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SLUG: 2-284061 Afghan Fighting (L-O)









INTRO: U-S led air attacks have intensified over the Tora Bora region in eastern Afghanistan, where fighters of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida group are reportedly hiding in mountain caves. Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan, tribal factions vied for control of Kandahar, the former stronghold of the now defeated Taleban. From neighboring Pakistan, Ayaz Gul reports.

TEXT: U-S planes, led by B-52 bombers, have unleashed waves of air strikes on the eastern Tora Bora region, where terror suspect Osama bin Laden is said to be leading the defense of his mountain hideouts.

Local Afghan forces are also preparing to launch a major ground assault on the area. About one-thousand foreign fighters of the bin Laden Al-Qaida group are reportedly putting up strong resistance with mortars and rocket launchers.

There is no independent confirmation that

Osama bin Laden is in Tora Bora. The area provides easy escape routes to Pakistan. But Pakistani officials say they reinforced the border with helicopter gun-ships and troops to make sure no one got away.

Meanwhile, the situation remains tense and chaotic in southern Afghanistan, where a peace deal struck by the country's new interim leader Hamid Karzai three-days ago has proved a failure. Various Afghan factions are vying for the control of Kandahar city, the former Taleban stronghold.

/// UNVOICED OPT /// Aid officials say the factional skirmishes have prevented their Afghan workers to recover bodies from streets and homes after weeks of intensive U-S bombing. /// END OPT ///

The Afghan Islamic Press news agency reports opposing tribes fought overnight in neighboring Helmand province for the control of the provincial capital.

In another development, officials of the Northern Alliance say 20 military personnel were killed when their helicopter crashed about 35-kilometers southeast of, Taloqan, capital of Takhar province. Circumstances of the crash are not known.

/// REST UNVOICED OPT /// The Afghan Islamic Press says one of the victims was Mohammad Mustafa, commander of a unit that had guarded the Northern Alliance's late military chief, Ahmad Sha Masood. The other was a Pashtun former pro-Taleban commander (Arbab Mohammad Hashim) who defected to the Alliance after the Taleban collapsed in the northern province of Kunduz. (SIGNED)


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