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Fight for Konduz, Kandahar at a standoff

(CNN) -- Battles for the Taliban strongholds of Konduz and Kandahar are at a standoff, the Pentagon said Tuesday, and it is unclear if Taliban forces would surrender.

Opposition forces now control about 75 percent of the country, said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, speaking for the Pentagon.

He said U.S. warplanes are continuing to bomb Taliban and al Qaeda positions around Kanduz. The bombardments have not stopped except when opposition commanders have requested it, he said.

The Northern Alliance has been holding talks in the no-man's land between the forces in Konduz, to try to get Taliban leaders and their supporters to surrender, Stufflebeem said.

The alliance said 1,000 local Taliban troops have surrendered, others are fleeing Konduz and 10,000 foreign troops are fighting with the Taliban, including Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs. This information could not be independently verified Tuesday.

"We are responsive to the opposition groups whom we are supporting in that effort right now," Stufflebeem said. "I think it would be fair to say that if the opposition groups were to ask us not to bomb a specific facility or location so they can continue their discussions, we'll certainly honor that."

The Taliban have approached the United Nations to negotiate a surrender of Konduz, but the world agency does not have the means to do accommodate that request, a top U.N. envoy said Tuesday.

"It is evident that the United Nations cannot, has no means, is not present on the ground and simply cannot possibly accede to this request," said Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan. (Full story)

Briefing reporters after a meeting with the U.N. Security Council, Brahimi said a religious leader and another Taliban representative approached U.N. authorities Monday night in Islamabad, Pakistan. They said Taliban commanders inside Konduz, the regime's last stronghold in northern Afghanistan, wanted to surrender through the United Nations, according to Brahimi.

Although the U.N. says it cannot oversee the surrender, it is urging the opposition Northern Alliance to show restraint.

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Civilians are fleeing Konduz as bombs continue dropping on Taliban forces in Afghanistan. CNN's Satinder Bindra reports (November 19)

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CNN's Jim Clancy reports that Taliban strongholds along the road to Kandahar are dwindling (November 19)

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Latest developments

• Pentagon sources told CNN the United States is considering beefing up its forces on the ground by sending in Marines from ships off the coast of Pakistan. The number of troops could be as few as 100 or as many as 1,600, depending on the mission.

• As many as 50 al Qaeda members, and lower level Taliban leaders, were killed last week in a series of airstrikes that claimed the life of Mohammed Atef, a key deputy to Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Pentagon officials said a laser-guided bomb hit a building south of Kabul, and then a second plane bombed it again as survivors tried to rescue others from the rubble.

• Mohammed Syed Haqqani, a Taliban commander in Spin Boldak near the Pakistani border, told CNN his fighters have high spirits despite Taliban losses in the north. He denied reports that the Taliban's supreme leader was in negotiations to surrender Kandahar. He said Mullah Mohammed Omar would "never" enter into talks such as those.

• Afghans interviewed in Spin Boldak told CNN they were not aware of the $25 million reward the United States is offering for information leading to the capture or conviction of bin Laden, but many said they were interested. U.S. planes have been dropping leaflets advertising the bounty across Afghanistan.

• The U.S. Air Force plans to send three AC-130 gunships to Uzbekistan, where they would be in a better position to attack targets in northern Afghanistan.

• Trace amounts of anthrax were found in the offices of Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, and Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, both located in the Russell Senate Office Building where a suspicious letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, was addressed, congressional sources told CNN on Tuesday. The small amounts of anthrax in the mailrooms of both Senate offices mark the first time the substance has been found in the Russell building. (Full story)

• The leader of eight terrorist suspects arrested by Spanish authorities met with key figures involved in the September 11 hijackings, including some alleged terrorists still on the run, according to a court document. Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah, was the head of a Spanish-based cell of terrorists, the document said. It alleges he took 20 trips to other countries to meet individuals whom authorities suspect in the terrorist attacks in the United States. (Full story)

• The Northern Alliance says it has accepted an invitation from the United Nations to attend talks in Germany on the future government of Afghanistan. The talks would be the first step toward building a broad-based, transitional post-Taliban government. (Full story)

• Burhanuddin Rabbani, president of the Northern Alliance-led government, said Tuesday the forces that rolled into the Afghan capital, Kabul, last week are planning to share -- not seize -- power. In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Rabbani said he would be prepared to step down if there is a decision to choose a different leader. (Full story)

• Spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that the White House regrets the decision to cancel holiday tours of the Executive Mansion, but he defended it as a necessary security measure. "We wish that the arrival of Christmas would mean that the terrorists would take time off, but it doesn't work that way," Fleischer said. (Full story)

• A senior Bush administration official told CNN that U.S. and allied intelligence efforts along Afghanistan's border have been intensified because of concerns that Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda or Taliban officials might try to leave the country. As for the efforts to track bin Laden within Afghanistan, the official said, "I wouldn't say we have no idea where he is, but we have no specific or solid lock." The United States has been dropping leaflets offering $25 million for information leading to bin Laden. (Full story)

• Reacting to suggestions in a British newspaper that bin Laden may be using a body double, U.S. officials said they have no evidence those reports are true. "It is an old story," one official said. "We have nothing to substantiate it." The Times of London first reported in October that bin Laden was using doubles, quoting a Northern Alliance official.

• The bodies of four journalists missing and feared dead in Afghanistan were recovered Tuesday. The journalists were on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul when their unguarded convoy was attacked Monday. Militiamen found the bodies and brought them to a hospital in Jalalabad. (Full story)

• The international community cannot wait to launch a large-scale rehabilitation effort in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday at the opening of a conference to discuss the reconstruction of that devastated central Asian nation. Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Sadako Ogata, Japan's special envoy for Afghanistan and former U.N. high commissioner for refugees, convened the meeting in Washington.

• Since September 11, the British government has been under pressure from allies, opposition parties and the British media to do something about the perception that Britain is a haven for terrorists and their supporters. (Full story)

• Bush is scheduled to visit U.S. troops Wednesday in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the White House announced. The president will have lunch with members of the armed forces and their families and deliver remarks before heading to Camp David, Maryland, for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

• Thousands of tons of U.S. processed food worth more than $5 million will be shipped from Louisiana on Tuesday bound for Afghanistan to help prevent starvation among Afghan refugees during winter. (Full story)


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