- The Washington Times - Monday, November 19, 2001

BANGI, Afghanistan The Taliban offered yesterday to surrender its last northern stronghold if Arab and other foreign fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden in the city are spared, an anti-Taliban commander said.
The offer to surrender Kunduz came after U.S. bombers unleashed their heaviest strikes so far on the city. Warplanes were also reported in action near the Taliban southern stronghold of Kandahar and areas of eastern Afghanistan where bin Laden is believed to maintain camps and hide-outs.
A report yesterday in the Times of London said British and U.S. special forces have narrowed their search for the Saudi-born terrorist to a hilly, 30-square-mile area in southeastern Afghanistan.
According to the report, allied troops have been dropped by helicopter across the southern approaches to the area, near the Taliban-held city of Kandahar, to prevent bin Laden from fleeing into Pakistan.
Asked on CNN's "Late Edition" about the report, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, "I can't speak to precisely where he is, but we are narrowing [the areas where he can hide], and we are putting the net around him and eventually we are going to get him."
The United States launched its military campaign against Afghanistan on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, the top suspect in the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.
The Afghan Islamic Press, a private Pakistan-based news agency, reported more than 70 persons were killed by U.S. bombing around Kandahar and in eastern Nangarhar province. The claim could not be independently verified.
B-52s struck Taliban positions outside Kunduz, unleashing their biggest bombs yet in the area.
Flames shot into the air after bombs hit, and cracking booms carried across the valley floor toward the Northern Alliance's own foxholes in opposing ridges. Avalanches of soil cascaded down hillsides. Taliban soldiers could be seen running out on the distant ridges, trying to find cover.
Refugees fleeing Kunduz say a hard core of Taliban soldiers and allied Arab, Chechen and Pakistani fighters are in control after fleeing other districts across the north in the past week.
The refugees told of terror at the hands of Taliban troops and foreign fighters. The foreigners, fearing they will be killed if the city falls, were reportedly blocking Taliban Afghans trying to surrender.
One refugee, Dar Zardad, said Taliban soldiers killed eight boys in their late teens after some of the youths laughed at the militia fighters. Mr. Zardad and other refugees in Bangi, a village about 30 miles to the east, recounted how fighters shot and killed a doctor when he delayed responding to their summons to come treat wounded Taliban troops.
Witnesses said at least 100 Taliban soldiers were shot, apparently by gunmen from their own side, as they approached Northern Alliance lines in an attempt to surrender.
Still, Taliban leaders in the city were negotiating with alliance commanders by radio.
The Taliban said it would surrender if the alliance guaranteed that non-Afghans fighting alongside the Islamic militia would not be killed and if the surrender were witnessed by U.N. representatives, an alliance commander, Nahidullah, said in the city of Taloqan, about 40 miles to the east.
There was no immediate word whether the opposition alliance had accepted the offer. Northern Alliance forces had moved a multiple-rocket launcher and two tanks up to the road that is the eastern approach to Kunduz, but there was no sign an attack was imminent.
The Taliban was barring people from leaving Kunduz, telling them, "If you leave, the U.S.A. will bomb all the city," said Mr. Zardad, the refugee. He said he made it out of the city only after Taliban troops beat him with their rifle butts.
Other refugees said Kunduz residents were hiding indoors and closing their shops for fear of summary execution by the Taliban. Foreign fighters, using local translators, were broadcasting loudspeaker announcements saying they would be taking the offensive against Northern Alliance troops laying siege to the city.
In the western city of Herat, Northern Alliance officials showed journalists a mass grave near Shindand military airport that they said contained the bodies of 27 anti-Taliban fighters massacred by the Taliban. They said the Taliban killed the men many of whose bodies had bound hands sometime before the Taliban fled the city last week.
In Kandahar, meanwhile, the Taliban appeared still in control despite a reported deal last week for its supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, to leave the city. The situation there was said to be tense, and sources in the city, contacted by telephone from Pakistan, said the Taliban had extended the nighttime curfew to keep people off the streets.
Afghan sources in Pakistan, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a delegation of tribal leaders was in Kandahar trying to negotiate a transfer of power. The report could not be independently confirmed.
In Quetta, Pakistan, Ahmed Karzai, younger brother of anti-Taliban leader Hamid Karzai, said opposition forces clashed with Taliban fighters late Saturday in Uruzgan province north of Kandahar but had no further details.
Local leaders not connected to the Northern Alliance have taken control of several areas in southern Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance, which is made up of ethnic minorities including ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Shi'ite Muslims, has seized cities in the north.


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