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.