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Taliban forces said to be 12,000-15,000

The United States has demanded that the Taliban deliver Osama bin Laden, but the group has refused.  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Despite claims of mass mobilizations, the Taliban have only between 12,000 and 15,000 troops, Pakistani officials and CNN analysts said Tuesday.

A Taliban defense ministry official said his country was "mobilizing" up to 300,000 men in the face of a pending attack by the United States. But the actual number of available fighters is expected to be much smaller.

Officials familiar with the Taliban forces said they are poorly armed and poorly equipped. Most of their weapons were captured during the 14-year-long campaign with the Soviet Union and a Soviet-backed communist government.

Military analysts interviewed by CNN backed up the Pakistani assessment, noting that when Taliban ministers claimed to have shot down an unmanned spy plane they said they used an anti-aircraft gun captured from the Soviets.

The United States has demanded that the Taliban deliver Osama bin Laden -- the man U.S. officials say is behind the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington -- to U.S. custody. The Taliban have refused without seeing evidence.

In districts and provinces in eastern Afghanistan, ulemas and the elders of the tribes announced Tuesday they have decided to support the government against any invasion. Taliban representative Mohammed Hussein Mostassed told the Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera on Tuesday that Afghans would "defend ourselves with our simple ways and with dependence on God's will."

Mostassed displayed a rifle, saying, "This is one of the weapons the Soviets left behind. The people of Afghanistan own a lot of these weapons."

But the Taliban are still embroiled in a civil war with the remnants of the previous government, the Northern Alliance, which controls less than 10 percent of the country. The Northern Alliance, which is still recognized by most countries as Afghanistan's rightful government, has offered its aid in any U.S. attack on the country.

The Taliban also has locked up and sealed communication equipment belonging to the United Nations in Kabul, Kandahar and other locations. On Friday, the Taliban issued a decree ordering the United Nations to cease communication with the "outside world," U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said.


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