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Anti-Taliban troops in gunbattle with al Qaeda

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Al-Zawahiri is reputed to be the right-hand man and chief tactician of Osama bin Laden.  


(CNN) -- Anti-Taliban mujahedeen fighters got into a firefight Tuesday with al Qaeda gunmen on the approach to the Tora Bora mountain range, where Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and his followers may be hiding.

Hazrat Ali, security chief in Jalalabad, said advance troops sent to the danger zone engaged the al Qaeda soldiers in a gunbattle with small arms that lasted several minutes.

Tora Bora is honeycombed with tunnels and underground bunkers believed to be used by the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Ali said there were no casualties and that al Qaeda gunmen fled to higher ground allowing the troops to capture a Taliban tank.

An additional 1,500 troops will be sent to the area armed with multiple rocket launchers and artillery, Ali said. (Full story)

Opposition Pashtun commanders said Ayman al-Zawahiri, believed to be bin Laden's top deputy, was wounded in a U.S. airstrike on one of the cave complexes. Ali said he could not confirm the report.

Al-Zawahiri, a medical doctor, was the leader of the outlawed militant Egyptian Islamic Jihad that aspired to overthrow the government and turn Egypt into a fundamentalist state. He is an Egyptian exile.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. John Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said they had seen a report that al-Zawahiri had been hurt in a U.S. airstrike but they knew nothing more.

Rumsfeld said he believed bin Laden is still in Afghanistan and Afghan forces are trying to find him.

"We think he is in Afghanistan," said Rumsfeld. "He may not be. Afghanistan has long, porous borders. In the event he decides to flee, we will have to follow him where he flees."

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Latest developments

• Pentagon officials said Tuesday a member of the U.S. Special Forces was shot while helping opposition troops around Kandahar. Officials said they are not sure if the wound was the result of an accident, friendly fire or hostile action. The officials said the wound was not considered life-threatening, and the soldier has been evacuated from Afghanistan.

• In southern Afghanistan, U.S.-led forces kept up a round-the-clock assault on Kandahar, the Taliban's last remaining stronghold. Airstrikes hit the airport east of the southern city Tuesday, sources said, as fighting between Taliban troops and ethnic Pashtun fighters raged inside Kandahar.

• President Bush announced Tuesday his administration's first financial crackdown on groups suspected of financing the militant wing of the Palestinian group Hamas, a move that includes freezing the U.S. assets of a Texas-based Islamic foundation. (Full story)

• At a meeting of senior al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan within the last year, a member of the terrorist network displayed a cylinder and said it contained radiological material that could be used in a so-called "dirty bomb" -- a conventional explosive laced with radioactive materials -- according to U.S. officials. (Full story)

• A Salvadoran immigrant pleaded guilty Tuesday to having helped two of the suspected September11 hijackers obtain false identification cards. Herbert Villalobos, 35, of Alexandria, Virginia, entered his plea through an interpreter in a federal courtroom in Alexandria. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

• Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Tuesday the warning of the possibility of another terrorist attack was precipitated by a "convergence of information" received over the past several days. (Full story)

• In Koenigswinter, Germany, delegates of four Afghan opposition groups have reached an agreement on the political structure of a post-Taliban interim government for the war-torn country. The agreement, reached late Monday, also calls for the immediate assembly of a temporary group of multinational peacekeepers in the Afghan capital, Kabul. (Full story)

• U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived Tuesday in Romania at the annual meeting of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE). As with many post-September 11 diplomatic gatherings, officials expect the global fight against terrorism to dominate the discussions. By day's end foreign ministers from more than 50 nations -- primarily from Europe, but including the United States and the Middle East -- are expected to adopt an action plan, committing OSCE members to do their part to fight terrorism. (Full story)

• An agreement with Canada to bolster security on the 4,000-mile border with the United States was hailed Monday by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as a key step in the war on terrorism that also will help protect the profitable trade relationship between the two countries. (Full story)

• Taliban and Northern Alliance commanders have negotiated the surrender of some 3,000 Taliban fighters holed up in Balkh, a historic northern city northwest of Mazar-e Sharif, alliance sources told CNN on Monday. The surrender is to begin Tuesday, with the possible exception of 300 non-Afghan fighters under the control of Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah who were refusing to give up. (Full story)

• Six members of Congress -- three from the House and three from the Senate -- could meet as soon as Tuesday to begin hammering out a compromise on an economic stimulus bill. (Full story)

• A letter delivered to a New York City address near the home of a hospital worker who died of inhalation anthrax went through a New Jersey mail sorter at about the same time the machine processed two anthrax-laced letters sent to two Senate offices, the U.S. Postal Service said Monday. (Full story)

• Friends and family members of a wounded American who fought for the Taliban and survived a recent prison uprising in Afghanistan expressed shock and confusion Monday, and his mother said he "must have been brainwashed." (Full story)

• About 300 Afghan tribal chiefs from eastern Afghanistan released a statement Monday backing Pashtun leader Haji Abdul Qadir's decision, last week, to walk out of government talks in Germany. The statement also condemned U.S. airstrikes on Tora Bora and urged al Qaeda and Taliban forces to leave the area. (Full story)



 
 
 
 



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