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Afghanistan: Allies See Progress In War Against Taliban

Islamabad, 8 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say they believe progress is being made in the U.S.-led war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. Speaking at a joint White House news conference, both leaders predicted ultimate victory for the allies in Afghanistan and in the war against terrorism. The two leaders spoke as the Afghan military campaign moved into its second month.

Bush said he believed Taliban power is crumbling under attacks by American warplanes and pressure from the opposition Northern Alliance.

"We know that slowly but surely the Taliban is crumbling. Its defenses are crumbling, its folks are defecting. We know that if you're on the front line and if you're a Taliban soldier, you're likely to get injured, because we're relentless in pursuit of the mission."

Blair said he was confident progress had been made in destroying the Al-Qaeda network of Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and in weakening the Taliban's military capabilities.

"Literally, we have destroyed virtually all the terrorist training camps of Al-Qaeda. We've destroyed an enormous amount of the military infrastructure of the Taliban. Their airpower, in so far as it existed, is completely taken out."

Blair added that military operations beyond air strikes would be needed to defeat the Taliban. However, he gave no further details.

The two leaders spoke as anti-Taliban forces claimed to have gained ground in the push to capture the strategic northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. U.S. warplanes have been bombing Taliban targets in the north in a bid to aid opposition forces.

Afghanistan's Taliban militia denies opposition forces are close to the strategic northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The opposition Northern Alliance yesterday said its forces were within striking distance of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province.

The Afghan Islamic Press today quoted a Taliban spokesman in Kabul as saying the militia had repulsed three opposition attacks 100 kilometers southwest of the city.

It was not possible to independently confirm those claims.

The Taliban spokesman acknowledged that Zari district west of Mazar-i-Sharif is controlled by the opposition but denied their claims to have captured two other districts, Keshendeh and Sholgera to the north.

The AIP, meanwhile, said U.S. warplanes overnight and early today pounded Taliban positions north of Kabul and in the north-central provinces of Balkh and Samangan.