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No sign of al Qaeda surrender as deadline passes

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Al Qaeda fighters cornered in the mountainous Tora Bora area showed no signs of surrendering early Wednesday, despite the passage of a deadline issued by the anti-Taliban Eastern Alliance.

Eastern Alliance commanders had given the al Qaeda fighters until 8 a.m. local time Wednesday (10:30 p.m. EST Tuesday) to lay down their arms or face death in a relentless attack.

The ultimatum had been issued after the anti-Taliban forces, in close-quarters combat supported by tanks and U.S. warplanes, made rapid advances against the al Qaeda positions in Afghanistan's rugged White Mountains south of Jalalabad. The al Qaeda fighters -- and possibly al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- are holed up in a labyrinth of caves.

Among the Eastern Alliance gains was the capture of an al Qaeda complex in Tora Bora.

Before issuing the ultimatum, the Eastern Alliance had suspended most operations for face-to-face talks with al Qaeda leaders.

CNN's Brent Sadler takes a look at a former al Qaeda base in Afghanistan's Tora Bora region (December 11)

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The quick alliance advances came after a morning where American jets bombarded al Qaeda positions for a 10th straight day. U.S. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon had "no confirmation" of surrender talks and U.S. bombing would continue.

"Pockets of resistance remain in various parts of the country, but it appears that the last effective al Qaeda stronghold ... right now is in the Tora Bora area," Myers said.

The al Qaeda complex overrun Tuesday was a huge complex of trenches, well dug-in fortifications and small caves, CNN learned. The base was in ruins after U.S. bombardment, littered with massive bomb craters, and the bodies of several al Qaeda fighters were scattered around it.

Evidence was found indicating the base had been an active training facility for the terrorist network. A communications center, a weight-training facility, an assault course and an old Soviet-era tank had been abandoned as Eastern Alliance forces closed in on the complex.

U.S. bombers and surveillance planes were visible overhead during intense bombing Tuesday, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said "a major fight" was under way.

"The people who are in there are fanatical in many respects, and the forces opposing them are determined," Rumsfeld said. "There are U.S. military people on the ground in the area in various locations, assisting with supplies and with airstrikes and assisting with other things."

Eastern Alliance commanders said Monday that they had al Qaeda boxed into a 1.5-square-mile (four-square-kilometer) area. One commander, Hazrat Ali, said that his fighters had captured two enemy command centers and four tunnel complexes, but that information could not be independently confirmed.

Ali also said he is convinced that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are in the area. Bin Laden "was seen [Monday], and people who were with him [Tuesday] were overheard speaking to him over their wireless," Ali said.

Alliance commanders said Tuesday there was no fresh evidence of bin Laden's whereabouts.

Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, said that Pakistani forces had taken action to prevent escape, moving more troops into the region to seal the border with Afghanistan.

U.S. forces also remained on the outskirts of Kandahar, seeking to catch fleeing Taliban and al Qaeda forces after that city's fall last week.

Myers said that even though a new government was consolidating power in Kandahar, "armed Taliban elements are still there and occupy small portions of that city. So it's still an uncertain environment."

CNN Correspondents Ben Wedeman, Nic Robertson and Hada Messia contributed to this report.


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