Northern Alliance forces maintained a siege around Kunduz today in an attempt to get the Taliban to surrender control of one of their last strategic strongholds in northern Afghanistan.
After a 10-day lull following recent Northern Alliance successes, the anti-Taliban forces, aided by heavy U.S. airstrikes, launched a concentrated overnight offensive against Taliban troops holed up in the northern Afghan town of Kunduz. Pentagon officials today confirmed they dropped 15,000-pound BLU-82 "daisy cutter" bombs Wednesday and Thursday, both near Kandahar. They were the third and fourth used in the campaign against the Taliban.
Following an early morning pause in fighting amid reports of negotiations between representatives of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban for a handover of the northern Afghan city, U.S. warplanes resumed the offensive in daylight hours.
Reporting from the neighboring town of Taloqan today, ABCNEWS' Don Dahler said the region saw heavy overnight U.S. aerial bombardments that saw a mushroom of smoke and dust rising out of Kunduz.
Today's attacks followed a day of conflicting reports about the likelihood of a Taliban surrender of the strategic northern Afghan city. The international community, working around the clock to secure a future for Afghanistan, has been eager to see a peaceful handover of the city, fearing a bloodbath should the Northern Alliance have to launch a full ground offensive.
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, officials announced a one-day delay in a conference in Germany aimed setting up a new Afghan government following a collapse of the Taliban. The meeting will open Tuesday instead of Monday because of delays in getting all the participants to the venue in Bonn.
Fighting to the Bitter End
An estimated 15,000 Taliban soldiers are holed up in Kunduz, a number of them foreign mercenaries fighting for the Taliban. Many captured foreign fighters — or "Afghan Arabs" as Taliban soldiers of Pakistani, Arab and Chechen descent are called — have met a grisly end at the hands of Northern Alliance troops during the past few days.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today announced it had recovered about 600 bodies in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. However, the international relief organization refused to specify whether the victims had died in the fighting or had been executed after the Northern Alliance captured the city from the Taliban two weeks ago.
In southern Afghanistan, the Pashtun-dominated Taliban continues to defend Kandahar, the city that spawned the hard-line Islamic regime, amid reports that the Taliban's supreme spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had fled the city.
But a Taliban spokesman today dismissed the reports and vowed that troops were ready to fight until the bitter end to defend the ancient city.
Situation Still Fluid
More than a week after the capital of Kabul fell from Taliban control, the situation in Afghanistan is still fluid as reports about the outcome of negotiations for the surrender of Kunduz appeared to swing wildly from hopeful to desultory.
On Thursday, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord fighting with the Northern Alliance, said a deal had been struck for the handover of Kunduz. But a spokesman for Burhanuddin Rabbani told reporters the ousted Afghan president and an important Alliance leader was unhappy with the deal and vowed to launch an offensive to capture Kunduz.