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Taliban Forces Launch Attacks Against Pashtun for Kandahar

By John Pomfret

and Keith B. Richburg
THE WASHINGTON POST -- chaman, pakistan

Despite intense bombing by U.S. warplanes, Taliban forces in southeastern Afghanistan launched a swift counterattack Thursday against Pashtun tribal fighters who are closing in from two sides on the radical Islamic movement’s last refuge in Kandahar.

The Taliban strike, which included militiamen riding motorcycles into battle, was aimed at Takhteh Pol, 25 miles southeast of Kandahar on the main road from the Pakistani border. The trading town has become a key part of an emerging U.S. strategy to surround and squeeze Kandahar, the Taliban birthplace and the last big target in the Bush administration’s war to crush Taliban power and root out accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

C-17 Globemaster III transport planes delivered construction equipment and Navy engineers at another pressure point aimed at the beleaguered Taliban leadership, the desert airstrip converted into a U.S. Marine forward base 55 miles southwest of Kandahar. The Pentagon spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, told reporters in Washington that the number of Marines at the rapidly expanding base has risen above 1,000.

Looking toward the end of Taliban resistance and a new regime for Afghanistan, anti-Taliban representatives gathered in Bonn under U.N. and U.S. sponsorship announced readiness in principle to accept an international peacekeeping force and debated the composition of an interim administration and a national council charged with organizing a new government.

Takhteh Pol was captured over the weekend by U.S.-backed Pashtun guerrillas headed by Gul Agha Shirzai, who have since sought to continue their march northward toward Kandahar with help from U.S. warplanes and helicopter gunships. Other U.S.-backed Pashtun forces pressured Taliban forces around Kandahar.