The Pentagon says it is "reaching out" to all anti-Taleban opposition groups, not just the Northern Alliance, as part of its campaign to destroy the al-Qaida terrorist network and its Taleban supporters in Afghanistan. These efforts go on as U.S. air-strikes continue against selected terrorist and Taleban targets in the country.

Defense officials offer few details of the nature of U.S. links with Afghan opposition groups.

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Bush administration is even trying to win over elements in the Taleban itself, even as Taleban targets are being hit by U.S. air strikes. "Even as we conduct these strikes, we are not only engaged in a massive humanitarian effort for the Afghan people, but we are reaching out to a range of Afghan groups on the ground, in the north and the south, as well as Afghan exiles and disaffected elements within the Taleban who are opposed to the Taleban's policy of turning their nation into a haven for foreign terrorists," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld and other administration officials have made clear repeatedly that Taleban leaders allied with the al-Qaida terrorist network must be toppled from power.

But they appear to be exercising strict care not to ally the administration only with Afghanistan's Northern Alliance the opposition group that is perhaps the best known in the country because it hosts the only western reporters in Afghanistan.

Despite the group's plans for advances against Taleban strongholds, even Mr. Rumsfeld said he has seen no evidence of solid military gains by the group. "I have not seen anything thus far that would suggest to me that there has been something approximating a permanent change in the circumstance of the Northern Alliance," he said.

A Pentagon official indicates there is U.S. concern about what might happen in Afghanistan were the Northern Alliance to seize power. This official suggests the group's members, largely from minority ethnic groups, might engage in mass reprisals rather than focus on restoring stability to the country.

The official offers no additional insight into Pentagon concerns. But his comments coincide with release of a new report by Human Rights Watch.

The monitoring group says all major factions in Afghanistan have repeatedly committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.

But it specifically notes reports of abuses in areas held by the Northern Alliance, including summary executions, attacks on civilians, burnings of houses, and looting.