The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 17, 2001
Taliban set to lose key
city, opposition forces contend
SANG, Afghanistan - Forces opposed to the Taliban said yesterday that they
were on the verge of capturing the key northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-e
Sharif in what could be the first significant power shift attributed to 10
days of relentless American bombing.
Qanooni, a high-ranking official in the Northern Alliance, said troops had
encircled Mazar-e Sharif and yesterday captured its military airport.
American bombing has weakened the Taliban front lines, wiping out Taliban
ammunition stores and undermining their morale," said Qanooni, a
member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic States of Afghanistan, the
exiled government that was ousted from Kabul in 1996 by the Taliban.
Sharif will be taken in the next day or two, if it hasn't fallen
already," said Gen. Mohammed Shari Tawasali, a Northern Alliance
commander based in the town of Golbahar.
claims could not be confirmed, and the Northern Alliance has a reputation
the alliance were to recapture Mazar-e Sharif, it would be a significant
reversal of fortunes for the coalition of ethnic groups and political
parties opposed to the Taliban, the hard-line Islamic movement accused of
harboring terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden.
the United States began its bombing campaign to punish the Taliban and bin
Laden for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, opposition
forces had been steadily losing ground in recent years against Taliban
forces bolstered by foreign troops, including Arabs under bin Laden's
Sharif is the largest city in northern Afghanistan, the hub for supply
routes across the north and a link to neighboring Uzbekistan, where U.S.
troops are stationed during the military campaign against the Taliban.
city was captured in 1998 by the Taliban, which murdered thousands of
opposition figures and reportedly kidnapped 400 women as concubines for
the foreign warriors who are the Taliban's shock troops. The Taliban's
murder of 11 Iranian diplomats and a journalist in Mazar-e Sharif nearly
led to war between Iran, an opponent of the Taliban, and Pakistan, the
chief supporter, which had guaranteed the safety of the diplomats.
Northern Alliance's recapture of the city, once a center for textile
manufacturing and known as one of Afghanistan's most liberal cities
because of the presence of Balkh University, would cut off land supply
routes to the nearby cities of Taloqan, Kundoz and Baglan, all now under
a strategic city," Qanooni said from his office in this village in
the opposition-held Panjshir River valley about 50 miles north of the
capital, Kabul. "It is connected to trade routes throughout the
north. Its fall would undermine Taliban positions in other nearby
provinces," said Qanooni, who is a close aide to the alliance's
defense chief, Gen. Mohammed Fahim.
much of the world's attention and television cameras have been focused on
Northern Alliance forces entrenched in a front line only 25 miles from
Kabul, opposition leaders said they had been aiming forces on cities in
the north. Those cities are considered more vulnerable to capture since
the Taliban removed its crack defenders last week to shore up lines around
their southern strongholds of Kandahar, Jalalabad and Kabul.
U.S. air raids have avoided attacking frontline Taliban positions around
Kabul, the American bombers have shown less restraint attacking Taliban
positions around Mazar-e Sharif, Qanooni said.
Alliance troops under commander Ato Mukhammad were a few miles northeast
of Mazar-e Sharif and troops headed by Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum were
approaching from the northwest.
troops reportedly fought around Mazar-e Sharif yesterday, the front lines
around Kabul remained quiet despite the continued U.S. air campaign.
fleeing Kabul for areas under Northern Alliance control said that
residents were becoming unnerved since American bombers began
are hitting the airport and airplanes," said Azor Gul, 32, a Kabul
shopkeeper who walked over mountains with his family yesterday and boarded
a battered green panel truck that was bristling with 17 passengers.
"All the time, bombing. At night, in the morning, 24 hours. The
children are crying all the time, so we're getting out."
Alliance officials in the Panjshir Valley yesterday contradicted an
Associated Press report from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, that the Northern
Alliance planned to pull out of a plan devised by Afghanistan's former
king to determine how to govern the country once the Taliban is ousted.
who negotiated the agreement with former monarch Mohammad Zahir Shah at
his home in Rome, said the Northern Alliance was going ahead with naming
its 60-member contingent to the 120-person "loya jirga" - a
traditional council to choose a leader.
said the alliance would not accept moderate former members of the Taliban
on the council, which puts the opposition movement at odds with Pakistan,
which announced yesterday that it would accept the traditional council as
long as former Taliban members were included.
Taliban has not changed," Qanooni said. "We thought maybe they
would, and people with democratic views would emerge, but there are none.
There are no intellectuals in the Taliban."