Afghan Effort to Include Bribes, Possibly Marines

"We worry that if there is a battle, civilians will suffer. We do not want to allow bloodshed, so we are talking to the Taliban," said Ariyonfard Shamsulkhak, another spokesman for the alliance. "The local civilians are hostages of the Taliban."

Intelligence sources say there could be as many as 10,000 Taliban soldiers holed up in Kunduz, many of them zealous, battle-hardened soldiers from around the Muslim world.

The Taliban also appeared to be defending the southern city of Kandahar amid reports that local elders and warlords were attempting to negotiate a handover of the city that spawned the Taliban and functioned as its spiritual capital through its five years in power.

More American special operations troops are being sent into the southern part of Afghanistan, partly to deal with the situation in Kandahar, and American planes bombed the area over the weekend.

The United States now has at least 300 special operation troops on the ground in Afghanistan and U.S. forces are shifting to a strategy of staging fewer bombing runs while making a stronger effort on the ground to find bin Laden.

Closing in on Bin Laden

The situation in Afghanistan continued to be dangerous despite last week's Northern Alliance successes, but U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said bin Laden's options were being steadily narrowed and U.S. special forces were searching village by village and cave by cave to find the accused terror mastermind.

With the Taliban in tatters, U.S. officials believe they are closing in on bin Laden, since the collapse of the regime's military has left him with considerably reduced territory to operate in.

"We think he is still in Afghanistan," Powell said Sunday on ABCNEWS' This Week. "There aren't many countries around Afghanistan which would welcome him at the moment.

"He has fewer and fewer places in which to hide."

Pentagon officials today discounted claims by a Northern Alliance official that opposition forces had pinpointed bin Laden's position at a camp east of Kandahar, and there have been other conflicting reports about bin Laden's location.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, told Reuters today that the regime only knows that bin Laden is not in the four provinces that remain under its control.

"We don't know whether he is in Afghanistan or not," Zaeef said. "But he is definitely not in our area."

Fears of Anarchy After Taliban Fall

Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance agreed to a conference for a post-Taliban government, amid concern that the country could fall into anarchy once again.

U.N. diplomats in Kabul are hopeful that a meeting of the various anti-Taliban parties could be convened as early as next week to talk about the next government of Afghanistan.

"There is really a hunger for peace," James F. Dobbins, the U.S. envoy to the alliance, said in Pakistan after meeting its leaders near Kabul. "There's a willingness to compromise," he told reporters.

The United Nations wanted the conference to be chaired by Afghanistan's former king, Zahir Shah, a member of the Pushtuns, the ethnic group most closely linked to the Taliban, but the Northern Alliance said it would only allow the ex-monarch's to participate as a common citizen.

However, Dobbins said he was convinced the movement was committed to giving the Pashtuns a role, and alliance leaders have asked the United Nations to find Pushtun representatives attend the talks.

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