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Anti-Taliban Forces Await New Deadline - 2001-12-13

American warplanes attacked al-Qaida positions in Eastern Afghanistan Thursday, as Afghan tribal forces await a new deadline for al-Qaida fighters in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan to surrender. The tribal forces known as the Eastern Alliance say the al-Qaida fighters must give up by mid-day Thursday.

American warplanes kept up their pressure on targets near Tora Bora striking the canyons of the White Mountains in attacks where al-Qaida fighters are cornered. In the pre-dawn hours large explosions were heard echoing through the mountains.

An undetermined number of foreign fighters are in the heavily forested area where they fled, after being routed from their mountaintop positions and caves a day earlier.

Afghan tribal chiefs gave the fighters an ultimatum to lay down their arms by midday Thursday. They are also demanding that al-Qaida turn over 22 senior officers wanted by the United States.

The al-Qaida fighters have been under relentless attack from tribal forces, American warplanes and U.S. special forces since early this month. Fighting in the region eased Tuesday after trapped al-Qaida members radioed a local military commander requesting a ceasefire.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported that the most important Islamic cleric in Nangarhar province, where Tora Bora is located, said the Eastern Alliance should allow the al-Qaida fighters to surrender. Mullah Fazil Hadi Shenwari was quoted as saying they should not be handed over to the United States or, what he called, "other infidels."

U.S. intelligence officials say they are skeptical about a report in the Christian Science Monitor newspaper that Osama bin Laden may have fled to Pakistan 10 days ago. The officials say he is still believed to be around Tora Bora.