- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Uniformed security units of the Northern Alliance yesterday patrolled city streets and manned checkpoints a day after seizing the capital. Triumphant, they toured abandoned Taliban positions, pointing out the accuracy and devastating effect of the U.S.-led strikes.
Residents continued to celebrate their liberation from the Taliban by flying kites and playing music two forms of recreation prohibited by the fundamentalist Muslim regime. Most women, disbelieving of the Taliban retreat, still wore their head-to-toe burka, though occasionally peeking from behind their veil. Around the city, security units were welcomed as a stabilizing force.
On Chicken Street, a major market district, shopkeepers were back in business. In the hours between the Taliban retreat and the Northern Alliance advance, Abdul Rahman's grocery store, once stocked with Western goods, was under threat from looters.
"There were people running around with guns, despite the Taliban's ban on arms," Mr. Rahman said. "If the Northern Alliance had not come in, there would have been trouble."
Desultory exchanges of heavy weapons fire continued several miles south of the city at Khost, near the Pakistani border. To the west, U.S. warplanes pounded areas around the city of Jalalabad; Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network were believed to have had several bases there.
The U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan has aimed to overthrow the ruling regime and disrupt bin Laden's terror network, al Qaeda, believed to be responsible for the September 11 attacks.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan's president from 1992 to 1996, is the titular head of the Northern Alliance, and there's speculation that he plans to return soon to Kabul. His Jamiat-i-Islami faction is the largest component of the opposition alliance.
Mr. Rabbani has expressed reservations about the broad-based government demanded by the United States and other countries. Yet during his previous tenure, rival factions destroyed much of Kabul and killed an estimated 50,000 people.
On the streets of Kabul, the mood was serene even as people were encouraged to get back to their normal lives. Northern Alliance guerrillas moved freely and boasted about American smart bombs and missiles.
An overturned, burned-out Taliban pickup truck partly blocked traffic in a downtown intersection. No buildings nearby had been damaged, and there wasn't even a crater on the street. Only the broken windows of nearby houses seemed to have been affected by the strike. The clean hit appeared to be the work of a U.S. helicopter gunship, a guide speculated.
U.S. raids against the Reeshkhor military redoubt, situated in a rock basin five miles south of the city center, held particular fascination for the Northern Alliance. An alliance officer pointed to craters and twisted artillery pieces in the base. On the hill above, a three-story building functioning as a headquarters had been reduced to rubble.
"It's hard to tell where their exercise equipment or training grounds were," the officer said of the ruins. "The American bombardment just destroyed everything."
When Afghanistan's Soviet-backed regime collapsed in early 1992, Reeshkhor fell into the hands of a renegade mujahideen commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Although he had been appointed a leading figure of the new government, Mr. Hekmatyar wanted more power.
He seized the base and began to shell the capital indiscriminately. The assault continued for three years and claimed at least 30,000 lives. Much of Kabul was devastated.
In early 1995, the Taliban emerged as a law-and-order force out of the southern city of Kandahar and soon marched to Kabul. It seized Reeshkhor and continued the artillery barrage of Kabul until the city fell.
According to a local resident, a witness to the Taliban and its foreign allies' frequent visits to and from Reeshkhor over the years, every single bomb crater and flattened building marked the site of a terrorist barracks or headquarters. Many Taliban fighters evacuated the site before the U.S.-led assault but at least 25 Pakistani fighters died in one nighttime strike, the guide said.
Back inside the city, Muhammad Gul, an Afghan worker from the former diplomatic quarter, stood near the site where a misguided bomb had fallen.
On a street of modern, relatively well-appointed bungalows, one house was destroyed. It was bad intelligence, Mr. Gul said, speculating on why the house was hit. "I think they just got a false report," he added.


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