Wednesday, November 14, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Arabs and Pakistanis who fought alongside the Taliban were reported yesterday heading toward the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on the main road linking the Afghan and Pakistani capitals.
Forces of the Northern Alliance advanced elsewhere in Afghanistan, but not in the direction of Jalalabad, the hub of a network of guerrilla camps run by Osama bin Laden for foreigners including Arabs, Chechens and Uighurs from western China.
Mohammed Zaman, an exiled Afghan army commander, said “everything is prepared” for Northern Alliance forces to take over the city. “They are waiting for us to enter,” he said.
But the presence of Arabs and other foreign-born disciples of bin Laden sparked fears that Jalalabad would not be able to switch sides as easily as it did in 1996, when regional tribal chiefs turned the city over to the Taliban without a fight.
“The number of Arabs in Jalalabad is increasing,” Mr. Zaman said. “They’re dug into trenches trying to find a way out.”
Nevertheless, he said, his forces would hunt down bin Laden, the chief suspect in the September 11 attacks on the United States.
“Don’t be too concerned. Wherever he is, he will be found,” he said. “Osama is not living in the sky. He is living on the Earth.”
As former commander of the 11th Afghan division based in Jalalabad, Mr. Zaman handed over the city five years ago to the Taliban, ordered his 4,500 soldiers to surrender their weapons, and fled into exile in Paris.
He moved to Peshawar along with other exiled Afghan fighters after September 11. He said he expected his former soldiers to desert the Taliban en masse.
“We are in close contact with them. They are waiting for us and they will join us. There are so many that we cannot count them.”
Residents contacted by phone in Jalalabad said the Taliban had fled, leaving control of the city to more than 2,000 Arabs who came for training in bin Laden’s camps. But a Taliban intelligence official reached by telephone in Jalalabad denied that, saying, “We are the Taliban, and we are in charge.”
The Northern Alliance said it had begun an advance on the city last night. “Our forces are moving toward Jalalabad, and we expect to clear things up by tonight or early tomorrow morning,” an Iranian television correspondent quoted the alliance’s interior minister, Yunis Qanunui, as saying.
A contact at the border crossing of Torkham, between Jalalabad and the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, said Taliban guards remained in place at the barbed wire fence where refugees with little more than the clothes on their backs line up daily to enter Pakistan.
People familiar with the area said the 50-mile stretch of road between the border and Jalalabad also remained under Taliban control yesterday.
A day earlier, Taliban guards with toothy scowls behind ragged black beards crossed the border and entered a clinic in a successful bid to evict a group of Western reporters who had been invited to spend the day there.
They ordered the face covered of a delirious woman, who lay on a stretcher groaning and gasping for breath. Relatives complied by throwing a heavy winter blanket over the patient who had arrived from the border in a wheelbarrow minutes earlier.
Rifle-toting Pakistani police and plainclothes intelligence officers complied with the Taliban demand to oust the reporters by whisking them into a waiting car and ordering them back to Peshawar.
Inside the clinic, Dr. Safaraz Akhtar examined yet another war victim from Afghanistan, an elderly woman with matted hair who suffered from high blood pressure and organ failure, oblivious to the Taliban presence.
“The Taliban have never entered this clinic before,” Dr. Akhtar said in an interview at another location later in the day. “I could have stopped it. You were my guests.”
The hospital offers free care to Afghans who can make it there by slipping across the border. In Peshawar, a pro-Taliban rally by a militant Islamist party flopped, attracting less than 1,000 people who could barely cheer as speakers on the podium urged them to prepare for “holy war” against the United States.
In the capital, Islamabad, the Afghan ambassador left the whitewashed embassy and headed to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and with the exception of Jalalabad, the last major city still under its control.

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