-Taliban allies to prevent Taliban fighters from fleeing Kandahar, he would not rule out the possibility that U.S. Marines might enter the southern city.
Omar Declared a Fugitive
Earlier today, Afghanistan's newly appointed interim leader Hamid Karzai told news organizations the Taliban regime was "effectively finished." Karzai endorsed Washington's original demand to bring Omar to justice and declared the reclusive Taliban chief a fugitive.
"I have given him every chance to denounce terrorism and now the time has run out," Karzai told the BBC. "He is an absconder, a fugitive from justice."
There have been suspicions that Karzai, taking power as the temporary leader of Afghanistan and not wanting to be seen as a U.S. puppet, may have allowed Omar to vanish. In his initial surrender deal, Karzai left open the idea that Omar would be given some level of amnesty, but Karzai has denied that he came under pressure from the United States to refuse amnesty for Omar.
But one of the two former mujahideen leaders — Gul Agha Sherzai and Mullah Maulvi Naqibullah — to whom Omar transferred control might be protecting him. Naqibullah is holding Omar "in a friendly environment," a Sherzai spokesman told Britain's Channel 4 News. That claim could not be confirmed.
Sherzai and Naqibullah, together with a council of the tribal elders and clergy, were awarded control of Kandahar, but the two reportedly have had difficulties sharing power.
On the streets of Kandahar, there were scenes of jubilation — but witnesses inside the city said Sherzai's forces captured Kandahar airport while troops loyal to Naqibullah were believed to seize control of the city's major military and administrative buildings.
In an interview with Reuters today, a spokesman for Sherzai criticized the deal Karzai struck with Taliban chiefs in order in exchange for their surrender of the city. "Karzai ... has made a very, very wrong decision in Kandahar by himself. He did not consult the elders or anyone else," said spokesman Khalid Pashtoon.
There were few details available on what has happened to foreign citizens fighting for the Taliban. A number of Islamic guerrillas from Pakistan, Chechnya and several Arab nations have fought for the regime since it seized the Afghan capital of Kabul in 1996. The fate of these foreigners, called "Arab Afghans," has been a cause of concern for the international community.
Snag at Tora Bora
As the fall of Kandahar in the south stripped the Taliban of control of its last major city, in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. warplanes continued their bombardment of Tora Bora in pursuit of bin Laden today.
A maze of underground caves, the Tora Bora complex was built in the 1980s to resist the Soviet occupation and has become the focus of the U.S. manhunt for the exiled Saudi dissident.
Anti-Taliban fighters on the ground said they have entered and captured control of the main base and most of the caves at the complex, killing several al Qaeda operatives. They reported no sign of bin Laden, however.
U.S. planes today dropped leaflets in the region, informing people in the area of the $25 million reward for bin Laden.
Camp Rhino on High Alert
A day after U.S. Marines at Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan saw their first ground combat, U.S. forces successfully repelled another attack on their base today. U.S. forces at Camp Rhino continue to be on high alert after seven Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were killed on a road near Kandahar late Thursday night.
"There were vehicles and individuals on foot. One vehicle approached us at a high rate of speed," said Capt. David Romley today. "We engaged that vehicle and destroyed it."
In a separate incident, U.S. soldiers identified vehicles and individuals near the perimeter of Camp Rhino,, shooting flares and probing points. Romley said the Marines responded with mortars and automatic grenade launchers.
It was the first time enemies have probed the perimeter of Camp Rhino, he said. A patrol will be sent out to determine whether any enemy fighters were killed or injured.
On Wednesday, an errant U.S. bomb killed three U.S. soldiers and six anti-Taliban Afghan fighters near the base.
Confrontation of Americans Across Enemy Spectrum
In other developments:
Dramatic video aired exlusively on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America today showed that just hours before CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann became the first American to die in Afghanistan, he interrogated John Walker, the 20-year-old Californian who fought with the Taliban before his capture last week.U.S. officials said they still have made no determination on what to do with him, but Pentagon spokesmen have begun referring to him as a "battlefield detainee," a term that appears to have no legal basis and may not ensure his right to legal counsel. See Story.
The United Nations' senior peacekeeping official said the first elements of an international force need to be in Kabul in two weeks for the launch of the new government there. Meanwhile, the United Nations estimated that a rebuilding program for Afghanistan will require well over $6 billion. The money is expected to go first toward a cash-for-guns program, increased security with a police force and judicial system and de-mining programs. An Afghan donor conference is set for Japan in January.
Fourteen U.S. soldiers wounded in a friendly-fire accident Wednesday have arrived at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany for treatement. The bodies of two U.S. soldiers killed in the military mishap and a sailor who died in a unrelated incident have also landed in Germany for later transport back to the United States.
Members of the elite 75th Army Rangers who were the first U.S. troops sent into Afghanistan arrived in the United States today to an emotional homecoming.
The official count of the dead or missing from the World Trade Center attack continues to drop, as officials collate the various lists of people feared lost. New York City officials say 3,553 people are dead or missing, and they have identified 625 bodies. That number includes the 92 people on board American Airlines Flight 11 and the 65 on United Airlines Flight 175 — but not the hijackers.
ABCNEWS' Bob Woodruff in Afghanistan, JohnYang in Germany, John McWethy and Barbara Starr in Washington and David Wright with pool reporters in southern Afghanistan contributed to this report.