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Taleban Surrender Kandahar, Soldiers Search al-Qaida Caves - 2001-12-07

In Afghanistan, the Taleban appear to have lost their last stronghold.

But U.S. defense officials describe the situation in Kandahar as unclear, and acknowledge they do not know the whereabouts of Taleban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar.

Army General Tommy Franks, the commander in charge of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, said Friday it will take two or three days before anyone can reliably assess the situation in Kandahar.

"We have seen the surrender of a great many Taleban forces inside Kandahar. We are not yet sure," the commander said. "We do not yet have a sense of comfort there is stability in the city. And I don't expect that we will have a sense of comfort for perhaps two or three days, until we get a valid assessment of exactly what is going on in Kandahar."

In the meantime, General Franks told reporters that U.S. forces on the ground and in the air have been attacking Taleban troops attempting to escape from Kandahar with their weapons.

Even though the city appears to have fallen to anti-Taleban forces, the U.S. commander - while appearing untroubled - admited no one is quite sure where Taleban leader Mullah Omar has gone. "I do not have a reason to suspect he has vanished. We continue to work on the area around Kandahar, and we simply do not know where he is right now. But that does not lead me to believe he has vanished, if that makes sense to you," he said.

General Franks said anti-Taleban forces are meanwhile moving forward in the Tora Bora mountain area of eastern Afghanistan, where al-Qaida terrorists are believed to have been in hiding. He said caves and tunnels in the mountains have not yet been completely searched. And he also admitted no one there is sure where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has gone. "I will tell you honestly, no, I am not sure that I know where bin Laden is right now," he said.

The search is not limited to land. Defense officials now acknowledge they have stopped and searched a number of vessels in the North Arabian Sea suspected of trying to ferry al-Qaida fighters out of the region. But the Pentagon says the searches have turned up nothing so far.

U.S. forces have warned private ships to cooperate with naval inspections or risk being seized or sunk.