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Official: Marines on ground in southern Afghanistan

Northern Alliance soldiers watch as a convoy of Taliban soldiers surrender.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Marines touched down Sunday in helicopters south of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, the first wave in a fresh deployment of ground troops inside Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official told CNN. (Full story)

The number of Marines in the area should swell to between 1,200 and 1,500 over the next 24 hours, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The troops, members of the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units, were stationed on the USS Pelieu and USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea.

The Marines, said a U.S. official, are likely to engage in activities similar to those undertaken by U.S. special operations forces: interdicting Taliban and al Qaeda forces and gathering intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

The action on the ground near Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, came as Northern Alliance forces moved into Konduz where they met armed resistance, even as thousands of Taliban surrendered. (Full story)

Should the Northern Alliance allow international Taliban fighters who surrender to return to their home countries?

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Latest developments

• Gen. Atiqullah Barylai, head of the Northern Alliance's Konduz operation, said his forces now control parts of the northern Afghan city, with hundreds of remaining Taliban retreating to the west of the city.

• About 300 non-Afghan Taliban smuggled weapons into a prison compound near Mazar-e Sharif on Sunday and staged an uprising against their Northern Alliance captors, according to a Pentagon spokesman. U.S. airstrikes were called in to hit the compound, with hundreds of prisoners dying by the time Northern Alliance forces regained control.

• The Pentagon Sunday denied reports that any American military personnel were killed in the prison uprising in Mazar-e Sharif. The U.S. Central Command said it could not rule out any casualties among any other branches of the government.

• Fighter jets streaked over Kandahar on Sunday, and reporters also noted movement on the ground. The Pentagon declined comment on reports U.S. forces had landed in the southern Afghan stronghold.

• Two American citizens, rescued earlier this month after being detained four months in Afghanistan, returned to the United States on Sunday. Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry thanked God for their freedom and said they would repeat the experience if given the chance. (Full story)

• Engineer Omar, a top Northern Alliance commander in the region east of Konduz, told CNN that Juma Numangani, an al Qaeda member and deputy of Osama bin Laden, was killed in a bomb blast near Mazar-e Sharif. His death could not be independently confirmed. (Full story)

• Delegates began arriving in Bonn, Germany, on Sunday for talks aimed at establishing a broad-based interim government in Afghanistan. The talks, predicted to last up to two weeks, have been arranged under the auspices of the United Nations in an attempt to restore stability and democracy in the country after 20 years of fighting. (Full story)

• The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee wants U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to appear before his committee to discuss President Bush's order allowing military tribunals to try suspected terrorists and the Justice Department's decisions to monitor phone conversations between suspects and their lawyers and to question thousands of people of Middle Eastern descent. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday that Ashcroft "owes the country an explanation" for the measures. (Full story)

• The fate of Afghan Taliban fighters will be decided "case-by-case," with most of them allowed to go home, said Kenton Keith, an American ambassador representing the coalition in Islamabad, on Sunday. "They will be disarmed," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "It is unlikely, we think, that they will be able to reorganize and pose a threat."

• CNN's Ryan Chilcote on Sunday entered the city of Kanabad, about 10 miles (16 km) east of Konduz, with about 1,000 Northern Alliance troops eager to reach Konduz. The forces met some resistance along the way, as a gunfight broke out on the outskirts of Kanabad. The alliance said the resistance came from al Qaeda forces. (Full story)

• Northern Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani said Sunday he is looking to the United Nations to address the issue of non-Afghan Taliban soldiers captured in fighting with opposition forces. Those "foreign fighters" will be guaranteed safety and turned over to the international body, Rabbani said. (Full story)


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