- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 13, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Northern Alliance forces entered the Afghan capital early this morning despite U.S. appeals to stay out, occupying military compounds held only hours earlier by the Taliban militia, which deserted the city.
The alliance also reported major gains in northern Afghanistan, capturing the major city of Heart in the northwest and closing in on the last Taliban stronghold east of Mazar-e-Sharif.
"We are happy that we have freed our capital from the terrorists and we'll pursue them to wherever they may try to escape," said Ghulam Haider, a veteran of 20 years of war and once a trusted adviser to slain Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Masood.
Mr. Haider, who earlier emphasized that he and his fellow fighters were "under orders from our higher headquarters not to enter the city," said the troops that descended on Kabul will be a "disciplined and organized security force to protect the people and their property."
Some reports said the Taliban's offices were deserted and some were being plundered by looters. According to other accounts, some Taliban elements had joined the Northern Alliance. Sporadic small arms fire coming from the hills overlooking the city was reported, apparently from Northern Alliance soldiers celebrating their return to the capital.
Taliban officials forced eight foreign aid workers jailed for proselytizing to go with them as they fled Kabul, wire reports quoted a jail guard saying. The defendants, who work for the German-based group Shelter Now, include two Australians, four Germans and two Americans Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry.
"I saw them with my own eyes. They put them in the truck and then left at midnight. They said they are going to Kandahar," said Ajmal Mir, a guard at the abandoned detention center in the heart of the city where the eight had been held, according to the Associated Press.
In spite of a series of stunning military victories by opposition forces over the past few days, President Bush had warned the alliance not to take Kabul, worried that such a move could jeopardize ongoing political negotiations for a broad-based post-Taliban government.
Yesterday, opposition troops assembled north of the capital and stormed the Taliban positions about noon. Three hours later, the Taliban front lines collapsed along the westernmost of the roads leading south to Kabul.
By dusk, the rebels had reached this village, once a bustling marketplace and now a surreal shattered ruin. Scorched brick walls, heaps of rubble and bomb craters now scar this otherwise fertile plain.
As the offensive began, at least seven Western military advisers were visible through binoculars on two rooftops just behind the front line. Distinguishable by their relative height and light complexions, the advisers had made only cursory efforts to blend in with local dress.
A teen-age Northern Alliance soldier refused to let journalists closer than 100 yards from the observation point, but explained that the men were Americans directing bombs onto Taliban tanks about half a mile from the front line.
After capturing the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, Northern Alliance forces have moved swiftly to consolidate their gains in the north while taking new ground to the west and south.
Alliance forces stormed Herat, an important crossroads on Afghanistan's western frontier, opening the road south to the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar, more than 300 miles to the southeast.
The opposition also claimed to be mopping up after ousting Taliban forces from the central town of Bamiyan, where the Taliban provoked international outrage by dynamiting ancient Buddhist statues in March.
Near the border with Tajikistan, the guerrillas advanced on Kunduz the last northern city still held by the Taliban.
Last night, an anti-Taliban warlord in southwest Afghanistan, Abdolkarim Barahui, said his forces had captured the strategic town of Zaranj near the Iranian border.
"The people of the city are cooperating with us," he said. "They are welcoming us and giving us cakes."
Mr. Barahui claimed to have persuaded many of the 1,000 Taliban troops lined up against him to switch sides and join his 600 to 700 fighters.
Shifting loyalties always have been a feature of fighting in Afghanistan and could help explain the Northern Alliance's dramatic recent successes. The alliance, which controlled about 10 percent of the country before the U.S.-led bombings, has extended its grip to roughly half of Afghanistan since the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday.
A 10-ship U.S. battle group led by the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis set off to join the campaign in Afghanistan for six months. The deployment had been scheduled to head for the Persian Gulf area in January, but its departure was moved up because of the military action in the region.
On the Kabul front, the ground shook and huge plumes of smoke and dust erupted as U.S. fighter bombers and B-52s roared overhead.
Trailing behind the aircraft, rows of cluster bombs exploded on Taliban positions.
The bombardment slackened in the late afternoon as Northern Alliance forces spilled onto the main highway and rushed southward unopposed.
Reuters news agency reported that dozens of Taliban vehicles left the capital after dark, speeding south and west toward the city of Kandahar, birthplace of the regime and its present stronghold.
Mr. Haider said he hoped to push onward to the village of Shakardara before stopping for the night. Shakardara is one of the important districts situated on the heights overlooking Kabul.
The Taliban spokesman in Islamabad, Pakistan, Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef, acknowledged that the regime had abandoned seven northern provinces and was on the move in other regions of the country, but denied that it was abandoning Kabul and insisted that fighters would defend the capital.
Factional fighting destroyed the capital and killed an estimated 50,000 people from 1992 to 1996 during the rule of Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the Northern Alliance's government in exile.
U.S. officials hope to assemble a post-Taliban coalition of Afghanistan's many ethnic groups and tribes before precipitating the fall of the Taliban.
"We have made a decision not to advance to Kabul," Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance's foreign minister, told a news conference in the Alliance stronghold of Jabal-us-Saraj. "We should evaluate the situation, we should try our best not to enter Kabul. That should be the focus."
Mr. Abdullah said he had received information about a significant retreat of Taliban forces from Kabul but said that did not mean the city had been emptied of supporters of the hard-line Muslim regime.
"There has been a significant withdrawal toward Kandahar. Ministers and high officials have left," he said. "But the foreigners, the terrorist groups in Kabul, are making preparations for street-to-street fighting."
Abdullah said the next step for the Northern Alliance was to boost its efforts at reaching a broad political agreement on a future government to replace the Taliban.
"As far as a program for a lasting solution for the country [is concerned], the events of the last few days have made it more urgent."


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