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'MAZAR SHARIF CAPTURED BY THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE AFTER 4,000 TALIBAN FIGHTERS SWITCHED SIDES - 18 OCT 2001'


11th September 2001
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FROM: http://www.iran-press-service.com/articles_2001/oct_2001/mazar_sharif_ captured_181001.htm

MAZAR SHARIF CAPTURED BY GENERAL DUSTOM:

RUSSIA’S NTV

MOSCOW 18 Oct. (IPS) Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum has captured the strategic city of Mazar Sharif, with the assistance of 4,000 Taleban fighters who switched sides after joining his ranks, a Russian Television station reported Wednesday.

Amid confusing reports about the fate of the key city, known as the "northern gateway of Afghanistan", the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance (NA) said Uzbek warlord Dostum’s troops entered Mazar Sharif from the south and southeast, the NTV channel reported, quoted by French news agency Agence France Presse.

However, there was no independent confirmation of the report.

The Northern Alliance, led by ousted Afghan president Borhaneddin Rabbani, ferried arms and ammunition by helicopter to Dustom, who has managed to cover the distance of 30-40 km in a couple of days, without facing much resistance after local Taleban field commanders with 4,000 fighters joined his ranks, NTV reported from the Afghan opposition headquarters in Khajeh Baha’eddin, the Head Quarters of the late legendary Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Mas’ood.

Earlier, quoting Afghan embassy sources in Tajik capital Dushanbe, the Itar-Tass news agency had reported heavy fighting near the former "capital" of the Northern Alliance airport between another NA field commander and the Taleban units, mostly consisting of Pakistanis and Arab mercenaries.

According to NTV, the opposition forces are in a hurry to establish control over Mazar Sharif before the launching of US ground attack from the Uzbekistan territory to gain a bargaining position.

The US Special Forces could be planning to make Mazar Sharif their main base for advancing deep into Afghanistan, "just like the Soviets did in 1979", NTV added.

In Qandahar, the military onslaught against Afghanistan took a decisive turn, with the US forces bombing Taleban in the first low-level aerial attacks of the campaign. Targets inside Kabul were hit in the afternoon.

The daytime raids followed all-night attacks involving at least two AC-130 gunships - a heavily armoured plane with formidable cannon firepower and a helicopter-like ability to move slowly.

The deployment of AC-130 over Qandahar, the home of Taleban leader Mollah Mohammad Omar, was confirmed by US defence officials, who described the latest round of bombing as ‘‘robust’’. A US defence official said the gunship targeted a headquarters and ‘‘troop complex’’ in Qandahar.

Their use marked a significant departure for a campaign, which, since its launch on October 7, has been conducted by fighter jets flying at high altitude to avoid Taleban air defences. The use of AC-130 was seen as another sign that the US is fast moving towards the deployment of troops inside Afghanistan.

As NTV was reporting the capture of Mazar Sharif, another Northern Alliance general, Esma’il Khan claimed that five Taleban commanders, including one general, defected to his side with 900 soldiers, "complete with arms and ammunitions".

He said as he continues to advance towards the strategic city of Heart, so far he had not received any help from the Americans, but added that he was planning his march to Heart with General Dustom and other Alliance commanders.

Meanwhile, informed Afghan sources confirmed Wednesday new fighting between Taleban soldiers and police with Arabs fighters under the command of Osama Ben Laden’s "Al-Qa’eda" organisation in several Taleban-controlled cities, including Jalalabad and Qandahar.

They also confirmed reports that Taleban’s Foreign Minister, Ahmad Vakil Motevakel had traveled secretly to an undisclosed locality in Pakistan were he met with American, British and Pakistani envoys.

However, the whereabouts of Mr. Motevakel, described as a "moderate Taleban" favouring talks with the Americans was not known.

Sources in Dubai denied reports that he had traveled to the United Arab Emirates, one of the three countries with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that had officially recognised Taleban.

Both Arab nations cut their relations with Taleban after the 11 September suicide operations against the United States.

Also his secret trip to Pakistan could not be confirmed from official sources, nor his reported presence in Qandahar, as claimed by Taleban.

FROM: http://www.iran-press-service.com/articles_2001/oct_2001/mazar_sharif_ captured_181001.htm

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