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Signs strengthened that the US-led attacks against Afghan-istan's Taliban regime were about to involve units on the ground - if they aren't there already. British Prime Minister Tony Blair hinted broadly of such a move before Parliament. His Australian counterpart, John Howard, said elite Special Air Service troops "will be overseas fighting in our name within a very short time." And Iran's state radio said "informed sources" were reporting that US helicopters had entered Afghan territory and "deployed troops around Kandahar."

A heavy Taliban counteroffensive appeared to be under way to repel forces of the Northern Alliance from their bid to take the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The Taliban assault was said to involve tanks. But US airstrikes for the first time reportedly were targeting Taliban front-line positions, and smoke from a burning fuel dump could be seen as far away as the capital, Kabul. Above, a Northern Alliance fighter stacks boxes of shells at a front-line position.

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Humanitarian aid groups joined a senior Taliban official in appealing for a "timeout" in the US-led attacks - the former so that more food supplies could be rushed to Afghan civilians before the onset of winter. UN sources said the Taliban had seized 7,000 tons of wheat intended for Afghan civilians from warehouses in Kabul and Kandahar. Meanwhile, Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil reportedly asked for a slowing of the US assault so Taliban moderates could reassess their stand on Osama bin Laden. In a secret trip to Pakistan, Muttawakil proposed handing over bin Laden for trial in a third country even without seeing evidence of his involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported.

The militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the murder of Israel's outgoing tourism minister and vowed more attacks against senior leaders. Rehavam Zeevi, who'd advocated the "transfer" of Arabs from Israeli-claimed territory, was shot as he answered the door to his Jerusalem hotel room. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat ordered the unknown assailants arrested. But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Arafat was solely to blame, vowed "a war without mercy against the terrorists," and suspended all political contacts with Palestinians. (Story, page 6.)

Despite Secretary of State Powell's two days of diplomacy to try easing tensions in the region, India and Pakistan quickly resumed their war of words over disputed Kashmir. As Powell flew on to China, Pakistan alleged "threatening" new troops movements. India angrily denied the claim as a "complete fabrication."


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