US forces hit convoy near Kandahar

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US Marines went into action in southern Afghanistan, as Navy F–14 Tomcat jets attacked an armoured convoy of 15 vehicles. It was the Marines' first known action since establishing a foothold yesterday near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Some of the vehicles in the column were destroyed.

The Taliban's days in Kandahar appeared numbered with the arrival of US Marines, who seized an airstrip west of the city without resistance and established a forward base for operations against what was left of the Taliban leadership.

The Marines' commander, Gen. James Mattis, said more than 1,000 troops would be on the ground within 48 hours in striking distance of Kandahar, the last city under Taliban control.

Much of the north is dominated by ethnic and cultural minorities, but the south is the home ground of the Taliban's fellow ethnic Pashtuns, and the militia would fight to the death, a spokesman, Mullah Abdullah, told the Pakistan–based Afghan Islamic Press.

He said Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was still in Kandahar and in command of his troops.

Kandahar appeared largely deserted Monday, except for pickup trucks of Taliban soldiers armed with rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs, according to residents contacted by phone.

With US forces on the ground in the south, Pashtun tribal leaders urged the Taliban to abandon Kandahar and other towns to spare them from American attack.

The tribal leaders met Taliban representatives in the border town of Spin Boldak, near Kandahar, early Tuesday, and tribal leader Mohammed Anwar Achakzai said a formal handover of the border town was imminent.