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Northern Alliance prepares offensive

Northern Alliance fighters prepare for combat at the training camp near the village of Qalai Dasht in northern Afghanistan on Sunday.  

(CNN) -- Northern Alliance troops are preparing to launch a "multi-pronged attack" against Taliban positions in northern Afghanistan, as the U.S.-led military campaign enters its fifth week.

Haron Amin, a spokesman for the opposition group said they are preparing to launch attacks on the capital, Kabul, and the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He said the offensive could begin in about a week if the heavy U.S. bombing of Taliban front-line positions continues.

However, he said that the Northern Alliance would be better prepared if it had more support, in the form of tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons, from the United States.

Two top U.S. generals directing the effort said Sunday the campaign is proceeding as planned and is degrading the Taliban's military capacity.

U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, told ABC's This Week that "we are making great progress."

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers told NBC's Meet The Press that, while the Taliban remain a "substantial force," the U.S.-led campaign has put them "on their heels" by degrading their military capability.

Myers also said that in the last two days, "a couple more teams" of U.S. troops were inserted into Afghanistan to assist opposition forces trying to topple the ruling Taliban.

U.S. bombers launched a fierce attack Sunday on Taliban frontline positions in northeast Afghanistan in the heaviest day of bombing since U.S. planes began targeting the area a week ago.

The strikes near the village of Dashtiqala were coordinated by the Northern Alliance commanders and resulted in Taliban casualties, according to the alliance's vice defense minister.

The alliance minister said Taliban radio was crackling with calls for cars and trucks to move the wounded. He cited Taliban radio as his source for news that a Taliban Arab commander named Tabuk was killed.

The bombing began before dawn and lasted for about seven hours. CNN's Satinder Bindra reported the attacks were so intense, it was difficult to count the number of explosions.

In southern Afghanistan, the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar was quiet Sunday. CNN's Kamal Hyder reported allied planes flying overhead but -- for the fourth day in a row -- no bombing.

Soldiers close to Taliban security forces told Hyder there were three strikes on a dam northwest of Kandahar, where a hydroelectric plant is located that provides power to the city. They said the plant did not appear to be a target.

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Latest developments

• The war in Afghanistan is not a battle between Christians and Muslims, despite Osama bin Laden's efforts to portray it as religious conflict, Egyptian Foreign Minster Ahmad Maher said Sunday. Instead, he said, the fight is between bin Laden and the world. Maher's response followed bin Laden's assertion that foreign ministers of 10 Arab nations betrayed Islam by not quitting the United Nations to protest the military campaign in Afghanistan.

• A senior Taliban official said an American aid worker arrested two weeks ago in Afghanistan has died of natural causes, The Associated Press reports. The State Department reportedly had no comment on the report -- other than to say that it has never confirmed that an American was in custody in Afghanistan. CNN has not confirmed the report.

• Taliban authorities are holding a Pakistani-American free-lance journalist, who was arrested a week ago on suspicion of being a spy. Taliban sources said the man was taken to Kandahar for interrogation, but he became ill and was transferred to a hospital in critical condition. The sources said the man may have overdosed on medication that he had been taking.

• Iran urged the United Nations on Sunday to play a key role in helping Afghans install a government if the Taliban regime falls. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi met Sunday with the U.N.'s top Afghanistan envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi has been consulting with Afghanistan's neighbors about forming a post-Taliban government.

• A CIA office operating at 7 World Trade Center was destroyed when the building came down after planes crashed into the twin towers September 11, a U.S. official confirmed to CNN. The official said the destroyed CIA office was engaged in counterterrorist and counterintelligence operations. (Full story)

• U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was on his way Sunday to India after a brief stopover in Pakistan, where he met with that country's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Speaking about the Taliban, Rumsfeld said, "There is not really a government to speak of in Afghanistan today." (Full story)

• Authorities beefed up security for Sunday's New York City Marathon and warned participants not to accept water from bystanders. New York Harbor was closed before the 26-mile race begins to safeguard runners on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. (Full story)

• Law enforcement officials in California say they will continue patrolling bridges up to and beyond the end of an FBI threat warning, if necessary. The FBI last week released a warning that unspecified groups have targeted bridges on the West Coast, with word that six incidents were planned during rush hour traffic between November 2 and November 7. (Full story)

• The White House dismissed Osama bin Laden's videotaped message condemning the United Nations and its Arab membership as "more propaganda." On Saturday, the Arabic-language television network Al Jazeera aired a videotape in which bin Laden said Arab leaders in the United Nations "have become unbelievers of the revelation that was given to Muhammad." (Full story)

• The Federal Aviation Administration has banned flights near the Arizona ballpark where the World Series is being played, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The directive prohibits aircraft that are flying according to visual flight rules from being under 18,000 feet within 25 nautical miles of the Phoenix Vortac. (Full story)

• U.S. Special Forces Saturday successfully retrieved a soldier who was ill in Afghanistan. A previous rescue attempt on Friday resulted in a search-and-rescue helicopter's crash landing, military officials said. Four U.S. military personnel suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the crash. (Full story)


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