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Gaining Ground on the Taliban

Ethnic fighters attacked the airport near the Taliban's last stronghold of Kandahar overnight and were met with strong resistance from hundreds of predominately Arab fighters.

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Prepared to fight to the death and die honourably

"The Arabs are really fighting, they know they have no choice, they are fighting to the death," Khalid Pashtoon, a spokesman for former mujahideen Kandahar governor Gul Agha Sherzai is reported as saying.

These clashes come as US troops reinforce their desert base outside Kandahar. According to a local official in the eastern city of Jalalabad, 20 civilians were killed and 18 wounded in the overnight US air strikes nearby.

The official, who has asked not to be named, said US war planes had bombed the Agam district about 38 km (25 miles) south of Jalalabad. This is near to the area that Washington believes fugitive Osama bin Laden to be hiding.

The Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported that 13 civilians had been killed and many wounded in separate US raids south of Kandahar airport.

Helicopters from the 26th Marine expeditionary unit, which include Cobra attack helicopters, joined the aircraft already at the desert airstrip near Kandahar on Sunday, a military official said.

Another official said British, German and Australian liaison officers were at the base coordinating with coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The extra air and ground assets, including light armoured vehicles, have allowed the Marines to extend the range of their reconnaissance patrols from the airstrip, which is within striking distance of Kandahar.

Tribal troops gain ground

Pashtoon said Gul Agha's forces were around 25 km (15 miles) south of Kandahar city. This is the last bastion and spiritual home of the Taliban. Royalist Hamid Karzai's troops were approximately 55 km (33 miles) north of the city, he added. US warplanes earlier hit targets around the city where thousands of Taliban troops are believed to be stationed.

Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is flaming the fires of war by declaring that his men must fight to the death.

The Red Cross said on Sunday it was making every attempt to make contact with and see 80 survivors found in a fortress in northern Afghanistan. This is where hundreds of Taliban and foreign al Qaeda prisoners were killed this week after staging a revolt.

Some of survivors were severely wounded before surrendering earlier this week. They were moved from the Qala-i-Janghi fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif to another detention centre on Saturday, said Bernard Barrett, spokesperson for the Red Cross' International Committee.

Human rights and fugitives

The suppression of the revolt through the US air strikes, Northern Alliance tanks and US as well as British special forces, is cause for concern say the human rights group Amnesty International. It has called for an investigation into the treatment of the captives.

While the US maintained its heavy bombardment around Kandahar, thousands of impoverished Afghan citizens gathered at the Pakistan border to register with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

"More and more people are coming, presumably due to instability in Kandahar and border areas on the Afghan side," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said. "At the same time, in a more permanent camp at Roghani area, we have around 13.000 people and each day more people are coming."

Other victims

The Taliban handed over a Canadian reporter, who went missing earlier this week, at the Pakistani border on Saturday. A Swedish journalist was killed on Tuesday - the eighth media representative to die in Afghanistan since the start of the US attacks on the Taliban on October 7.

Meanwhile, CIA officer Johnny Micheal Spann's body will be returned to the US today. He died in the fortress revolt and was the first American to die in combat. Five other Americans were wounded by US bombing of the fort.

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