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Taliban's Mullah Omar 'in hiding'



NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- The main anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan says its sources have told them that the supreme Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has gone into hiding.

Alliance officials told CNN Thursday they had intercepted radio traffic indicating Mullah Omar feared a U.S. attack and was now communicating with Taliban leaders only once a day by radio.

The Alliance -- which controls about 5 percent of Afghanistan -- said it had turned over the information it had gathered to the United States.

The latest details out of northern Afghanistan come as contacts between the U.S. and anti-Taliban forces increase to what Alliance officials have described as "frantic" levels.

The officials say in recent days contacts with the U.S. have amplified dramatically, with the U.S. asking for intelligence on possible targets in Taliban controlled territory.

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These include:

- airports

- weapons depots

- military headquarters

- training camps

- troop positions and movements.

One senior official told CNN that the U.S. has asked the Alliance 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.

Air strikes 'not enough'

He added that so far, requests have only been for information although the Alliance, with some 15,000 guerillas, has told the U.S. it is willing to play a significant role in any military operation in Afghanistan.

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

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.

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 by assassins reportedly posing as journalists.

Northern Alliance officials say that the assassination was designed to weaken the 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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