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Northern Alliance Troops Near Capital, Push Westward to Iran

By Paul Watson

and Maura Reynolds
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- jabal-us-saraJ, afghanistan

Opposition forces firing a barrage of artillery and rockets fought their way close to the Afghan capital on Monday after intense U.S. B-52 strikes blasted huge holes in the Taliban’s front lines.

Northern Alliance forces also pushed westward all the way to the Iranian border and encircled the northern city of Kunduz, a strongly pro-Taliban area, alliance officials said. After three days of fighting, the alliance now appears to control half of Afghanistan.

Following several hours of relentless U.S. airstrikes that began Sunday night, Northern Alliance forces launched their long-awaited offensive toward the capital, Kabul, on Monday morning. After about 10 hours, they had stopped approximately one mile from the city, the alliance’s foreign minister, Abdullah, told reporters. A second unit of 6,000 soldiers battled north of the capital and came to within 3 1/2 miles, he said.

Taliban soldiers withdrew from Kabul in trucks heading toward their eastern stronghold of Kandahar, he said. According to at least one report, U.S. fighter jets strafed them as they fled.

At the Pentagon, officials said alliance advances were encouraging, and they acknowledged that Taliban troops appeared to be fleeing the capital. Even so, they stressed that the situation remained “fluid” and said there was a substantial possibility of a counterattack that could wipe out some of the gains.

It was not apparent how far the Northern Alliance intended to press the offensive. The United States had earlier advised the alliance not to seize the capital until a plan for a post-Taliban government is laid out. In New York, representatives of Afghanistan’s six neighbors, plus the United States and Russia, were meeting to try to devise such a plan.

Northern Alliance forces had stopped their advance on Kabul not because of Taliban resistance but “because we didn’t want to move in,” Abdullah said. Some members of the Northern Alliance’s leadership council met Monday night to decide whether to proceed into the capital Tuesday.

The regions of Afghanistan still under Taliban control, largely in the south along the border with Pakistan, are for the most part ethnic Pashtun, a group from which the Taliban draws most of its support. If a popular uprising does not get rid of the Islamic fundamentalist rulers in the south, the country could end up partitioned.

The alliance says its gains in the last few days show that it can deal with terrorists and the Taliban on its own, without the need for a large number of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan.

“I hope that this problem will not be prolonged throughout the winter,” Abdullah said.