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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Battle Rages Around Kandahar's Airport

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban fighters and members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida militia were putting up fierce resistance against opposition Afghan forces outside Kandahar on Tuesday as a relentless U.S. bombing campaign continued, tribal leaders said.

Some Kandahar defenders fired missiles at U.S. warplanes but made no hits, U.S. officials said.

The city, the last bastion of the Taliban, remained in the hands of the Islamic group, but a seesawing battle was raging for its airport, a few kilometers away. A senior Pashtun leader made new surrender demands on Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who has ordered his forces to fight to the death.

Abdul Jabbar, an Afghan tribal representative in Pakistan in contact with commanders at the scene, described the fighting at the airport as "face-to-face."

In Germany, talks on Afghanistan's future moved forward after the Northern Alliance gave in to U.S. pressure and finally decided upon candidates for an interim administration.

Tense diplomacy preceded the breakthrough. The United States had accused the fractious alliance of trying to block the accord and a U.S. official directly complained to its leader in Kabul, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

American military attacks would continue in Afghanistan even after the interim administration was set up, said Richard Haas, the U.S. coordinator for policy on Afghanistan.

"I think what we are looking at is a period of coexistence. Military operations will continue with the interim authority," said Haass, the director of policy planning for the U.S. Department of State, during a visit to India.

After days of clashes, Pashtun tribal fighters loyal to former Kandahar governor Gul Agha battled their way into Kandahar airport from the south Tuesday, said one tribal commander Mohammed Jalal Khan. He said tribal warriors had captured half the site and were fighting for the terminal building.

Other troops loyal to former deputy foreign minister Hamid Karzai were advancing on Kandahar from the north. Karzai's troops controlled the Khakrez and Khowaja Malik districts of Kandahar province and were within 30 kilometers of Kandahar city, said Abdul Malik, a spokesman for Karzai in Quetta, Pakistan. He disputed Taliban claims that there had been fighting, saying Karzai's advance toward Kandahar was peaceful. He said Karzai had dispatched a new delegation to Kandahar to demand the Taliban's capitulation.

"We don't want any more dead, above all now that it's clear that the Taliban have lost," the Rome daily newspaper, La Repubblica, quoted Karzai as saying Tuesday by satellite telephone. "Mullah Omar must understand, and this is the message we are sending him, he must surrender, he must recognize that the battle is over."

Reports from either side could not be verified. The Taliban have barred Western journalists from the region. Karzai is being touted as the possible leader of Afghanistan's new administration.

Elsewhere, U.S. special forces are in the mountainous east working with local people in the hunt for bin Laden and his top lieutenants.

The Pentagon believes al-Qaida personnel might be in the Tora Bora area in the White Mountains south of Jalalabad, hiding in vast, fortified cave and tunnel networks used by Afghan guerrillas in the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Backed by a resolution from the Eastern Shura, or council, which controls the Jalalabad area, provincial security chief Hazrat Ali said he had 1,500 men ready to fight.

In Washington, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. personnel were identifying targets for bombing rather than conducting cave-to-cave searches for bin Laden. Stufflebeem denied reports that U.S. bombs had mistakenly pummeled villages and wrongly killed civilians and anti-Taliban fighters near Tora Bora.

Journalists who visited destroyed Kama Ado villages saw nine bomb craters, debris from houses and the tail fin of a U.S. Mk83 bomb.

Local officials said scores were killed in three bombed villages. Anti-Taliban officials in the area appealed to Americans to improve their intelligence.

The other main focus of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan is Kandahar and surrounding countryside, where bin Laden might also be sheltering.

Stufflebeem said U.S. pilots had reported seeing portable surface-to-air weapons fired at them from around the city. He said these might have been Stinger anti-aircraft missiles or Russian versions of them.

A contingent of more than 1,000 U.S. Marines has set up a base about 70 miles southwest of Kandahar and has been conducting armed reconnaissance patrols, but has stayed out of the fighting. Officials said one of their missions would be to cut supply lines leading to and from Kandahar and shut off escape routes for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

In a sign of waning Taliban authority, an Afghan man in Quetta said he was among about 270 prisoners released from a Kandahar prison 20 days ago halfway through a six-year sentenced for murder.

"They said I should be a good man and that God has given me a chance because of the American bombing," Mohammed Wali, a 26-year-old Noorzai tribesman. Wali said 800 men, some boys as young as 10 years and about 40 women remained in the jail along with between 2,000 to 3,000 other prisoners, who were forced to do hard labor.