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Opposition Forces Enter Kabul as Taliban Withdraw
Published on Tuesday, November 13, 2001 by Reuters
Northern Alliance Defies US, UK
Opposition Forces Enter Kabul as Taliban Withdraw
by Sayed Salahuddin
 
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. war.

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 west.''

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 capital.

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 suffered enough.''

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 country.

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 Taliban.

``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

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