KABUL - Afghan opposition forces entered the
heart of Kabul on Tuesday in defiance of international pressure
to stay out and there was no sign of the hardline ruling
Taliban after an exodus under the cover of darkness.
``We have taken Kabul,'' shouted one jubilant opposition
fighter as he stood with a group of fellow fighters on a street
in the city center on the 38th day since the start of the U.S.
The Taliban's offices in the city were deserted and some
were being plundered by looters. Residents said some prisoners
had broken out of jails abandoned by the Taliban.
``We have taken key government buildings,'' another
opposition fighter said. ``We are chasing the Taliban to the
Buoyed by the lightning capture of about 40 percent of the
country over the weekend and more than a month of blistering
U.S. air strikes on the Taliban, the Northern Alliance broke
through Taliban front lines outside Kabul on Monday backed by
U.S. bombing and a fierce artillery barrage.
After darkness fell on Monday, tanks, cars and battered
Japanese pickups packed with Taliban were seen leaving the
capital on the highway leading west and south to the
fundamentalist militia's stronghold of Kandahar.
CONTROVERSY OVER ENTERING CAPITAL
The United States has allied with the Northern Alliance in
fighting the Taliban to punish the militia for harboring Osama
bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 hijack attacks on
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But Washington had appealed to the Northern Alliance, made
up mainly of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, not to enter the
A Pentagon spokesman in Washington said ``we have no
information'' on the reports of the Taliban abandoning Kabul.
The alliance is deeply unpopular among Kabul's mainly
Pashtun population due to power struggles among opposition
leaders in the 1990s that unleashed almost daily rocket attacks
on the city and killed some 50,000 residents.
The United States had wanted a broad agreement on the
structure of any post-Taliban government before the Northern
Alliance entered Kabul.
There have been few signs of progress on such a deal.
The United Nations says it wants an urgent meeting of
Afghan leaders to discuss the country's political future.
The Northern Alliance had said it would prefer not to enter
Kabul until there was a political deal, but that it may move
its forces into the city if there was a power vacuum.
Opposition Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said on
Monday the Taliban were withdrawing from Kabul but that
Pakistani, Arab and Chechen fighters allied to bin Laden might
stay and fight.
``There has been a significant withdrawal toward Kandahar...
Ministers and high officials have left,'' he said. ``But the
foreigners, the terrorist groups in Kabul are making
preparations for street-to-street fighting. We do not want to
see any more fighting in Kabul. The civilians in Kabul have
The capital was taken after a full infantry assault on the
Taliban front line on Monday, backed by Northern Alliance tanks
and mortars. U.S. soldiers were seen in positions near the
front lines, apparently helping to coordinate the attacks.
OPPOSITION SAYS TAKES HERAT
After taking the strategic northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif
on Friday evening, the Northern Alliance has made lightning
gains across the country, taking most of the north and claiming
the capture of the western city of Herat.
Opposition spokesman Ashraf Nadeem said forces of veteran
opposition commander Ismail Khan had taken Herat on Monday and
were marching toward Kandahar, powerbase of Taliban supreme
leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
But the Taliban said they were still in control of Herat
and were launching a counter-attack in other parts of the
Taliban Foreign Ministry official Aziz Al-Rahman Abdul Ahad
told the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite channel that the
Taliban retreat from some areas was a deliberate strategy.
The opposition has yet to try to take on the Taliban in
their ethnic Pashtun strongholds in the south.
But tribal leader Hamid Karzai, on a mission to central and
south Afghanistan to try to persuade local chieftains to back
the return of former monarch Zahir Shah as head of a new
government, said many in the south were ready to abandon the
``We are not planning any military action here. I hope we
can resolve this without war,'' Karzai told Reuters on Monday.
''The civilian population is with us.''
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited