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Aid workers freed from Afghanistan

Dayna Curry, left, and Heather Mercer were reported to be in good condition in Pakistan on Wednesday.  

(CNN) -- President Bush said eight Western aid workers were rescued Wednesday more than three months after being detained by the Taliban.

The aid workers -- four Germans, two Americans and two Australians -- were flown from Afghanistan to Pakistan by U.S. Special Operation helicopters, the Pentagon said Wednesday. All were reported to be in good condition.

The Taliban had detained the aid workers, trying them on charges of attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Bush said Special Forces troops freed the workers with coordination from elements on the ground.

"I'm thankful they're safe, and I'm pleased with our military for conducting this operation," Bush said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Few details were disclosed, but one U.S. official said the Taliban handed the aid workers over to a nongovernmental organization, which then contacted the U.S. military. The Special Forces then were flown in for the aid workers. (Full story)

U.S. officials also told CNN that U.S. aircraft attacked a building Tuesday in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan believed to contain several senior al Qaeda personnel. The building was destroyed, and there appeared to be no survivors. (Full story)

But White House officials stressed the war against terrorism could last for years despite the rapid gains recently by anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the Bush administration does not know when the al Qaeda network will be broken up and its members brought to justice.

"The president still believes patience is required," Fleischer said. "Just because Kabul has fallen is no guarantee that al Qaeda will be captured shortly. This may still last years until we find the people responsible for the attacks on the country."

Fleischer said the fall of Kabul does not carry the strategic or military importance that the fall of a nation's capital would have had in previous wars. Taliban troops withdrew from the Afghan capital Tuesday. (Full story)

Fighting has been reported Wednesday in and around the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar, but it isn't clear yet who controls key positions in the Taliban stronghold.

U.S. Navy Adm. John Stufflebeem said Wednesday that several Pashtun tribes have engaged in battles with Taliban forces around Kandahar but said the Pentagon does not know what has been accomplished.

Arabic-language TV network Al Jazeera reported anti-Taliban commanders had gathered about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Kandahar to rally their troops. (Full story)

Taliban officials said they still control Kandahar and their support appeared to be strong. Al Jazeera broadcast videophone pictures of black-turbaned Taliban supporters in the streets of Kandahar, vowing to fight to keep the city from falling. Kandahar's mayor told Al Jazeera that the Taliban troops are deployed around the city and in the surrounding mountains.

The Pashtun tribes fighting in southern Afghanistan do not appear to be connected with Northern Alliance troops that have taken control of the northern part of the country, including Kabul.

Northern Alliance troops continued to make gains Wednesday, and Stufflebeem said they were on the outskirts of Jalalabad. Other U.S. officials said anti-Taliban forces are largely in control of Jalalabad.

CNN's Kasra Naji reports that after the Taliban were ousted, joy filled the streets of Herat (November 14)

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Latest developments

• James Dobbins, the U.S. envoy to the Afghan opposition, arrived Wednesday in Pakistan for urgent talks with Pakistani leaders and various Afghan factions about building a broad-based government for Afghanistan, the U.S. State Department said. Dobbins arrived in Islamabad following talks with exiled Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah in Rome, Italy, and with Turkish officials in Ankara.

• The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously for a resolution Wednesday warning anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan against revenge killings and spelling out the "central role" for the U.N. in helping the Afghan people set up a transitional government. (Full story)

• Meanwhile, one day after the Taliban's dramatic retreat from Kabul, Afghanistan's former president was expected to return Wednesday to declare the capital city free of the Taliban. (Full story)

• The Taliban's withdrawal left residents of Kabul celebrating and international leaders talking about a broad-based, multiethnic government for Afghanistan. (Full story)

• Taliban sources told CNN that if their forces were driven out of Kandahar they would retreat into the mountains and fight a guerrilla action.

• Afghanistan's exiled king issued a statement from Rome urging Afghans to "safeguard life, property and also to be vigilant in preventing foreign designs from inflicting more harm on our people."

• British Prime Minister Tony Blair, citing newly declassified information, told the House of Commons on Wednesday that a majority of the 19 hijackers involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States were linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. Blair said bin Laden "gloated" in a videotaped message sent to his al Qaeda supporters. (Full story)

• Thousands of British troops have been put on 48-hour standby for possible duty in Kabul and other newly captured cities in Afghanistan. (Full story)

• CNN's Alessio Vinci reports Wednesday that a barge loaded with humanitarian aid for Afghans, such as wheat, blankets and clothing, is on its way from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. (Full story)

• The State Department said Wednesday it has no firm information about the eight Western aid workers being held by the Taliban. "We have heard reports that they may have been freed by the Taliban and are on the way to Pakistan," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "We certainly hope that is true." Tuesday, the father of one of the workers said he was told the Taliban took them to Kandahar when the Taliban abandoned Kabul.

• The American Red Cross announced Wednesday that 100 percent of the money raised for its Liberty Fund will go toward victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Red Cross had come under heavy fire because of plans to divert some of the money to other areas. (Full story)

• U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited the World Trade Center site on Wednesday with New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "I guess the one word that comes to mind is really 'duty,'" Rumsfeld told Giuliani. "You've done yours, the people of New York have done theirs, and the men and women in uniform are still doing theirs." Rumsfeld had said Tuesday that the military campaign in Afghanistan isn't over because al Qaeda and the Taliban have not been completely overcome. (Full story)

• The Pentagon said Wednesday that U.S. warplanes are continuing to bomb caves and tunnels where Taliban and al Queda leaders and soldiers might be seeking refuge, as they retreat from Afghanistan's major northern cities. U.S. planes also dropped some 35,000 food packets to civilians on the ground.

• President Bush signed a military order Tuesday giving him the option of trying non-U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism before a special military commission -- not in civilian courts, where they are tried now. (Full story)

• Postal worker Leroy Richmond, the last of six patients to survive hospitalization for inhalation anthrax, was at home in Virginia on Wednesday. Richmond left Inova Fairfax Hospital in northern Virginia Tuesday, a hospital spokeswoman said. (Full story)


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