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Konduz battle continues as Omar issues new threat

KONDUZ, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Flush from a string of rapid victories, the Northern Alliance Thursday battled thousands of Taliban troops for control of the northern Afghan city of Konduz. As thousands of retreating Taliban reportedly rushed south to Kandahar, their leader issued a fresh threat against the United States.

Most of the central Asian country was quiet Thursday, except around Konduz and Baghlan, north of Kabul, as opposition forces worked to consolidate recent gains and citizens got used to life free from Taliban control.

In the south, Pashtun opposition leader Hamid Karzai claimed locals had wrested control of several towns in Oruzgan province, located just north of Kandahar, from the Taliban.

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These developments came as Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar claimed his forces controlled "four or five provinces" and predicted the imminent destruction of the United States. "The current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause -- that is the destruction of America," Omar said in an interview with BBC's Pashtu language service.

"The plan is going ahead and God willing it is being implemented, but it is a huge task beyond the will and comprehension of human beings. If God's help is with us this will happen within a short period of time."

U.S. airstrikes target Taliban

U.S. fighter jets struck targets and B-52s "carpet-bombed" Taliban front-line positions in Konduz Wednesday night and Thursday, according to CNN reporters in nearby Taloqan.

The Taliban fought to maintain 60 tanks and 100 artillery pieces in Konduz, a northeast Afghan city considered vital to open up land routes to funnel relief aid and other supplies in from Tajikistan.

There were inconsistent reports about the situation in Kandahar. U.S. officials told CNN's David Ensor that fighting continued in the key southern city, while the Northern Alliance claimed the Taliban deserted the city.

But a CNN producer in the city said it was calm but tense, swelled by thousands of Taliban fighters who had presumably retreated here from other areas.

The eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad also appeared to be out of Taliban control. The Northern Alliance said it controlled the city, while journalists there said local Pashtun tribal leaders had formed a council to run the city and local fighters now controlled the streets.

In western Afghanistan, Northern Alliance sources said their forces have captured the military air base of Shindand, about 100 kilometers south of Herat, and forced the Taliban from the city and province of Farah, the last western province held by Afghan rulers.

Hunt on for bin Laden

According to the Northern Alliance, suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers were going from cave to cave in the south, and Pakistani border guards had been put on alert in case they try to cross the border.

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said the United States does not know where bin Laden is, saying only "we're still looking for him."

Earlier Thursday, a senior Pentagon official said a pair of U.S. strikes in Kabul and Kandahar killed several al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, although officials did not believe any senior members of either group had died in the attacks.

With the Taliban rapidly losing ground, Pashtun tribal leaders continued their talks Thursday, said CNN's Sheila MacVicar. Anti-Taliban leaders were expected to urge Taliban supporters and commanders to defect so the Pashtun ethnic group does not lose its influence in the country.

The Northern Alliance, made up mostly of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara, claims it controls as much as 80 percent of Afghanistan.

The governments of five northeastern Afghan provinces -- Nangarhar, Paktia, Lowgar, Laghman and Konarha -- declared their independence from the Taliban on Wednesday.


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