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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 12:09 GMT
Fighting rages for key Afghan city
Northern Alliance fighter with mortar
The Northern Alliance says it is gaining ground rapidly
Opposition forces in Afghanistan are reported to have entered the key western city of Herat and to have captured some Taleban frontline positions north of the capital Kabul.

A Northern Alliance spokesman in northeastern Afghanistan told the BBC that fighting was still raging for Herat while a Taleban source in Pakistan denied the city had been captured.

An Iranian state radio correspondent in Herat said earlier that the Northern Alliance had "entered the city and it can be seen that the Taleban forces are rapidly leaving the city and some of them are moving towards the Alliance forces".

Taleban fighters in Kabul
The Taleban still have wide support among southern Pashtuns

"It may be that they will be surrendering," the correspondent added.

Herat commands vital highways leading to Iran and Turkmenistan, and would clear the way for an opposition advance on Kandahar, home of the Taleban spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The Iranian news agency Irna reported that the Northern Alliance had also seized the town of Kunduz, the last Taleban enclave in northern Afghanistan.

It was quoting General Shafi, an ally of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who said Dostum's forces "entered the city of Kunduz on Monday morning after a six-hour battle" and "a large number of Taleban forces" were killed or captured.

Click here for map of the battlegrounds

Northern Alliance officials said their forces were advancing towards Kabul on Monday, amid a heavy rocket barrage targeting Taleban lines.

"We have made progress, we have taken the first and second trenches," said one senior Northern Alliance soldier, quoted by Reuters news agency.

He said 1,300 Taleban fighters had surrendered in one village and many more had been killed.

Earlier, Commander Toryalai of the Northern Alliance said that "this morning at 0800 our Defence Ministry took a decision to attack towards the city".

Opposition strengthened

An Afghan tribal leader, Hamid Karzai, said the Northern Alliance gains had made his job of forging an anti-Taleban alliance in central and southern Afghanistan much easier.

American B-52 bombers pounded Taleban positions north of Kabul on Monday. The Taleban still control the hills above the Bagram airbase.

Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum
General Abdul Rashid Dostum: Victorious in Mazar-e-Sharif
The BBC's Kate Clark reported seeing hundreds of fresh Northern Alliance troops at the Kabul front line armed with assault rifles and rocket-launchers.

About 7,000 new troops were expected in the area, she said.

The Northern Alliance have already taken a large part of the north of the country following the capture of the key city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

On Sunday the Alliance drove the Taleban out of the town of Taloqan, an economic centre.

The move could cut off Taleban forces in north-eastern Afghanistan.

US warning

US President George W Bush has warned the Afghan opposition against trying to seize control of Kabul because it could endanger hopes for a future broad-based government.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that it might be difficult to stop the Northern Alliance if they tried to seize the capital.

"We don't have enough forces on the ground to stand in their way," Mr Rumsfeld said.

In other developments:

  • Three Western journalists are killed during a Taleban attack on an opposition convoy
  • Uzbekistan agrees to allow emergency relief supplies to cross its border into Afghanistan
  • The Taleban Supreme Court indefinitely postpones the trial of eight international aid workers - two Americans, two Australians and four Germans
  • The UK Government confirms publicly for the first time that British ground troops are operating inside Afghanistan
  • The UN refugee agency says it has begun to move Afghan refugees to a new camp set up inside Pakistan
  • President Bush offers Pakistan an aid package worth $1bn
  • The UK, Pakistan and Russia play down Osama Bin Laden's claims that he has nuclear and chemical weapons

Troops cut off

The opposition forces further claim to have seized the strategic town of Pul-e-Khumri, north of Kabul, and the town of Qala-e-Nau in the western province of Badghis.

The capture of Pul-e-Khumri would cut the main north-south road through the centre of Afghanistan, leaving the remaining Taleban forces in the north stranded.

Taleban resistance

Since their capture of Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, the Northern Alliance say their troops have advanced 140 kilometres (90 miles) through Bamiyan and Baghlan provinces in a thrust to join up with frontline forces outside the capital.

But Mr Rumsfeld told journalists on Sunday that "pockets of resistance" persisted in Mazar-e-Sharif.

People speaking to the BBC by telephone from the city said groups of armed men were roaming the streets and they were concerned that security was deteriorating.

The Northern Alliance has indicated it might try to capture Kabul if there were a "political vacuum" but it would prefer a broad political agreement.




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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Harding
"The Taleban are putting up some resistance"
The BBC's John Simpson reports from Afghanistan
"This is turning into something of a rout"
Adam Ingram MP, UK Armed Forces Minister
"Tremendous progess has been made"
Haroun Amin, Northern Alliance representative
"More pressure needs to be mounted on the Taleban"
See also:

11 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden nuclear fears calmed
11 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax found in more Senate offices
12 Nov 01 | South Asia
Herat, the 'pearl' of Afghanistan
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