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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 02:01 GMT
Taleban spy chief 'killed in raid'
Helicopters land at the marines' base at Kandahar airport
US marines have been scouring former al-Qaeda bases
The head of the Taleban's intelligence service, Qari Ahmadullah, has been killed in an American bombing raid, officials in the Afghan capital Kabul say.

Three other leading Taleban figures also died in the raid in Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan some days ago.

The news comes as Afghan forces are reported to be closing in on fugitive Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who Afghan authorities believe may be hiding in Helmand province

Up to 2,000 fighters are heading for a village near the town of Baghran, 100 miles (160 km) northwest of the regime's former stronghold of Kandahar, according to Afghan officials.

Body found

"Qari Ahmadullah was killed along with between 40 to 50 men in their headquarters... when American planes bombed the building," intelligence official Azimullah told the AFP news agency in Kabul.


His body was found on 31 December although some reports say he was killed four days earlier.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan officials said they hoped to capture Mullah Omar without bloodshed even though die-hard Taleban fighters are thought to be protecting him.

Negotiations

The intelligence chief of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, Haji Gullalai, said he is in talks with fighters in a neighbouring province to get them to hand over Mullah Omar.

A spokesman for Mr Gullalai, said: "We are still in contact with the people there to find a way to end this issue peacefully."

In Washington, the Pentagon spokesman, Admiral John Stufflebeem, confirmed that there were talks with anti-Taleban forces for the surrender of a number of Taleban units, but did not confirm they were on behalf of Mullah Omar.

Mullah Omar eluded capture when the Taleban's former stronghold of Kandahar fell to opposition forces last month following an intensive bombing campaign by the US.

Troops pave way

US Marines early on Wednesday scoured a compound in the mountains north of Kandahar, thought to have been used by al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.

afghan forces
Afghan forces are vying to capture Mullah Omar
Officials said the operation was to get information that could be used against Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network or Taleban forces.

US troops are still searching for Bin Laden, who is believed to be in eastern Afghanistan or across the border in Pakistan.

The US has blamed Bin Laden for the 11 September attacks in the US in which more than 3,000 people were killed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jane Bennet Powell
"500 Taleban prisoners have been released"
See also:

01 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush appoints Afghan envoy
02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Security force inspects Kabul
31 Dec 01 | South Asia
UK increases Kabul presence
29 Dec 01 | South Asia
Marines patrol streets of Kabul
19 Dec 01 | South Asia
UN bogged down over Afghan peacekeepers
27 Dec 01 | South Asia
Q&A: Afghan peacekeeping force
02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda to struggle on
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