Northern Alliance forces say they made significant gains near the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Tuesday, capturing several key positions on the outskirts of the city.
Northern Alliance commanders have been fighting for weeks to capture the Taleban stronghold, which straddles a key supply route between Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, as well as a major highway to Kabul.
After more than a week of heavy air strikes by U.S. B-52 bombers, Northern Alliance commanders report they have gained control of Zari Bazar, Baluch and Wyemar areas in Balkh province. The area is about 50 kilometers south of Mazar-e-Sharif. Alliance forces say they have also captured several Taleban commanders. Those reports have not been independently confirmed.
In Pakistan, senior officials had no comment on the battlefield claims. Aziz Khan, a Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman, repeated Islamabad's position that Pakistan seeks a broad-based post-Taleban government in Afghanistan.
"We have stated repeatedly that no one group or entity should be allowed an advantageous position inside Afghanistan. We support a broad-based government, we support a broad-based effort, we support a position where all Afghan parties can together create a political dispensation to all Afghan people," he said.
U.S. planes are also continuing their attacks against Taleban positions about 50 kilometers north of Kabul, where Taleban fighters have heavily fortified positions in the hills overlooking Bagram air base.
The Northern Alliance holds the base but has been trying to secure its perimeter so the airfield can be used to bring in badly needed humanitarian supplies and ammunition that will be essential for any prolonged assault on Taleban held cities.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the number of U.S. ground troops inside Afghanistan has now more than doubled, but he will not say what the how many are there. The Pentagon chief says the troops are in at least four locations, helping to target air strikes.