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Pentagon: Some al-Qa'eda, Taliban leaders killed

WASHINGTON (AP) — CNN reports that the city of Jalalabad has been captured by the northern alliance. Jalalabad was previously a key Taliban stronghold and its fall further reduces the abilility of the Taliban to maintain any force. Kandahar is the only remaining city controlled by the Taliban. Also today, U.S. airstrikes on two buildings in Afghanistan killed some senior leaders of the Taliban militia and al-Qaida terrorist network, the Pentagon spokeswoman said.

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''One of our primary objectives over the last few days has been to go after command-and-control - Taliban and al-Qaida leadership,'' said Victoria Clarke, spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Speaking with reporters, she said the strikes on buildings near Kabul on Tuesday and Kandahar on Wednesday had resulted in the deaths of senior members of both groups.

"There was some senior leadership. ... No evidence that it was Osama bin Laden," she added.

Asked whether bin Laden is still alive, Clarke replied: "We've heard nothing to indicate otherwise." Is he still in Afghanistan? "We don't have him."

Clarke said there would be no halt in the bombing over the Muslim holy time of Ramadan, which begins this weekend. "The terrorists don't take a break, we don't take a break," she said.

Meanwhile, modest numbers of U.S. special operations forces are in the south of Afghanistan, continuing such activities as roadblocks and searching out potential havens of opposition activity. Clarke declined to be more specific on the number.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday that the military has had some success in the campaign but much fighting remains to be done.

Gen. Richard Myers told a national security conference in Washington that the military campaign in Afghanistan is only the beginning of a long battle America will have to fight against terrorism.

He said fighting continued much the same as on Wednesday, with pockets of Taliban still fighting around Kunduz, where he said several thousand could still be resisting.

Myers said the land bridge between Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif, which was the first city to fall to the anti-Taliban forces "is open and that supplies are starting to come in that way."

"This is exactly the right time of year to start getting some supplies in to help those that don't have the food or the clothing or the blankets to make it through the winter," he said.

With the Taliban fleeing from most Afghan cities under pressure from U.S.-backed rebels, the commander of the U.S.-led effort was preparing a new plan to find and kill the top echelons of the Taliban and al-Qa'eda. U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan began Oct. 7 in an effort to oust the Taliban and root out al-Qa'eda, the group headed by bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

American special forces are both helping the opposition northern alliance and watching roads in southern Afghanistan for Taliban and al-Qa'eda leaders on the move. Commandos also have raided Taliban sites near the Taliban's stronghold of Kandahar and helped rescue eight foreign aid workers — including two Americans — Wednesday after their Taliban captors abandoned them 50 miles southwest of Kabul.

U.S. ground troops will play a role in the new phase of the battle, but how many and what kind depends on whether the Taliban and al-Qa'eda collapse completely, flee the country or regroup in mountain caves to fight a guerrilla war.

A senior U.S. official said Taliban defections in recent days have numbered in the hundreds, providing American and anti-Taliban fighters with significant new sources of information.

In the weeks ahead, the U.S. bombing campaign probably will be dramatically scaled back, perhaps coinciding with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan this weekend, senior defense officials said Wednesday.

The only remaining targets in the north are a few scattered pockets of Taliban resistance. Pilots returning to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt with their bombs still attached told reporters they refrained from attacking in the south because it has become harder to tell friend from foe.

Bombing might be limited to cave complexes and remaining Taliban enclaves in the north.

Eliminating the Taliban as a support structure for al-Qa'eda was a key step, but it leaves unresolved the question of how to track down bin Laden and other al-Qa'eda leaders. It also requires consideration of an international peacekeeping force to stabilize the country.

The Bush administration likely will push for having troops from Islamic countries perform the main peacekeeping work, supported by U.S. and European logistics and communications.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made clear Wednesday that the fight will go on.

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