- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

KABUL, Afghanistan The ruling Taleban army captured a key northern city in Afghanistan yesterday after heavy fighting, seizing 80 prisoners and cutting off a supply line to opposition forces holed up in a mountain valley.

The city of Taloqan, 160 miles north of the capital of Kabul, was among the last important cities held by an alliance led by the ousted president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, and former Defense Minister Ahmed Shah Massood.

Yesterday, the Taleban issued a statement saying the United Nations should not have included Mr. Rabbani among world leaders invited to its Millennium Summit. The statement from Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil said Mr. Rabbani has "little following" in Afghanistan.

"The U.N. should take into account the reality and recognize our government," he said. "Rabbani is not in a position to implement any of the U.N. resolutions that would be passed in the summit."

Taleban fighters seized large numbers of weapons, including tanks, and will soon launch an assault on the neighboring areas of Farkhar and Badakshan, spokesman Sohail Shaheen said at the Taleban Embassy in Pakistan.

"Our soldiers are disarming the civilian population and strengthening their positions in the city," Mr. Shaheen said. They have started rebuilding a bridge between Taloqan and Farkhar that was blown up by opposition forces to slow the Taleban advance, he added.

A spokesman for the Afghan opposition, Mohammed Abil, said Taleban soldiers entered Taloqan after two hours of fighting during the night.

"Our fighters suffered several casualties during the fighting but none when we were pulling out," he said by telephone, without elaborating on the casualties. "We pulled out of the city to avoid civilian casualties."

Mr. Abil said opposition soldiers are now positioned near Hazarbagh, about three miles east of Taloqan. Taleban planes bombed opposition forces in Hazarbagh several times, he said.

"There is a lot of confusion among our ranks right now," Mr. Abil said. "Our soldiers are tired and upset, but they are determined to win back Taloqan."

The Taleban, who are Sunni Muslims and mostly Pashtun, Afghanistan's ethnic majority, rule more than 90 percent of the country under a strict version of Islamic law. The opposition is made up of ethnic and religious minorities, including Shi'ite Muslims, Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks.

With the loss of Taloqan, the opposition now controls only the neighboring province of Badakshan and small pockets in a few other northern provinces. Close to the border with the Central Asian state of Tajikistan, Taloqan served as the main supply route to opposition forces in Panjshir valley, 70 miles northeast of Kabul.

Taloqan had been under siege for several weeks after a string of battles in which Taleban soldiers captured several important northern towns. Neither the opposition nor the Taleban has released casualty figures.

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