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U.S. seeks target info from anti-Taliban alliance



NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- Contacts between the U.S. and the Afghanistan's anti-Taliban Northern Alliance have increased to "frantic" levels, senior Alliance officials have told CNN.

The officials say over the past 24 hours, contacts with the U.S. have amplified dramatically, with the U.S. asking for information on possible targets including airports, weapons depots, military headquarters, training camps, troop positions and movements.

One senior official told CNN that the U.S. has asked the Northern Alliance -- which controls about 5 percent of Afghanistan -- to work harder, telling them that the U.S. needs more information and it needs it now.

The official, who did not wish to be named, said he believes it is only a matter of days before the U.S. launches a military offensive in Afghanistan.

He added that so far, requests have only been for information although the Alliance has told the U.S. it is willing to play a large role in any military operation in Afghanistan.

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Officials also warned that air strikes will not be enough to achieve the mission without their assistance.

Resentment

The Northern Alliance have been waging a long running civil war with the ruling Taliban.

They are currently fighting on two fronts, one just north of the capital Kabul the other in the country's mountainous north-east.

The U.S. does not recognize the Northern Alliance in any official relations although the group holds Afghanistan's seat at the United Nations.

U.S. authorities have identified Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden -- living in Afghanistan as a "guest" of the Taliban -- as the prime suspect behind last week's attacks.

The U.S. has demanded that bin Laden be handed over, warning that any nation that harbors or supports terrorists will be treated as an enemy in its new war against terrorism.

On Wednesday senior Taliban clerics began a meeting in Kabul to discuss the demand.

Alliance officials told CNN they do not know where bin Laden is and say it will be difficult to locate him given the rough terrain in Afghanistan

Assassination links

Although the Alliance has told the U.S. it is willing to join any offensive against the Taliban, many within the Alliance bear some resentment towards Washington.

They say that the problems that have now arisen are the result of the U.S. neglecting their battle with the Taliban and argue that attention has only focused on the region after the tragedy of last Tuesday's attacks.

They also say that the assassination of their popular leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, is linked to the terrorist attacks.

Massoud died last weekend from injuries sustained in a suicide bomb attack a few weeks previously.

Northern Alliance officials say that the assassination was designed to weaken the Northern Alliance before the terrorist strikes on the U.S.

That way, the officials say, the Alliance would be handicapped in assisting the U.S. in any possible retaliatory measures.

-- CNN's Steve Harrigan in Northern Afghanistan contributed to this report






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