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U.S. troops battle fleeing Taliban

Two plumes of smoke rise from where a B-52 bombed near Tora Bora on Friday  

(CNN) - U.S. troops were fighting fleeing Taliban fighters near Kandahar as the fundamentalist Islamic movement surrendered its political and religious base on Friday.

"We have engaged forces who are leaving Kandahar with their weapons," Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the region, said Friday.

Franks did not specify whether the U.S. troops involved were part of the Marine contingent based south of Kandahar or special operations troops working with local anti-Taliban forces. He said the troops are trying to keep the Taliban from escaping.

Franks did say, however, that U.S. Marines had been involved in several ground and air attacks, using helicopter gunships, in the previous 24 hours.

"We are blocking in some cases from the air, we are blocking in some cases with direct fire from the ground," he said. Franks, the chief of the Florida-based U.S. Central Command, said the option of sending Marines into Kandahar remains open.

Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai told CNN on Friday the city's fall means "Taliban authority is effectively finished." Sources described a chaotic scene in Kandahar as the Taliban withdrew. (Full story)

Meanwhile, fighters looking for Osama bin Laden encountered stiff resistance near Tora Bora, in eastern Afghanistan, where he and al Qaeda members are believed to be holed up. And U.S. Navy ships in the northern Arabian sea were "querying" ships leaving Pakistani ports by radio, as part of a search for al Qaeda members trying to flee the area, Navy officials said Friday. (Full story)

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Afghan leader Hamid Karzai discusses the handover of Kandahar and his demands of Mullah Mohammed Omar.

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Karzai calls on non-Afghan Taliban to leave Afghanistan immediately.

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Latest developments

• The Pentagon said the United States does not know the exact whereabouts of Mullah Mohammed Omar, but Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said the Taliban leader remains in the "general vicinity" of Kandahar. She cited what she described as "very recent" U.S. intelligence on Omar's whereabouts.

• The American Airlines pilot who died in the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon should be given his own plot in Arlington National Cemetery, said Sen. George Allen, R-Virginia. Allen told CNN he would deliver a personal plea to President Bush Friday afternoon.

• A mail bin at a Federal Reserve mail processing facility tested positive for anthrax Thursday, a Fed spokeswoman said. The anthrax was discovered during routine testing of mail at the facility, which is outside the main Federal Reserve Board building, said spokeswoman Michelle Smith. (Full story)

• The anthrax-laden letter sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy is identical to the one sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the FBI said Thursday. Both letters include the phrases: "You die now." "Death to America." "Allah is great." (Full story)

• U.S. officials investigated the deaths of three Army Special Forces soldiers and six members of opposition forces. They were killed Wednesday when an errant U.S. bomb exploded near them, north of Kandahar. The explosion also wounded 20 U.S. soldiers and 18 opposition fighters. The bodies of two of the U.S. soldiers killed were flown to Germany on Thursday, where they will be turned over to a military mortuary team. (Full story)

• Attorney General John Ashcroft lashed out Thursday at critics of the administration's response to terrorism, saying questions about whether its actions undermine the Constitution only serve to help terrorists. Ashcroft said the administration's new initiatives --including the use of military tribunals to try non-U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism -- had been "carefully drawn" to balance constitutional rights against the threat of terrorism. (Full story)

• Ethnic Uzbek warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum has announced he will boycott Afghanistan's recently negotiated interim government because he said it was not fully representative. (Full story)

• The Pentagon said Thursday two Marines received "non-critical" injuries when a UH-1 Huey helicopter landed hard and caught fire about 12:20 a.m. (2:50 p.m. EST) at the Marine base southwest of Kandahar.

• U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told NATO ministers in Belgium Thursday that an international peacekeeping force will be sent into Afghanistan, although "the mix and the leadership" has yet to be determined. (Full story)


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