The Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan says there is no change in the group's stance on Osama bin Laden, who Washington calls the prime suspect in terrorist attacks against the United States. The latest refusal to hand over the Saudi exile and his al-Qaida network follows reports that a limited number of elite U.S. troops are already on the ground in southern Afghanistan.
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef told reporters Friday the Taleban remains united to fight against the U.S. led forces. He had just returned from Afghanistan, where he said he held numerous meetings with Taleban leaders.
He vehemently denied reports claiming so called "moderates" within the Taleban are looking to make a deal with the West. "There are no divisions among the Taleban," he said. "There is no such thing as moderate or broad-visioned Taleban. All Taleban are the same and one." Ambassador Zaeef said despite the continued bombardment of his country, the Taleban leadership will not hand over Osama bin Laden. He called it an issue of the group's Islamic faith.
The official also denied reports that the Taleban's defenses have been destroyed after 12 days of bombing, though he does admit some military setbacks. "Of course we have had some casualties in the military," he said, "but our capabilities are strong."
Ambassador Zaeef said Taleban authorities have not seen any evidence of U.S. special forces in southern Afghanistan, despite reports quoting U.S. defense officials as saying a limited number of elite U.S. forces are on the ground there.
The reports follow comments by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who told reporters Thursday that airstrikes alone will not be enough to flush out Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida terrorist Network.
Meanwhile, UN officials say Afghan refugees are streaming across the border into neighboring Pakistan, fleeing the U.S.-led bombing. Officials say refugees are describing a serious lack of food and medicine in Afghanistan's main cities.