Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

MARINES: WE'RE IN TALIBAN BACKYARD; US Forces Take Airport at Kandahar

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

MARINES: WE'RE IN TALIBAN BACKYARD; US Forces Take Airport at Kandahar

Article excerpt

Byline: SAM KILEY;ROBERT FOX

HUNDREDS of US marines are today at an airfield outside Kandahar, last stronghold of the Taliban.

They are preparing for a search and destroy mission to capture and kill Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leadership. It is the biggest allied ground deployment so far, and could mark the final stage of the campaign in southern Afghanistan.

The US expects to have up to 2,000 marines on the ground in the Kandahar region by tomorrow night. "In short order you will have thousands of marines in the backyard of the Taliban," said Colonel Peter Miller, who commands 9,000 marines and navy personnel in the region.

The airfield close to the city was first seized by local Pashtun tribal forces commanded by Gud Fida Mohammad, a leader of the Achkazai tribe.

The local fighters cleared the runway for the arrival of American attack and transport helicopters carrying troops from one of the two Marine Expeditionary Units with the task force in the Arabian Sea.

Some 700 US marines are now holding the airfield and will be joined by up to a thousand more in the next few days, according to US sources.

Last week the spiritual head of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar - whose main base is in Kandahar - announced that he was "going underground" to continue the fight against the Americans and the Northern Alliance in a guerrilla campaign in the mountains. He said he was handing over command in Kandahar to his deputy.

But a defector from the Taliban, Mullah Khaksar Akhund, has told the US forces that Mullah Omar is still in Kandahar and intends to make a last stand there.

The defector said that Omah is in regular contact with Bin Laden, though he could not say where the Saudi renegade is hiding. It is known that the Talibanal Qaeda leadership send

messages in 10 second bursts over their High Frequency radio network - US jammers from navy aircraft ensure that they cannot transmit for any longer periods.

Several tribal armies prepared the way for the US marines by cutting off roads running south from Kabul. The main route to the border with Pakistan was cut by the fighters of the Noorzai tribe, who are now poised to take Spin Buldak. …

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