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Fighting Continues in the Tora Bora Region

US-backed Afghan tribal fighters claim they have made major gains as they attempt to close in on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda forces. But the whereabouts of the world’s most wanted man remains a mystery.

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Humanitarian and political aid can now enter Afghanistan.

Afghan fighters, aided by US airstrikes, have pushed Osama bin Laden's forces into a final stronghold near Tora Bora in the east, the forces claim. "Bin Laden's supporters are now confined to one last base," commander Mohammad Amin said.

Many think Osama bin Laden is making a last stand in this region with his followers. Although there have been reported sightings of "a man in white flowing robes on horseback", no one seems to know for certain where bin Laden is hiding.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition played down reports that al Qaeda members had offered surrender talks in Tora Bora. "I am firmly convinced that these announcements are timed at 25 minutes past three every day," Kenton Keith told a 3:30 p.m. press briefing in the Pakistan capital, Islamabad. "Just before we walk in here, there is always some major announcement, some major claim."

Fight for power in Kandahar

Meanwhile in Kandahar, ethnic Pashtun warriors have demanded a greater share of power. "There are lots of tribesmen standing by with weapons," one witness said. "They want a share in the new government."

Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai, due to take over as prime minister in the new interim government, is in Kandahar to try and salvage a local power-sharing accord. Karzai urged the United States not to walk away from Afghanistan once its business there was over. He called to mind the US departure over a decade ago, once its mujahideen allies drove Soviet occupiers out, ignoring the destructive faction fighting that followed.

The diplomatic front

Karzai had originally been due to go to Kabul to meet Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy. Brahimi began talks in Kabul today to discuss the transition of power to a post-Taliban interim government scheduled for December 22.

Brahimi's mission got a boost on Monday when an envoy from ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has criticised the power-sharing deal, said he would nonetheless back it.

Aid continues to flow

On the humanitarian front, US officials reported that food deliveries for hungry Afghans were up sharply, and widespread hunger was being averted.

"I think we've caught it in time, and I think we're getting the mortality rates down to a lower level," said US Agency for International Development administrator Andrew Natsios.

A spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called for a quick resolution of the conflict in southern and eastern Afghanistan to allow distribution of humanitarian assistance there. "Instability in the two regions makes it virtually impossible for any humanitarian organization to access the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons," said Fatoumata Kaba.

New evidence against bin Laden

The US is expected to release a videotape of Osama bin Laden on Wednesday in which he allegedly brags about the September 11 terrorist attacks. Officials say the tape would prove bin Laden is to blame for the attacks and may convince doubters, particularly in the Muslim world.

"For those who see this tape, they'll realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul - that he represents the worst of civilization," Bush said.

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