The Northern Alliance has launched a series of attacks against the besieged city of Kunduz in the hopes of forcing the Taliban to surrender.
The Northern Alliance has encircled the Taliban enclave of Kunduz.
After surrender talks in Kunduz failed to materialize on Thursday, the Northern Alliance began directing a heavy round of fire against the last standing Taliban enclave in the north. The attacks are designed to put pressure on the Taliban to surrender, and will continue until the hardline militia steps down.
The city is a war zone. Both in Kunduz and the surrounding villages witnesses are reporting fires and explosions from tanks, grenades and rocket launchers.
The Alliance is attacking from three fronts, from Khanabad, Pul-e-Bangi and Dasht-e-Archi while US fighter jets continue bombing the already beleaguered city.
Approximately 15,000 Taliban soldiers and foreign mercenaries loyal to Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden are holding out in Kunduz. They are fighting for their life, afraid that surrender to the Northern Alliance will result in massive killings.
While the Northern Alliance has promised to grant amnesty to the Afghan Taliban fighters in Kunduz, they've threatened to kill or extradite all the foreign soldiers, who are especially hated in the north.
Preventing a bloodbath
Kunduz could turn into a bloodbath if the surrender talks fail or if the thousands of Pakistani, Arab and Chechen Taliban fighters linked to bin Laden's al Qaeda network decide to fight to the death.
On Thursday the northern Alliance Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni said, "We have tried to settle the issue of Kunduz through negotiation but we have been forced to chose a military solution."
Expressing concern about the fate of surrender talks British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, "We all understand the potential humanitarian disaster that could be possible in Kunduz. Making those (surrender) arrangements... in the very confused circumstances could prove extremely difficult."
The biggest question mark in negotiating a surrender is the foreign fighters locked in Kunduz. Left alone in a foreign land and loathed by the Afghan people, the mercenaries have vowed to fight to the end, and have even executed hundreds of would-be Taliban defectors, Northern Alliance sources say.
General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Northern Alliance warlord leading the fight against Kunduz is assured of a Taliban defeat. "I think they (Taliban) will surrender on Saturday or Sunday," Dostum said.
Pressure on the Taliban
While the Northern Alliance focuses its efforts on Kunduz, the US's chief target is Kandahar, the southern city and stronghold of the Taliban. Most of the Taliban's forces fled here from the rest of the country, and the US is hoping intensive air attacks on the city will bring the Taliban to its knees.
In a sign of the mounting pressure on the south, a Taliban official announced on Friday that their supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar had left Kandahar for a safer hideaway.
"Mullah Omar has shifted to an unknown place for security reasons," Mullah Sayed Mohammad Haqqani, a Taliban security official, said.
However conflicting reports say that Omar may not actually have left Kandahar. "He is still in Kandahar and still has contact with his fighter," a spokesman was quoted as telling the independent Afghan Islamic Press.
The Taliban have vowed never to give up the south, regardless of what happens in Kunduz.
The Hunt for Osama bin Laden
While fighter planes concentrate on bombing Kandahar, special US forces on the ground and high-tech reconnaissance aircraft are combing the hills and mountains of southern Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden.
The elusive leader is the focus of a massive manhunt stretching across the entire southern portion of Afghanistan and the border to Pakistan and Iran. Unmanned aircraft are firing missiles at caves and tunnels where the suspected terrorist is thought to be hiding.
So far the Americans have not found him, and reports are circulating that bin Laden may be planning to escape Afghanistan and go to Somalia or Saudi Arabia, a thought which causes considerable concern. Border controls in Pakistan and Iran have been stepped up to prevent the leader from slipping through.
"We want him dead or alive," President George W. Bush has announced. The US government has placed a $25 million reward on bin Laden's head, hoping that if military might doesn't succeed greed might.