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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 22:21 GMT 23:21 UK
US military threats dismissed
Anti-Taleban fighters
Opposition fighters are making progress
The Taleban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has dismissed US threats of military action if Afghanistan fails to hand over Osama Bin Laden.

The Saudi-born militant is the prime suspect in the 11 September suicide plane attacks on New York and Washington.


We incite our Muslim brothers in Pakistan to deter with all their capabilities the American crusaders

Osama Bin Laden
In a statement on Monday, Mullah Omar said that Washington could not resolve the current crisis by killing either himself or Osama Bin Laden.

"If America wants terrorism to end, it should withdraw its forces from the Gulf and end its partisanship in Palestine," the statement said.

Qatar's Al-Jazeera television channel has broadcast what it says are comments by Osama Bin Laden, who has denied involvement in the attacks, urging Pakistanis to repel any American military assault.

"We incite our Muslim brothers in Pakistan to deter with all their capabilities the American crusaders from invading Pakistan and Afghanistan," Al-Jazeera quoted him as saying.

Opposition advance

Earlier the Taleban admitted it had lost ground to opposition forces in heavy fighting in the north of the country.

Opposition Northern Alliance fighters, under the command of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, are now said to be within 30 kilometres (19 miles) of the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The advances come as the US and its allies continue a massive build up of armed forces in readiness for strikes against the Taleban.

Click here for map of Afghanistan

For their part, the Taleban defence minister says they have mobilised 300,000 "experienced" fighters for a holy war, or jihad against the United States.

The opposition advances in northern Afghanistan came after they captured Zari district in Balkh province.

A Taleban spokesman confirmed on Monday that they had lost control of Zari, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported.

Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah
Abdullah Abdullah held talks with Russian generals
An opposition commander in the area says a number of Taleban fighters were taken captive, including a commander from the southern city of Kandahar. Military equipment was also seized.

Opposition Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters that if his forces managed to take Shulgar district in Balkh province, "the Taleban will be threatened in one of the major cities, Mazar-i-Sharif".

The opposition say they have also taken the strategically important mountain pass of Saifit Kotal.

There was also heavy mortar and artillery fire in the Panjshir Valley, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.

In another development, the political leader of the Northern Alliance, Burhanuddin Rabbani, arrived in the area bordering Tajikistan amid speculation he may hold talks with American officials.


We are firm on the road of jihad for the sake of God inspired by His Prophet

Osama Bin Laden

Correspondents say the opposition is moving men and supplies into positions south of the border with Tajikistan in readiness for any new push into Taleban-held areas.

The BBC's Sarah Nelson in Afghanistan says there are regular artillery exchanges but, according to local opposition tank commanders, the Taleban's return fire is diminishing.

They believe the Taleban are starting to withdraw in order to defend positions further south. An opposition spokesman said the Taleban had chosen to defend three main cities - Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad - and were concentrating their fighters in those areas.

Foreign support

On Sunday, the opposition's Foreign Minister Abdullah met the chief of Russia's general staff in Tajikistan.

He said the opposition was also in close contact with American officials through its diplomats in the United States.

Correspondents say the opposition's detailed knowledge of the area and of Taleban military capabilities could prove invaluable to US forces in a strike against Osama Bin Laden and his associates.

But a senior commander has said there were no plans to march on Kabul. He explained that simply capturing the city would not solve the problems faced by Afghanistan, which needed a stable representative government.




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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jacky Rowland
reports from Northern Afghanistan
See also:

24 Sep 01 | South Asia
Text of Taleban leader's speech
24 Sep 01 | South Asia
UN prepares for refugee crisis
24 Sep 01 | Americas
US to produce Bin Laden evidence
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition 'gaining ground'
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
16 Sep 01 | Americas
US prepares for war
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan ex-king offers his services
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