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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
US special forces 'inside Afghanistan'
Afghan women and children cross into Pakistan on 18 October
The flood of refugees into Pakistan continues
The United States has said that a small number of US special forces are operating on the ground in southern Afghanistan.

A Pentagon official, who asked not be identified, said the operation was at a very early stage, but he indicated that more troops would follow to pursue the war against Osama Bin Laden and his Taleban protectors.

A Taleban official responded by saying their forces were ready and would relish the opportunity to avenge the past 12 days of air raids.

We don't want this fight but if there is a ground battle we would prefer that to aerial bombing

Taleban spokesman Abdul Hanan Hemat
A commander for the opposition Northern Alliance says that eight US personnel are working with him near the strategic town of Mazar-e-Sharif, but there has been no confirmation from Washington.

Click here for a map of Afghanistan's battle lines

Air strikes on the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the city of Kandahar have continued during daylight hours on the Muslim day of prayer - in contrast to last Friday, when the United States said it was making no planned raids on Afghanistan.

Amid the continuing attacks, the Taleban's representative to Pakistan has returned from consultations with the Taleban leadership in Kandahar with what he says is a plan to resolve the crisis.

The ambassador, Abdul Salam Zaeef, gave no details, saying " I have brought a plan with me...I will discuss it with Pakistani officials and disclose it afterwards."

The Taleban have so far have refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden - a key demand by Washington.

In other developments:

  • A Bin Laden aide, Egyptian Abu Baseer al-Masri, dies in a Jalalabad hospital after a grenade that he was holding exploded
  • President Bush and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin, meeting in Shanghai, agree on the need to work together to combat international terrorism
  • Iran agrees to allow refugee camps to be set up in "no-man's land" on its border with Afghanistan, after the Taleban authorities refused to allow such facilities on the Afghan side of the border
  • UNHCR officials say some 3,500 Afghans have poured over the border at Chaman into Pakistan, the biggest movement since strikes began
  • British-based charity, Christian Aid, says hundreds of people have died of starvation in Afghanistan recently - and thousands more could perish this winter as a result of the bombing campaign

US planes flying over Afghanistan have been broadcasting messages in local dialects warning people to stay off bridges and roads.

Mr Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing on Thursday evening that intelligence reports suggested that air raids in recent days had inflicted more damage than earlier attacks, leaving Bin Laden's forces vulnerable.

Taleban troops targeted

Bin Laden, is suspected of masterminding last month's terror attacks on New York and Washington that left more than 5,000 people dead.

Video footage of US special forces in training
US special forces seen here in training for possible action
"We have seen some movement of what we believe to be the al-Qaeda forces - and they have been specifically targeted while they were moving," Mr Rumsfeld said.

At least six civilians - including five members of one family - were killed in the capital Kabul during bombing on Thursday.

A senior Taleban spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmaen, said on Thursday that between 600 and 900 people had been killed or were missing as a result of 12 days of US-led strikes on Afghanistan. The US admits some bombs have gone astray but says the Taleban's figure is far too high.

Aid agencies' appeal

For the first time, Mr Rumsfeld has spoken of helping to arm the Northern Alliance.

"They're going to have some help in food, they're going to have some help in ammunition, they're going to have some help in air support and assistance," he said.

A group of six international aid agencies has called for a pause in the air strikes to allow food supplies to be delivered before Afghanistan's severe winter sets in.

But the US denied on Thursday that its bombing was hampering the aid delivery, accusing the Taleban of disrupting its delivery.

Launch new window : Detailed map
Click here for a detailed map of the strikes so far

Click here to return

The BBC's Jacky Rowland
"There are indications the campaign in Afghanistan is starting to move into a new phase"
The BBC's Humphrey Hawksley
"It was reported the troops had landed in the south of the country"
Defence analyst Paul Beaver
"They have probably landed quite a substantial force"
See also:

01 Oct 01 | Americas
Profile: US special forces
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden 'aide' killed in blast
19 Sep 01 | UK
The SAS: Primed for action
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
The Taleban military machine
18 Oct 01 | Americas
Life sentences for embassy bombers
19 Oct 01 | Europe
EU aims for unity on terror
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