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Taliban mobilizes for war

Mullah Zaeef: Bin Laden cannot be found
Mullah Zaeef: Bin Laden cannot be found  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Afghanistan's ruling Taliban says it is mobilizing some 300,000 troops in preparation for possible U.S.-led strikes on the country.

The announcement was followed shortly afterward by news that the Pakistani foreign ministry has pulled out all of its diplomatic staff from the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Citing security concerns, spokesman Riaz M. Khan said the staff were withdrawn over the weekend and are now in Pakistan.

"We do not have now any presence in Kabul or other cities," Khan said.

"In view of the abnormal situation and the security of our personnel, they were withdrawn over the weekend. So they are in Pakistan."

Flood of Afghan refugees feared
Alliance moves to take on Taliban

He added that the Taliban still have a diplomatic presence in Islamabad.

With the prospect of military strikes growing, the Taliban have ordered their forces to prepare for a jihad, or 'Holy war', if the U.S. attacks Afghanistan.

"In view of the current conditions, 300,000 well-experienced and equipped men have been stationed in the center [of the country], at borders and other significant areas, in addition to its former detachments," Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah said in a statement read by the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef to reporters in Islamabad.

"All detachments of the national defense ministry are ready for the defense of their religion and country with full vigor and order."

During the press conference, Mullah Zaeef, reiterated that the Taliban could not locate suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

He said that Mulllah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, had accepted last week's edict from senior clerics that bin Laden should be asked to leave the country voluntarily.

However, he said bin Laden could not be found by Taliban officials and therefore the edict could not be passed on -- repeating the claim the Taliban made on Sunday.

That claim was dismissed by the U.S. administration's top security advisers.

The United States has pressed the Taliban regime to immediately turn bin Laden over to American authorities and dismantle the operations of his al Qaeda terror network within their borders.

The Taliban have refused, saying they want proof of bin Laden's involvement in the September 11 attacks.

'Not credible'

Speaking in Washington Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said they saw no reason to believe the Taliban were telling the truth.

"The fact is, the Taliban do know where the al Qaeda organization is, and the fact they are saying they don't is simply not credible," Rumsfeld told reporters.

Rice, speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, said the time has come for the Taliban to demonstrate what they know and acknowledge that bin Laden and al Qaeda have a long, proven record of violent activity and sharp rhetoric against the United States.

"The Taliban should recognize that this has a long history," she said.

"Prior to September 11, al Qaeda was behind the bombing of U.S. embassies. Osama bin Laden was indicted for these bombings, and we know they were associated with the bombing of the [USS] Cole."

The United States has evidence, "historical and otherwise," Rice said, that it will lay out to allies, other anti-terrorism coalition participants and the American people in due time.

"We are not going to jeopardize this investigation in order to satisfy the Taliban," she said.

There were indications from Rice that the United States may be poised to take up an offer of cooperation by Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, which has been battling the Taliban for control of the civil war-ravaged country since the early 1990s.

The Alliance controls the northernmost 10 percent of Afghanistan and several pockets of territory deep within its mountains -- territory near which bin Laden and other al Qaeda operatives might be inclined to take refuge.

The Alliance offered the United States some indication Sunday of where it believes bin Laden to be.

Front line clashes

Bin Laden: Wanted for the September 11 terrorist attacks
Bin Laden: Wanted for the September 11 terrorist attacks  

On Monday, Alliance forces stepped up their campaign against the Taliban ahead of possible U.S. attacks.

Senior officials in the Northern Alliance say that their forces captured a strategic district from the Taliban Sunday, but officials in Kabul officials say their troops recaptured the district, after heavy fighting.

Alliance commanders say they need air support from the U.S. if they are to continue putting pressure on the Taliban.

CNN's Steve Harrigan who is reporting from Alliance controlled territory, just behind the frontline in northern Afghanistan, says he has seen forces gearing up to make new advances with heavy exchanges of fire taking place early Monday morning.

He says commanders have told him they have offered their services to the U.S., providing them with intelligence on the identity and whereabouts of key Taliban figures.

"We can be the eyes and ears of the Americans on the ground," Harrigan quoted Alliance commanders as saying.

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