Kabul, 15 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition forces and the United States say they believe the Taliban's hold over Afghanistan is continuing to crumble, with much of the country coming under the control of the Northern Alliance or other anti-Taliban forces. Reports said military pressure was being applied against the Taliban's southern stronghold of Kandahar, but Taliban representatives said the militia remains in control there.
Taliban representatives said accused terrorist organizer Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar were both safe and in Afghanistan.
U.S. military officials said they believed anti-Taliban groups were rebelling against the Taliban near Kandahar. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. Special Forces have been deployed to watch key roads in southern Afghanistan to hunt for Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
News agencies quote a U.S. official as saying U.S. warplanes bombed and destroyed a building where members of the Al-Qaeda network were believed to have gathered. But the official said it was not known exactly who was in the building when it was destroyed.
Eight Western aid workers held in Afghanistan by the Taliban have been freed and have been flown by the U.S. military to Pakistan, where they are reported in good physical health.
The aid workers -- two American women, two Australians, and four Germans -- had been detained since August for allegedly preaching Christianity to Muslim Afghans in violation of Taliban rules.
President George W. Bush, who had demanded that the Taliban release the aid workers, said the workers had been pulled out of Afghanistan in an operation Bush called a "facilitated rescue" by the U.S. military.
Bush did not provide details, but said U.S. forces had received cooperation from groups on the ground in Afghanistan, including the International Red Cross.
"I am thankful they're (the aid workers) safe, I am pleased with the way our military has conducted its operations, and I am glad to report to the American people that this chapter of the Afghan theater has ended in a very positive and constructive way."
The release has also been welcomed by the German and Australian governments.
The aid workers, employed by the German-based organization Shelter Now International, were briefly put on trial by the Taliban before they were taken out of Kabul this week as the Taliban abandoned the capital.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council has called on all of Afghanistan's ethnic groups to come together for a UN-sponsored conference to form a transitional government.
The resolution, approved unanimously, also urges all Afghan forces to refrain from acts of reprisal amid the crumbling of Taliban rule across the country.
The resolution, drafted by the British and French, does not explicitly mention a multinational security force, but instead encourages UN member countries to help maintain order in areas no longer under Taliban control. British and French officials said another resolution would be required to authorize any international Afghan peacekeeping force.
Diplomats said the Security Council wants the top UN envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, to quickly convene a meeting of Afghan leaders with the aim of agreeing a provisional government. No decision on a venue or time for such a meeting has been officially announced.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a team of UN staff led by envoy Francesc Vendrell would arrive in Kabul on 16 November.
Also, an envoy for Afghanistan's anti-Taliban opposition has expressed regret for "any ill treatment" of Afghans following the Taliban's withdrawal from Kabul.
Ravan Farhadi, representative of the pre-Taliban government of ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani, spoke yesterday at the United Nations. He told the General Assembly that opposition forces were forced to deploy what he called a limited number of police in Kabul because the withdrawal of the Taliban had left the capital on the verge of mayhem. He called incidents of "ill treatment" of individuals by opposition forces "isolated" cases.
Farhadi said the Northern Alliance is committed to building a broad-based post-Taliban government and has no intention to "monopolize" power. He called for all Afghan ethnic groups to have representation in a new political framework developed under UN supervision.
The Rabbani faction, which dominates the Northern Alliance, remained recognized by the UN as Afghanistan's official government throughout Taliban rule.