Anti-Taliban troops demand surrender in Tora Bora

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Anti-Taliban forces have set a deadline for the unconditional surrender of al-Qa'ida fighters flushed out out of their Tora Bora cave hide-outs.

Mohammed Zaman, defence chief for the tribal eastern alliance, declared a ceasefire and demanded that the al-Qa'ida force walk out of the Tora Bora and Milawa valleys in eastern Afghanistan by 8am local time tomorrow or face a new attack. He said they must submit to international prosecution.

However, it is far from certain whether all al-Qa'ida forces around Tora Bora would take part in any truce or were willing to commit to a total surrender. In the past, forces loyal to bin Laden have vowed to fight to the death.

The contact came after Hazrat Ali, a senior commander with the tribal eastern alliance, said his forces had taken one of two peaks on Enzeri Zur mountain. Hundreds of al-Qa'ida fighters had made a stand there after being flushed from their cave shelters overnight by massive US bombing and raids by American troops.

Afghan troops said dozens of heavily armed US soldiers, thought to be from special forces units, made lightning raids against key al-Qa'ida positions overnight and returned to a camp at nearby Pacir village before dawn.

Front–line commanders of the eastern alliance said hundreds of al-Qa'ida members, loyal to Osama bin Laden, were now making a stand atop of Enzeri Zur, a peak that overlooks the Milawa and Tora Bora valleys that were both captured Monday amid fierce fighting.

They said the al-Qa'ida force, mainly consisting of Arabs and other foreign Muslims, was blocked on three sides and might attempt a retreat along the Kharoti Pass, a high and often snowbound track that leads south into neighboring Pakistan.

"All al–Qa'ida forces are now gathering on the mountaintop," said one tribal commander, Spin Jabarkhil. "We are trying our best to cut them off from going to Pakistan."

As heavy fighting raged on Tuesday, it was not possible to verify whether all al–Qa'ida troops had been forced to abandon the vast network of caverns and tunnels at Tora Bora.

And, there was no indication that bin Laden, who many believe might be hiding somewhere in or near the Tora Bora area, was with the al–Qa'ida fighters who were being targeted by swooping US fighter jets.

Shelling and heavy machine–gun fire echoed across the valleys as several B–52s and US surveillance aircraft circled above. There were sightings of US helicopters as well.

Across the Afghan border in neighboring Pakistan, Pakistani soldiers have been deployed on mountains south of Tora Bora to stop al–Qa'ida fighters from crossing the 4,700 White Mountains.

Eastern alliance forces launched a three–pronged assault against al–Qa'ida defenders following days of intense US bombing, including 15,000lb "daisy cutter" bombs used to attack caves and underground command centers.