Taliban Vows to Keep Its Territory

KABUL/SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan -- Pounded by 46 days of U.S. air raids and driven back into its strongholds in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban said Wednesday it no longer had any contact with Osama bin Laden.

As Taliban commanders tried to negotiate a surrender for thousands of troops in the besieged northern enclave of Kunduz, a spokesman for the militia's reclusive supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, broke weeks of silence to demand an end to U.S. bombing.

At a news conference in the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak, Mullah Omar's 25-year-old spokesman, Tayab Agha, said the Taliban "hopes mighty Allah will break America."

"You should forget the September 11 attacks because now there is new fighting against Islam," he said, wearing a black turban and flanked by Taliban fighters armed with Kalashnikovs.

He said the hijacked airliner attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon were "not something connected with Afghanistan" and "not our problem."

Asked whether the Taliban was still in contact with bin Laden, believed by the United States to be hiding somewhere in the rugged hills of southern Afghanistan, Agha said: "There is no relation right now, there is no communication."

He said the Taliban did not know where bin Laden was.

"We have no idea where he is because our areas are limited now to three or four provinces, so we do not know where he is."

The Taliban had special secret channels to contact the fugitive millionaire but for the moment had no need to stay in touch. "We do not need to see him," Agha said.

Mullah Omar will stay in the Taliban's southern bastion of Kandahar and the Taliban will fight to the death to defend the southern provinces still under its control, he said.

Many refugees were fleeing the area around the northern city of Kunduz, where more than 10,000 Taliban troops are encircled.

"We left because of the bombing," said Abdullah, a refugee.

"On the street next to ours, 14 members of the same family were killed when a bomb fell on their house. Only the father and a little daughter survived. So we decided to leave."