- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Two days after a major victory in a key northern city, anti-Taliban forces claimed yesterday they were routing the Taliban through northern Afghanistan, capturing the former opposition headquarters of Taloqan and other major strongholds.
A Taliban official denied Taloqan had been overrun, and the claim could not be verified independently. However, the Taliban troops clearly were in full retreat in the north, perhaps to reorganize their forces around the capital, Kabul, and southern strongholds of their ethnic Pashtun base.
U.S. aircraft, including B-52 bombers, roamed the skies, blasting Taliban positions on the front line about 30 miles north of Kabul and seeking out retreating bands of Taliban fighters.
Jubilant opposition spokesmen claimed the Taliban had been routed in the north except in Kunduz province on the border with Tajikistan and in Badghis province on the border with Turkmenistan.
Opposition forces planned to move into Kunduz late yesterday, opposition spokesman Mohammed Abil said.
"Hopefully we will manage Kunduz tonight or tomorrow. They are fully encircled. They have no way, no escape," Abdullah, the opposition's foreign minister, said in Jabal Saraj.
Mr. Abil said Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province, fell yesterday after a fierce battle outside the city with Taliban forces that included Arabs and Pakistanis. Once that line of defense crumbled, opposition fighters swiftly occupied the city, he said.
"There was fighting all last night and all today," Mr. Abil said.
Taloqan is about 140 miles east of Mazar-e-Sharif, and some 155 miles north of Kabul.
Abdul Hanan Hemat, chief of the Taliban's Bakhtar news agency, denied claims that Taloqan had fallen. "They are lying," he said.
An opposition spokesman, Ashraf Nadeem, said Taliban also withdrew from the key road junction town of Pul-e-Khumri in Baghlan province and that Taliban forces in the area were headed toward central Bamiyan province west of Kabul.
Later yesterday, opposition spokesman Ahmed Baram of the Shiite Muslim faction said anti-Taliban units were entering the city of Bamiyan west of Kabul and declared that Bamiyan province "is completely with us."
The opposition said its fortunes in Bamiyan were bolstered after a Taliban commander there switched sides after seeing the battlefield momentum swing against him.
The defection of the commander, Isamuddin, cut off the road for Taliban troops retreating from Mazar-e-Sharif to Kabul and isolated those still in the north, Mr. Abil said.
The report of the Taliban commander's defection could not be verified independently.
Elsewhere, opposition official Noor Ahmad said advancing anti-Taliban troops seized Qala-i-Nau, capital of Badghis province, and were about 25 miles east of Herat.
Despite some confusion over specific claims, the Taliban has acknowledged that its troops are withdrawing southward after weeks of round-the-clock U.S. bombing of Taliban positions in the north.
The Northern Alliance is composed mainly of ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks the dominant ethnic groups in much of the north. The Taliban force derives its support from the country's dominant ethnic Pashtuns, who are mostly in the south.
In Kabul, buildings shook and windows rattled yesterday as U.S. warplanes bombed the outskirts of the capital. Heavy bombing overnight and into the day was intended to soften Taliban positions.
The fortunes of the opposition Northern Alliance shifted dramatically after the Taliban withdrawal on Friday from the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, 45 miles south of the border with Uzbekistan.
Elsewhere, the Bakhtar news agency said 200 civilians died in bombing Thursday night and Friday morning in Shah Aga village in southern Kandahar province, a Taliban stronghold. The figure was not confirmed independently, and the Pentagon has accused the Taliban of inflating casualty figures.
U.S. bombs also hit a tile factory on the eastern edge of Kabul on Saturday night, said Mr. Hemat, the Bakhtar chief.
Two men were missing and believed dead, he said.
Inside Kabul, Taliban soldiers manned checkpoints, stopping cars and searching passengers. The checkpoints were new and may have been prompted by the loss of northern territory and reports that opposition soldiers north of the city were preparing an offensive.
Mr. Bush mounted the air strikes after the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, which killed almost 5,000 people.

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