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Taliban, Northern Alliance exchange gunfire

By Chris Burns

NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- Sporadic gun and artillery fire was heard overnight and into Tuesday as forces of the opposition Northern Alliance and ruling Taliban clashed along the front lines some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Kabul.

Meanwhile, the Taliban took supplies from international aid groups to boost its position ahead of a possible U.S. military strike in retaliation for terror attacks two weeks ago in New York and Washington.

Already promised arms and ammunition by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Northern Alliance commanders said they now need U.S. air support to press ahead against the Taliban militia.

CNN's Chris Burns looks at weapons that the Northern Alliance is using against the Taliban (September 25)

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President Bush has named Osama bin Laden, believed to still be in Afghanistan, and members of his al Qaeda network as suspects in the strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

If the United States does launch an attack on Afghanistan, it's believed the U.S. military has its eye on the Kabul airport and on a former Soviet military base near Kabul.

In separate developments, people continue to flee Taliban-controlled territory in their cars and trucks ahead of what they fear will be a U.S. attack.

The United Nations is warning of a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as about one-fifth of the country's 25 million people depend on humanitarian aid.

The ruling Taliban, trying to fortify itself against a possible U.S. attack, reportedly have seized 14,000 tons of food, shut down international aid agencies and taken their communications equipment.

Sources in Kandahar told CNN that the World Food Program offices have been sealed by the Taliban and a guard has been put on the front gate.

In northern Afghanistan, there is a very limited humanitarian presence.

International aid workers are reluctant to come into Afghanistan because of the political climate.

In addition, countries surrounding Afghanistan have shut down their borders, forcing refugees to hike through the mountains to gain access.


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