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Tape said to be of Taliban leader

THE BALTIMORE SUN

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A Pakistani television station broadcast an audiotape yesterday that it said was the voice of the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.

The voice on the tape challenged the Afghan government and foreign troops in the country, contending they did not have the wisdom to solve the increasing unrest.

Two foreign soldiers in the coalition fighting the insurgency in Kandahar province in the south were killed yesterday.

A joint force of Afghan and coalition soldiers clashed with a small group of militants in a district west of Kandahar, where heavy fighting occurred in May. The insurgents fled to a nearby compound, where they were joined by others, a coalition military statement said. "Afghan and coalition forces pressed the attack with joint fires and a ground assault, killing an estimated 45 extremists in the firefight," the statement said.

The fighting was part of an effort to quell the insurgency by a force of 11,000 coalition troops spread across five provinces of southern Afghanistan.

The taped message was broadcast on Geo TV, a commercial Pakistani station. The station said it was the voice of Omar, whose government sheltered Osama bin Laden and was ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

The station said the tape was from a recent meeting of Taliban leaders in Helmand province in the south. Some of the heaviest clashes of late have occurred in the province, where 3,000 British troops are. The tape's authenticity could not be confirmed.

"They cannot solve the issue of Afghanistan based on their wisdom and thinking," the voice on the tape said.

Afghanistan is a Muslim country where outsiders will never be able to impose their ideology, it said. "The rulers of Kabul will not be able to run the country with the wisdom of others, and God willing they will be destroyed," the tape said. Taunting President Hamid Karzai, the voice said: "If today the American military abandons you, you have no standing. Russia's military also came to Afghanistan - remember its fate."

Karzai denounced the claims on the tape, calling Omar a coward and saying that if he were "really in charge," he should emerge from hiding and "face the danger that he is causing to hundreds of young people in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Omar and bin Laden were "definitely" not in Afghanistan, Karzai said on CNN's Late Edition. "They don't dare come to Afghanistan."

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