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"To The Death" Taliban Leader Vows

As more bombs fall around the Taliban’s stronghold, Kandahar, southern Afghanistan reels in the chaos of a complicated endgame.

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US special operation forces observe terrain at the airport near Mazar-e-Sharif

Sweeping and looping, drawing great lines of steam in Afghanistan’s skies like a terrifying signature, the US military’s B-52 bombers have got a new nickname.

Among Afghans, local reports say, they are known as “podarri jazumma” or “powder-trail planes”.

Below them, the Taliban regime continued to lose ground slowly Thursday. And, the first big build-up of US ground troops in the south continued, while weird, unverifiable stories of a mad endgame made their way across the border into Pakistan.

There was a man, an Afghan accused of spying because he possessed a satellite telephone, hung at a crossroads known as Martyr’s Crossing, reported the Afghan Islamic Press.

There was a taxi driver, Ubaid Ullah, who told journalists of a bomb strike of an Islamic school, where foreign Islamist fighters had sought shelter, the Associated Press reported.

A traveller calling himself Ataullah said villages around Kandahar had begun to hoist flags hailing the 87-year-old ex-king, Zahir Shah, in defiance of the Taliban.

Reports came out that the Taliban under Mullah Mohammed Omar were concentrated in the city and its surrounding region, organised to fight “to the death,” in their leader’s words.

Yet others claimed Taliban solidarity in Kandahar is faltering, but that Arab militiamen were threatening defectors with death, forcing them to hold their ground.

As the US ground forces massed to about 1.000, delivered by helicopters and C-17 transport planes to a position 130 km of Kandahar, a Pentagon spokesman said the build-up would likely continue.

Meanwhile, US forces claimed to have arrested the son of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the convicted plotter of a previous attempt to blow up the World Trade Center. His son was reportedly found in Afghanistan – a claim denied by Taliban sources from within the country.

Little is certain, and much is disputed.

A documented bloodbath

But pictures of a giant killing ground were sent round the world by satellite, very much verified and already the source of controversy.

They showed corpses of dead Taliban fighters lying mangled in a fort near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. As prisoners of war earlier this week, they revolted against their Northern Alliance captors, and they were killed in a terrible battle which also claimed the lives of dozens of Northern Alliance soldiers and at least one American intelligence officer.

As prisoners of war earlier this week, they revolted against their Northern Alliance captors, and they were killed in a terrible battle which also claimed the lives of dozens of Northern Alliance soldiers and at least one US intelligence officer.

Some 600 perished. The scale of the carnage, all in one small area, sparked outrage from some conservative Muslim clerics in Islamic countries such as Pakistan.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International called for an investigation of the “proportionality” of the use of force against the revolting Taliban prisoners, many of whom were ultimately killed in US air-strikes.

US forces and their allies, though, said it was justified. They took the carnage merely as a warning sign.

It seemed to indicate, as some reports and rumours have it, that Mullah Omar’s Afghan men and their foreign comrades under Osama bin Laden will fight to the bitterest and bloodiest of ends.

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