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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 16:17 GMT
Taleban routed outside Kabul
Northern Alliance fighter with mortar
The Northern Alliance is gaining ground rapidly
Opposition forces in Afghanistan have broken through Taleban front lines north of the capital Kabul and entered the key western city of Herat in a rapid advance.

The BBC's John Simpson, 16 kilometres (10 miles) north of Kabul, says the Northern Alliance offensive has turned into a complete rout of the Taleban.

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

The Northern Alliance on Monday captured the second line of defence around Kabul, after a heavy rocket barrage, leaving only the final defences on the city's outskirts.

US F-18 jets are reported to be strafing the Taleban fighters fleeing in trucks and pick-ups. Earlier, Taleban positions were pounded by US B-52 bombers.

Looters are returning from the front line with Taleban goods of all kinds, our correspondent reports.

Herat fighting

Earlier, Northern Alliance forces were reported to have entered Herat in the west, which commands vital highways leading to Iran and Turkmenistan.

It could be the gateway for an advance on the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar in the south.

Click here for map of the battlegrounds

A Northern Alliance spokesman told Reuters news agency that alliance troops had taken control of Herat after fierce fighting.

However, the Taleban said they were still in control of the city.

Fighting has also been reported near the town of Kunduz, the last Taleban enclave in northern Afghanistan.

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

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.

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.

In Kabul, people are fearful but there is no outward sense of panic, the BBC's Rageh Omaar reports.

There is no sign of the extra checkpoints set up by the Taleban previously, and no heightened militarisation in the city, he says.

The Northern Alliance have already taken a large swathe of northern Afghanistan 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.

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.

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.

Launch new window : Detailed map
Click here for a detailed map of the Northern Alliance offensive

Click here to return

The BBC's Peter Greste
"This attack has been swift and ruthless"
The BBC's Adam Mynott
"Pressure on the Taleban grows on all sides"
Haroun Amin, Northern Alliance representative
"More pressure needs to be mounted on the Taleban"
See also:

12 Nov 01 | South Asia
Big powers mark out Afghan future
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
12 Nov 01 | South Asia
Mazar residents hail Taleban defeat
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