Taliban Agrees to Surrender Kandahar

ByABC News

Dec. 6, 2001 -- Afghanistan's newly appointed interim leader today confirmed that the Taliban had agreed to surrender Kandahar, the hard-line Islamic regime's last stronghold.

In a broadcast interview today, Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai said the surrender of Kandahar would begin on Friday and could take up to two days.

A day after he was nominated head of Afghanistan's transitional administration, Karzai said he had offered amnesty to Afghan Taliban fighters but he said no such amnesty applied to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar until the reclusive leader provided clear proof of his intention to "distance himself from terrorism."

Karzai also said non-Afghan soldiers fighting for the Taliban would not receive an amnesty. While Karzai did not personally guarantee a safe passage for foreign Taliban fighters, he insisted that non-Afghan fighters "must leave my country."

Karzai said he did not know the whereabouts of Omar orOsama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Outside Kandahar today, there were signs of progress for anti-Taliban forces. ABCNEWS was told by a spokesman for Pashtun commander Gul Agha that Afghan tribesmen loyal to him had have taken control of Kandahar airport.

Earlier today, Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, told the Associated Press Taliban leaders had decided to hand over their weapons to Mullah Naqib Ullah, a Pashtun mujahideen leader who briefly controlled the capital of Kabul before the Taliban came into power.

Speaking to reporters in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad today, Zaeef said Afghan tribal leaders had agreed to provide Omar protection so that the reclusive one-eyed Taliban leader would be able to "live in dignity" in Afghanistan.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today said the United States would not stand for any deal thatallowed Omar to remain free.

Corroborating Rumsfeld's statement, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer today said President Bush"believes very strongly that those who harbor terrorists needto be brought to justice."

Although the Pentagon has confirmed that talks about the surrender of Kandahar were underway, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon would not confirm if Omar was holding talks with Afghan tribal leaders.

The decision to cede Kandahar, if it happens, would be an about-face for Omar, who earlier exhorted his troops to fight to the death.

But after nearly two months of a punishing U.S.-supported military campaign, the Taliban has been under siege in pockets of eastern and southern Afghanistan. The surrender of Kandahar would mark the fall of the last major Afghan city from Taliban control and would prove a symbolic and geopolitical blow to the hard-line Islamic regime that controlled most of Afghanistan for five years.

Rumsfeld: Premature to Talk of Cease-fire

Western journalists in southern Afghanistan today reported a lull in U.S. aerial strikes near Kandahar. It was not known if the cessation of bombing was due to the negotiations for the takeover of Kandahar.

But responding to questions of a cease-fire in southern Afghanistan today, Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington it was premature to talk about a cease-fire at this stage.

U.S. special forces on the ground near Kandahar have been providing support for anti-Taliban troops in southern Afghanistan. During the past few days, U.S. Marines have been positioning themselves to cut off escape routes from Kandahar.

Meanwhile, in eastern Afghanistan, there were reports that anti-Taliban troops, aided by U.S. forces, had advanced on a cave complex near the village of Tora Bora, where bin Laden may be hiding.

An anti-Taliban commander based near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad today said 1,500 of his troops had moved into the valleys of Tora Bora and had captured about half the caves in the complex.

Anti-Taliban troops said they had recovered the bodies of 22 Taliban fighters loyal to bin Laden.

Discontent With Bonn Talks

But a day after four rival Afghan delegates in Germany reached a landmark power sharing agreement to administer Afghanistan for the next six months, there were signs of discontent with the outcome of the talks in Afghanistan today.

Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose forces control territory around the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, today said he intended to boycot the interim administration because his faction had been treated unfairly by the talks.

"We are very sad," Dostum told Reuters. "We announce our boycott of this government and will not go to Kabul until there is a proper government in place."

A supporter to the former king Zahir Shah, who was present at the talks in Germany also expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the talks.

Sayed Ahmed Gailani told the BBC he believed the new interim administration was not fully balanced.

And in Iran, sidelined warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar questioned the legitimacy of the deal, calling it an imposition by the United States on the Afghan people.

Human Error Suspected

A day after a fatal military mishap in southern Afghanistan claimed the lives of three American and six Afghan anti-Taliban soldiers, investigators are looking at the possibility human error was to blame, sources told ABCNEWS.

The troops died Wednesday when a U.S. B-52 dropped a 2,000-pound satellite-guided bomb, known as a JDAM, about 100 yards from friendly forces north of Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold. Another 40 American and Afghan troops were injured.

Human error is being explored as the cause of Wednesday's accident because the wrong coordinates were radioed to the B-52 from the ground or wrong numbers were entered into the bomb's guidance system, sources said. But there is the possibility that the guidance system failed although the Pentagon has found the JDAM to be one of its most reliable weapons in this campaign.

The killed Americans were identified as Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Watauga, Tenn.; Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Henry Petithory, 32, of Cheshire, Mass.; and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of Fraizer Park, Calif. All three soldiers served in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, based in Fort Campbell, Ky.

The bodies of Petithory and Prosser, and of Fireman Apprentice Michael J. Jakes Jr., 20, of New York City, a sailor who died Tuesday after a fall on his ship in the Arabian Sea, arrived in Germany today for later transport back to the United States.

It was unclear when the remains of Davis, the third U.S. soldier killed, would be brought to Germany.

One of the U.S. wounded was taken to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, while others were either being treated in the region or had been treated and released back to their units in Afghanistan, she said.

The friendly-fire incident raised the total number of U.S. fatalities inside Afghanistan to four since the military operation began on Oct. 7. CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed last week in a prisoner uprising in northern Afghanistan while questioning forces captured in the fighting.

U.S. Base in Afghanistan on Alert

In other developments:

U.S. Marines at Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan fired illumination flares around their base and went on a heightened state of alert following a "credible threat." Western reporters in the camp reported hearing mortars and small arms fire. Much of the commotion was blamed on a Cobra helicopter that crashed at one end of the compound, and the resultant fire that set off the ammunition aboard the helicopter. One marine aboard the helicopter, and one marine on the ground were injured. Camp Rhino is within striking distance of Kandahar.

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) reported Wednesday that it and other relief organizations have transported more than 80 dead and 50 wounded civilians from the area around Tora Bora to hospitals in Jalalabad as a result of the U.S. bombing campaign. The bombing has also ignited forest fires in the region that still burn out of control. The aid organization said it is pulling out of Jalalabad because of security conditions, leaving the Afghan staff to handle ambulance services.

The Organization ofIslamic Conference has backed the U.N.-brokeredpower-sharing deal signed by rival Afghan groups in Germany and called on its 56 member states to aid in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

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.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events