Assault continues on Tora Bora
Tribal leaders report Taliban leader Omar no longer in Kandahar
TORA BORA, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Explosions and weapons fire echoed overnight as U.S. and Eastern Alliance forces assaulted Taliban and al Qaeda positions in the mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan.
At the Taliban's former stronghold of Kandahar, the city was calm but there were tensions over the political control of the city. The Taliban surrendered control Friday but anti-Taliban forces were fighting 200 Arab holdouts at the airport outside the city.
In Tora Bora, loud explosions were heard at 5 a.m. local time on Saturday as U.S. aircraft continued what had been intense and almost constant airstrikes Friday at targets in the mountains.
Warplanes were later seen flying overhead although no bombs were dropped. There were also reports of exchanges of mortar fire later in the morning.
U.S. Special Forces were also seen moving into the hills on Friday as the hunt for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network stepped up.
Speculation also grew Saturday that bin Laden may be directing the movements of al Qaeda fighters in the hills. A senior tribal commander said intercepted al Qaeda radio transmissions spoke of a "tall man on horseback" called "the sheik" -- an al Qaeda reference to bin Laden.
The airstrikes were moving deeper into the mountains, CNN reported, and followed an abandoned offensive by anti-Taliban forces on al Qaeda positions near Tora Bora, about 55 kilometers (35 miles) south of Jalalabad.
U.S. heavy bombing appeared focused on an al Qaeda mortar position.
Bin Laden, Omar whereabouts unknown
The Eastern Alliance -- a largely Pashtun group of tribal forces opposed to the Taliban -- sent troops to the front line but were pushed back after meeting stiff resistance from al Qaeda forces.
Alliance officials told CNN that airstrikes would not be enough to weed out and defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters believed to holed up in the mountains network of caves and tunnels.
Abdullah Towheedi, alliance deputy chief of intelligence in Kabul, said he was sending 2,000 additional troops from Jalalabad to the Tora Bora mountains to boost the number of fighters to about 5,000.
Although bin Laden is also believed to be hiding in the Tora Bora area, his exact whereabouts remain a mystery.
Also unknown is the whereabouts of Taliban supreme ruler Mullah Mohammed Omar following the negotiated fall of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Pashtun tribal leaders told CNN that Omar was in Kandahar Friday but slipped out of the city overnight.
CNN's Nic Robertson, the only Western journalist in the former Taliban stronghold, said Kandahar was calm after Omar surrendered the city Friday to longtime mujahedeen Mullah Naqibullah, but Omar himself was not to be found.
"On Friday night, [anti-Taliban leaders] believed the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was in Kandahar city, but by Saturday morning they believed he had gone missing and they did not know how he left the city," Robertson said. "That was causing concern."
U.S. military officials say they don't know where the Taliban leader is.
Robertson reported quiet in the city, its streets virtually deserted. He also said the road to Kandahar is littered with the dead and lined with armed men.
Tensions building in Kandahar
Although there was speculation of a showdown between the forces of Mullah Naqibullah and those loyal to Hamid Karzai, the interim Afghan leader, Pashtun tribal leaders told CNN that the two sides were in negotiations.
In agreeing to surrender Kandahar, Omar handed control to Naqibullah, a longtime mujahedeen commander. His forces promptly took control of Kandahar's major military and administrative buildings.
But a commander loyal to Karzai's forces moved into the governor's office Friday and declared himself the governor.
In the north, meanwhile, 6,000 Northern Alliance troops began disarming Taliban fighters in the districts of Balkh and Chintal, close to the border with Uzbekistan.
Most areas were expected to disarm peacefully, although there remained a hard-core contingent of about 300 foreign fighters under the control of Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah who refused to give up. Lengthy negotiations with those men failed.
The disarming operation was expected to take several days. One major Pashtun commander, Cmdr. Shamshullah, defected to the Taliban side.
Minor skirmishes were reported between the forces of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and another Northern Alliance commander in the port city of Heraton, just across the river from Uzbekistan.
While such a flare-up between two friendly forces is common in Afghanistan, it came just after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Uzbekistan to meet with President Islam Karimov.
Heraton also is near a key bridge, known as the Friendship Bridge, which humanitarian organizations say is crucial to delivering aid to thousands of Afghans. Karimov agreed Saturday to reopen the half-mile bridge after nearly five years.
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