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Lin: Taliban fight for Kandahar

Carol Lin  

QUETTA, Pakistan (CNN) -- A battle is reportedly under way in southern Afghanistan for the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

CNN's Carol Lin is based in nearby Quetta, Pakistan. She filed this report.

LIN: We're hearing a lot of different things. U.S. officials have been saying that Kandahar could fall (soon), that there is fierce fighting in the streets.

But what our sources are telling us is that the Taliban are still very much in control of Kandahar. They still control the airport there, which is critical, and they still control the city. In fact, right now, they are regrouping inside the city, bringing in reinforcements from outside the city. There are reports of hand-to-hand combat on the streets as the Taliban fighters have handed out automatic weapons, AK-47s, to their sympathizers, even ordinary citizens there.

Also, we understand that the Taliban strategy is to not fight to the death in Kandahar, despite the fact that it is an important city to them. It is their founding city and their spiritual stronghold. They learned a very important lesson when they lost Mazar-e Sharif, where their forces were absolutely decimated by the bombing by American planes, as well as by the Northern Alliance forces moving in so rapidly.

So what their strategy is, right now, is to try to hold off the local Afghan mujahideen, whom they're fighting with on the ground. But if it gets too ugly, the strategy may very well be to pull back into the hillsides.

In the meantime, here in the city of Quetta, there is a strategy session going on right now with Afghan tribal leaders who are organizing and trying to appeal to moderate elements of the Taliban to have them defect from the Taliban right now -- convince them that if they defect now that they may have a role in a coalition government.

What is critical about these Afghan tribal leaders is that Afghanistan has a long history of tribal culture, and it is these tribal leaders who will determine the tone and tenure and the mood of the people, because of their close tribal relationships with one another. So, we are monitoring that meeting very carefully right now.

But the situation in Kandahar, frankly, is very sketchy. It's hard to know what to believe, how intense the fighting is on the streets. People are saying very different things -- U.S. officials say one thing, and our sources inside Kandahar say another.

CNN: It does sound like things are changing every moment. Any idea, if the Taliban do leave Kandahar, where they would go?

LIN: Word is that they would be under orders to basically disappear into the hillsides around Kandahar, buy some time and regroup. The Taliban have said from the very beginning that they never expected to fight a conventional war, that they always expected that ultimately it would evolve into guerrilla warfare.

The lesson from Mazar-e Sharif is, when you're overwhelmed by technology and a massive force coming down on you, the last thing you want to do is spend all of your ammunition and kill off all of your men. They want to preserve the ammunition that they have, preserve the manpower that they have, flee to the hills.

The concern here, though, in the neighboring Baluchistan Province, is that the Taliban fighters may very well spill over the border into Baluchistan, Pakistan, naturally. They have resources here -- many of them actually own real estate, homes.

You might recall that when the Taliban movement first started, they were borne out of the religious schools here, which sent hundreds, if not thousands, of young men to help fight for the Taliban back in 1996. So they have deep family connections, as well as financial connections, here in the Baluchistan Province.

And when we took a look at the border situation yesterday, it was very interesting. You saw a very strong Taliban border presence, still patrolling heavily on their side of the border with their automatic weapons and their rocket launchers. The concern is that that weaponry, as well as some of the fighters, could spill over. And in fact, some detainees we saw at one checkpoint yesterday did have some members of the Taliban there.

Very quickly, I want to update you on the situation with the Taliban ambassador. There was some confusion about whether he had fled to Kandahar. In fact, CNN has learned that he did leave for Kandahar. He is now back in the Baluchistan Province, near Quetta, and we understand that he has been called back to Kandahar for further meetings.

But it's business as usual up in the Taliban Embassy up in Islamabad, so the Taliban are still operating here as an official government.


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