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Northern Alliance claims key wins

NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- Northern Alliance commanders have claimed two victories, including the capture of a town outside the strategically important city of Mazar-e Sharif.

In Washington, meanwhile, U.S. officials said they want to boost the number of American forces aiding the opposition and have unleashed the biggest conventional bomb in their arsenal against Taliban troops.

Northern Alliance leaders said they have captured the town of Kisindeh, placing opposition troops just 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Mazar-e Sharif. The city is considered key in the war, because it straddles supply routes to the capital, Kabul.

The alliance earlier said it had taken the Zari district, also south of the Mazar-e Sharif.

Four-hundred Taliban soldiers defected during the fighting, including five important commanders, and the opposition had captured two tanks and two anti-aircraft guns as heavy fighting continued, alliance leaders said.

The reports could not be independently verified, and there was no immediate report on the fighting from Taliban sources.

The opposition's claims come after more than a week of U.S.-led airstrikes aimed at giving the Northern Alliance a chance to advance against the ruling Taliban.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not comment on the Northern Alliance's claims Tuesday, and cautioned against measuring the campaign's progress too simply.

"It is not going to be a steady march forward across a front," he told reporters in Washington. "It is going to be probes and pushes and successes and steps back. That is the nature of it."

U.S. forces flew about 100 attack missions into Afghanistan on Monday, most of them aimed at supporting Northern Alliance forces around Mazar-e Sharif and north of Kabul, said Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The strikes also focused on caves and tunnels where Taliban and al Qaeda forces were believed to be hiding, Pace said.

At least twice, Pace said, U.S. forces dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb in their inventory -- a 15,000-pound fuel-air explosive nicknamed a "daisy cutter." Dropped by parachute, the bomb spreads a flammable mixture over a large area, igniting it when it strikes the ground.

The United States was trying to get more weapons, ammunition, food, blankets and other supplies to the Northern Alliance, Rumsfeld said. More U.S. special operations troops were on their way into Afghanistan to help coordinate U.S. and Northern Alliance strikes, he said.

Rumsfeld said the coordination among different factions within the Northern Alliance were improving, "and I know for a fact that in a number of cases the coordination is quite good."


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