Victorious Northern Alliance troops swept into Kunduz in brutal style yesterday, shooting wounded prisoners and leaving them to die in the city's marketplace as they ended a two-week resistance by Taliban forces in their last stronghold in northern Afghanistan.
Hopes of a peaceful end to the standoff were shattered as Northern Alliance soldiers embarked on house-to-house searches looking for hidden Taliban forces. Up to 5,000 Taliban forces were said to have surrendered, some of whom were hauled away in trucks with their arms tied behind their backs with scraps of cloth.
In scenes that will fuel criticisms of the alliance, and of Washington's backing of them, the fly-covered bodies of three Afghan Taliban fighters were left on empty stalls in Kunduz's marketplace. Local residents said that the men were captured after they were wounded in fighting on Sunday. They were shot dead by alliance forces yesterday.
Northern alliance soldiers drag a Taliban fighter in the town of Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, Monday Nov. 26 2001. The fighter was later taken away by truck and his fate is unknown. According to residents, many soldiers had been wounded and captured in fighting Sunday, then executed Monday. Each man's big toes had been tied together to keep him from running before he was shot. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
If true, the residents' claims would blow apart an agreement between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. Under the accord, Afghan Talibans were meant to be granted an amnesty. Foreign fighters, mainly Pakistani, Chechens and Saudis, were to be imprisoned and tried.
The alliance defended its conduct, saying that its forces met resistance as they entered the city. Fierce fighting broke out at daybreak yesterday as the main contingent of alliance troops entered the city.
Taliban forces ambushed the alliance with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades as they entered the city. Thousands of alliance troops, who rushed into the city along dusty streets in trucks, fought back. They admitted that their forces had killed around 100 Taliban in street fighting.
But the scenes of violence will be used by critics of the alliance, who see it as a brutal organization that has no interest in bringing together Afghanistan's rival ethnic groups.
Despite the scenes of violence, the alliance was jubilant as it celebrated the capture of Kunduz after a two-week siege. In an immediate rewriting of history, an alliance spokesman, Alauddin, told Reuters by satellite telephone from the town of Arganak, just west of Kunduz: "We have captured Kunduz and there is no fighting."
Qudratullah Hurmat, another spokesman, said the city's defenders - even foreign volunteers expected to fight to the death - were laying down their weapons.
At a press conference in Kabul, the Northern Alliance said that it now controlled the city of Kunduz but was still facing "pockets of resistance" to the west. Thousands of Taliban soldiers and Arab fighters were giving themselves up, said Abdullah Abdullah, the alliance foreign minister.
"In one area there are 2,000 Taliban including foreigners who have surrendered to the joint commission," he said. "They left behind their tanks and heavy armor and surrendered their weapons."
Alim Razim, an adviser to the alliance commander General Rashid Dostam, said that 5,000 Taliban had eventually surrendered to his forces. Most were locals who were released. But 750 Talibans, who were suspected of being foreigners, were imprisoned at Gen Dostam's base near Mazar-i-Sharif, the scene of yesterday's continuing violence.
A group of Arab supporters of Osama bin Laden are reported to have broken out of Kunduz yesterday and fled to the nearby town of Chardara, just west of Kunduz. The alliance claimed that they were encircled, with nowhere to run.
Aid workers said Kunduz remained extremely volatile. "The situation in Kunduz is not stable yet," said Khaled Mansour, a spokesman for the UN World Food Programme.
However, a few of the city's Tajik minority, the same ethnic group as the alliance, ventured on to the streets. "The Taliban are gone and the people are saved," said Sayeed Rachman, an old man with a grey beard. "Now we have safety."
The fall of Kunduz ends the Taliban's presence in northern Afghanistan and allows American bombers to concentrate their firepower on Mullah Omar's stronghold of Kandahar. American B-52 bombers have stepped up their raids in the past week to flush the Taliban out.
Pakistan made clear last night that it was worried about the fate of its citizens who had joined the Taliban.
A spokesman for the foreign ministry, Aziz Ahmed Khan, said that prisoners who surrender should be treated in accordance with international law. He said Pakistan had asked the UN and the Red Cross to try to find out whether there were any Pakistanis among the dead in Mazar-i-Sharif.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001