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Taleban Holding Out In Kandahar Amid Bombing - 2001-11-16

Taleban forces in Afghanistan stand defiant in their southern stronghold and are mounting a fierce defense of a besieged northern city against the Northern Alliance even as U.S. warplanes bomb from the air.

The coalition planes are reported to have pounded Kandahar's eastern districts in fierce raids early Friday. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press says the bombing destroyed the Taleban's foreign ministry building along with a mosque and killed eleven civilians.

Elsewhere, the agency says, Taleban forces have withdrawn from an air base near Herat in western Afghanistan. These reports could not be confirmed independently.

The Taleban has suffered a series of blows at the hands of the opposition Northern Alliance, backed by U.S. air strikes. Its forces have retreated from most urban centers, including the capital, Kabul.

But the Taleban reportedly still has a stronghold in the southern Kandahar region and the city of Kunduz in the north. There are conflicting reports from Kandahar, including some claims of street fighting.

In northern Afghanistan, opposition forces say they have laid siege to the city of Kunduz, where Taleban forces appear to be in control of the city. The defenders there allegedly include several thousand Pakistanis and Arabs loyal to Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, in Kabul, the occupying Northern Alliance remains divided. The streets are quiet but reports of an increase in robberies have raised fears for law and order. Residents crowed into mosques for Friday prayers. Reports say many of them say they fear the Northern Alliance plans to cling to power rather than allow other factions a share in government.

The rapid military gains of the Northern Alliance, which began with capture of the key northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif last Friday has left politicians and diplomats scrambling.

U.N. special envoy Francesc Vendrell is expected to try to travel to Afghanistan during the weekend to meet leaders of the anti-Taleban alliance and invite them to a United Nations conference on the country's future.

Neighboring Pakistan, has tightened security at its borders with Afghanistan following reports that Osama bin Laden and member of his Al-Qaida network my try to enter Pakistan to evade the U.S. hunt for them.