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Taliban Prepared to Fight to the End

US bombers continued their bombardment of Kandahar, believed to be the radical Islamic militia's spiritual home.

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US marines southwest of Kandahar await their next orders

Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is still believed to be in the Kandahar area in southern Afghanistan. The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported that he told his forces it was better to die with dignity than live with humiliation.

"Mullah Omar has advised and instructed everyone to fight to the death and not to bow down in front of brutality and blasphemy," Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, was quoted as saying.

Ahmed Karzai, brother of Hamid Karzai, has been rallying royalist Pashtun tribesmen against the Taliban for weeks. He was reported as saying that intense bombing was under way at Kandahar's airport and the road that leads southeast to the Pakistani border.

Eyewitnesses at the border saw US bombers high overhead, heading toward the walled city. "I just talked to a commander at Takhta Pul," Karzai said, referring to a town not far from Kandahar taken from the Taliban last week. "He said he'd never seen anything like it."

The AIP quoted Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, as saying the Taliban had shot down a US warplane over Kandahar on Saturday. The US military denied the report. "All of our aircraft are accounted for," a spokesman said.

Reflecting the sharp differences between long-time enemies complicating the Bonn talks, the mostly Pashtun tribal militias digging in around Kandar have warned the ethnic Tajik- and Uzbek-dominated Northern Alliance to avoid their turf.

Marines await next orders

Marines, based at an airstrip southwest of Kandahar, said they were waiting for their next order in the war on the Taliban.

"Our mission is to seize and hold a forward operating base and that's exactly what we've done," a Marine spokesman said. "We await further orders whatever they may be, if there are any. And once our overall mission is complete, we will leave Afghanistan."

US forces were training their sights on a warren of caves in eastern Afghanistan's White Mountains. This is where Osama bin Laden, suspected of masterminding the September 11 attacks, is believed to be in hiding with hundreds of soldiers.

US Vice President Dick Cheney said the Saudi-born militant was thought to be 305 metres (1,000 feet) deep inside the Tora Bora caves 35 miles (56 kms) southwest of Jalalabad.

The caves have been repeatedly bombed by US war jets. A small number of US special forces were reportedly trying to pick up bin Laden's trail and direct air strikes.

Karzai said Mullah Omar had told aides to buy seven camels, apparently in case he needs to flee across the desert. Omar was believed to be travelling by bicycle or motorcycle to avoid detection from the air. Karzai did not disclose the source of this information.

The United States has rejected any talk of negotiated surrender of Kandahar in exchange for amnesty for Mullah Omar. "I think it is likely that Omar is a dead-ender," US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld said on Friday.

The Taliban say that bin Laden is not in territory they control.

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