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Closing In

As US and Afghan forces chase fugitive Taliban and Al Quaida fighters, German naval ships left Wednesday for the waters off Somalia in preparation of the possible next phase of the war on terrorism

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On the look out for more top terrorists - US soldiers in Kabul

As Afghan forces continued to close in on fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, Afghan officials confirmed on Thursday that Tari Ahmadullah, who headed the Taliban’s intelligence service, was killed in a US bombing raid several days ago.

Ahmadullah, his brother and two other leading Taliban figures were killed in the bombing raid in the province of Paktia, on the border with Pakistan. The news came as Afghanistan’s interim government worked to negotiate the surrender of Omar, believed to be hiding in the area of Bagram, some 160 kilometers northwest of Kandahar.

Omar eluded capture when the Taliban's former stronghold of Kandahar fell to opposition forces last month after an intensive bombing campaign by the US. Omar, who lost an eye fighting the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, is said to have 1,000 fighters protecting him.

"We are still waiting to hear from them about our demands," a spokesman from the Afghan intelligence said. "We have told them clearly that we want the issue to be resolved without bloodshed, and that it is their decision how they want to respond".

Germany prepares for the next step

With the US-led air campaign winding down and US ground troops focusing on capturing and questioning Taliban and Al Quaida fighters, America’s allies have begun preparing for what is perhaps the next stage of the war on terrorism.

Six German naval ships left the port of Wilhelmshaven Wednesday afternoon, bound for the Gulf of Aden off Somalia. The ships, carrying about 750 soldiers, will join British ships in guarding the waters south of the Arabian peninsula and north of the Horn of Africa.

Additional ships will join the mission, the largest in recent German naval history, within days, officials said. The vessels will provide logistical and technical assistance to any US-led operation in Somalia, believed by many to be the next battleground in America’s war on terrorism. US officials suspect the east African country is the home of a large number of Al Quaida terrorists.

For now, however, the US is forced to focus on the imposing mountain ranges in eastern Afghanistan that have provided hideouts for many an Al Quaida and Taliban fighter. Smoking out the terrorists has proved a difficult ordeal for both US special forces and their Afghan allies.

A recent raid in the Helmand province, one of the largest US marine operations in Afghanistan to date, provided little new information.

The round 200 Marines involved in the raid on the compound north of Kandahar managed to only recover small arms and documents from the camp, US Major Chris Hughes told US papers on Thursday. But Hughes cautioned that the material may not hold much intelligence value.

The US military is airlifting hundereds of paratroops into southern Afghanistan to join the hunt for further Al Quaida members including the ousting out of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

"The US forces in Afghanistan continue to be focused on what we have said are our primary objectives right now. That is to pursue and get the Taliban and the Al Quaida leadership," a Pentagon spokeswomen said.

Logistical challenge

Meanwhile, senior officers from 12 nations to contribute to the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, have arrived in Afghanistan. The 25-strong team met British troops at the force’s headquarters in a formerofficer’s sports club in Kabul‘s city centre.

The countries represented, including Germany, France, Spain, Norway and Romania are amomg those who will be sending troops to the region shortly.

The multi-national reconnaissance unit has been touring the the city and was briefed by the British unit on the current situation prior to the oncoming operation.

Colonal Reinhold Schmidt from the German delegation said the first German soldiers would be arriving before mid-January, when the majority of the various forces are expected to arrive.

The forces, which will eventually amount to around 4,500 soldiers, will take part in maintaining security in Afghanistan alongside Afghan police.

The troops face a logistical challenge, as all vehicles and other essential equipment need to be transported and deployed by air.

Apart from landing difficulties due to unexploded bombs at Kabul’s airport, other difficulties also lie in the harsh weather conditions: An earthquake shook parts of Aghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday, including the Afghan capital. The earthquake struck midday, sending residents running from their homes.

Not guilty

In the US, all eyes were on Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of being connected to the September 11 attacks, who appeared in court in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday. Moussaoui faces charges which could lead to the death penalty.

He is charged for conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, aircraft piracy, the destruction of aircraft, the use of weapons for mass destrustion, the murder of US government employees and the destruction of property.

The accused has pleaded not guilty.