Pressure Begins to Tell on the Taliban; AFGHANISTAN: Minister in Secret Pakistan Visit

Article excerpt

THERE were signs last night that the war in Afghanistan was beginning to be won.

The Taliban made the best offer yet that it was prepared to hand over terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden.

While Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar continued to voice defiance over the bombings, his foreign minister, Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil, was said to have travelled secretly to Pakistan to ask it to pass on a message to the United States Mullah Muttawakil asked the US to ease the air strikes to give the Taliban moderates a chance to argue for the regime to reconsider its refusal to give up the Al-Qaeda leader.

British defence sources reported signs of unrest in some Taliban controlled areas, with demonstrations in some cities and even petitions demanding bin Laden's expulsion from the country.

Coalition firepower is expected today to attack the front lines of Taliban forces fighting Northern Alliance troops, heightening military speculation that a ground attack could be launched from there.

In the north, the Afghan opposition claimed it was three miles from the key city of Mazar-e-Sharif and was shelling its outskirts. In Washington, US officials said Mazar-e-Sharif could fall within days, thanks in part to US and British bombing. However, the Taliban insisted its forces were fully capable of defending the city.

In the Commons, Tony Blair told MPs during Prime Minister's Questions that "additional help" was being given by the coalition to the Northern Alliance, although he did not specify what form it was taking.

He again hinted that preparations were under way for the deployment of US and British ground troops inside Afghanistan.

"We are in the process of establishing the ability to take further military action against both the Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda network, " he said.

Last night a United States defence briefing said a series of Taliban targets were successfully struck yesterday. US jets fired on fuel dumps in Kabul, igniting a huge fire. The Taliban claimed seven civilians were killed attempting to flee. …