KABUL, Afghanistan – American airstrikes on a Taliban stronghold Tuesday night failed to kill any of the Islamist movement's top leaders, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan said the next morning.
"Mullah Mohammed Omar ... is safe and sound," Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef, referring to the Taliban's mysterious founder and supreme leader, told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press "He hasn't been hurt, nor any other Taliban leader."
American B1-B heavy bombers and F-16 fighter-bombers joined in the attack on the compound near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. The Pentagon said the facility was being used by Taliban leaders, members of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization and Wafa, a Saudi humanitarian group suspected of aiding bin Laden.
"It clearly was a leadership area," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters Tuesday night, and those targeted were "nontrivial."
"Whoever was there is going to wish they weren't," he added.
Zaeff told the AIP that the American planes hit the house of a local Taliban leader in Kandahar's Dand area, not an Al Qaeda base, and that neither Mullah Omar nor any other high-ranking Taliban were present. He gave no details of casualties.
Of an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, several hundred have been killed, including seven considered to be leaders, U.S. officials in Washington said on condition of anonymity.
Elsewhere in the Afghan war, Kandahar appeared to descending into anarchy, a summit of Afghan leaders in Germany appeared to be going well, a Canadian journalist had reportedly been kidnapped and the CIA confirmed that one of its men had been killed in the prison rebellion near Mazar-e-Sharif.
James F. Dobbins, the U.S. Central Asia envoy, called the first day of talks between four different Afghan groups — including Northern Alliance representatives, a faction representing the exiled king, and Pashtun leaders from the south — a positive start.
But later in the day, Northern Alliance delegates rejected the idea of a United Nations security force for the war-torn, ethnically complex country.
"We don't feel a need for an outside force. There is security in place," Northern Alliance delegation leader Younus Qanooni told reporters — referring to the alliance's own forces.
Also in Germany, federal authorities arrested a man in Hamburg suspected of having direct links to the hijackers who flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11.
With U.S. Marines in the surrounding desert and American planes in the air above, Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban and the movement's last stronghold, was cut off from the world.
"All soldiers and officials have been ordered to be prepared to leave Kandahar at any moment," the South Asian Dispatch Agency quoted an unidentified Taliban deputy commander in the city as saying. The report could not be independently verified.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander running the war, on Tuesday described the situation inside Kandahar as "very confused" — an observation born out by reports from residents and travelers reaching Pakistan. Franks also said he had evidence that Al Qaeda fighters were looking for ways out of the city.
Kandahar residents, reached by telephone, said Taliban fighters were positioning anti-aircraft guns and mortars on hilltops surrounding the city. But the center of the city appeared largely deserted. Remaining Taliban fighters seemed demoralized and increasingly fearful of U.S. attack, the residents said on condition they not be named.
In the town of Spinboldak, nine miles from the Pakistani border, witnesses said Afghan refugees in a Taliban-administered camp raided two warehouses Tuesday and looted blankets and food which had been delivered from Pakistan.
In Spinboldak itself, few Taliban soldiers patrolled the streets and their main checkpoint was vacant Tuesday, according to local farmer Ghoar Noorzai. Taliban guards could not be seen on the Afghan side of the border at Chaman.
"They roam around, but they don't bother people," Noorzai said of the Taliban.
Negotiations for the Taliban surrender of Spinboldak had failed, Reuters reported, and the possibility of a battle for the border town loomed.
"Now there is no other option except war," Gul Agha, one Pashtun tribal commander among four trying to seize the town, told Reuters.
Near Kandahar, Canadian freelance reporter Ken Hechtman was detained Tuesday in Taliban-held territory, according to Alastair Sutherland, editor of the Montreal Mirror. The identity of his captors was not clear.
The body of CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann was recovered Wednesday at the Qalai Jingha fortress compound outside Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Spann, the first American known to be killed in action "in country" since U.S. bombing began, was thought to have died as captured foreign Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners he was questioning began their uprising Sunday.
CIA Director George J. Tenet, addressing agency employees Wednesday morning, called Spann an American hero and said his fellow officers should "continue the mission."
Spann, 32, of Winfield, Ala., joined the CIA in June 1999, having previously served in the Marine Corps. He was married with three children.
Five American special forces soldiers were wounded by "friendly fire" during the Qalai Jingha battle when a U.S. bomb exploded near them. They were airlifted to Uzbekistan, and then flown to recuperate in Germany.
At the fortress, ethnic Uzbek warlord Gen. Rashid Dostum walked Wednesday through a corpse-filled courtyard as the prisoner uprising against his forces dragged into its fourth day.
"Two dangerous people are still there," the grizzled Soviet-trained Northern Alliance general said of the insurrectionists fighting on inside his headquarters as Red Cross and Red Crescent workers wearing rubber gloves removed bodies.
"Maybe some are lying among corpses," Gen. Dostum said, warning journalists to stay away from the southern section of the fort where he said pro-Taliban fighters could still be alive. "They are suicidal people and one can expect anything from them."
U.S. and British special forces and American airstrikes were heavily involved in quelling the revolt, which started when some among hundreds of Chechen, Arab and Pakistani fighters captured in the battle for Kunduz whipped out grenades and automatic weapons they had concealed in their robes.
Northern Alliance officials said some 450 prisoners were killed over three days, as were 30 to 50 alliance troops.
An Associated Press photographer who wandered into the southern sector saw a field with about 50 bodies laid out. Black scarves bound their arms, and alliance fighters were cutting the bonds from the bodies with knives and scissors. At least one fighter pried gold fillings from a corpse.
Shabudin, a Northern Alliance soldier, said his comrades had been tying the hands of some Taliban fighters believed to be Arabs when the uprising began Sunday.
But Gen. Dostum denied his forces had restrained the prisoners.
"We did not tie them. We brought them here to be safer," he said. "We behaved brotherly with them. We treated prisoners according to human rights."
Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights organization, on Tuesday called for an inquiry into the uprising and the "proportionality of the response" by the Northern Alliance and U.S. and British military personnel.
President Bush launched the military campaign against Afghanistan on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to surrender bin Laden for his role in the September terrorist attacks that killed 3,600 people in the United States.
The Associated Press contributed to this report