Friday, November 23, 2001

BANGI, Afghanistan Anti-Taliban forces advanced on the besieged town of Kunduz today while commanders from both sides discussed the final details of a surrender by the Islamic militia in its last northern stronghold.

Daoud Khan, spokesman for the northern alliance in Takhar province near Kunduz, said his forces took Aliabad, a town just east of Kunduz behind Taliban front lines, without a fight. He said the Taliban fighters there, under the command of Fazl Haq, turned themselves in.

At the same time, forces loyal to alliance warlord Gen. Rashid Dostum advanced on Taliban positions from the west of Kunduz. Mr. Dostum told The Associated Press he was sending the fighters toward Kunduz only to prepare for the Taliban surrender.

But Mr. Sarwar, another alliance commander on the opposite side of Kunduz, said Mr. Dostum’s forces had broken through Taliban front lines in heavy fighting and were “making progress” toward the city. His report could not be confirmed, and other commanders said there was no fighting in the area.

After taking word of the surrender deal back to their fighters in Kunduz, Taliban representatives to the talks, including Deputy Defense Minister Mullah Fazil Muslimyar, returned to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif today to finalize details, a northern alliance commander said.

Mr. Dostum, a key leader of Mazar-e-Sharif, said today that the surrender of Kunduz “is settled.”

“Tomorrow we will have another meeting to work out the details of the handover,” he said. “On Sunday, the Taliban should surrender to us and hand over the prisoners.”

Mr. Khan predicted an even quicker resolution, saying his troops would move toward Kunduz tomorrow to disarm the Taliban and arrest all foreigners some 3,000 Arabs, Pakistanis and others loyal to Osama bin Laden.

“We will go to Kunduz to disarm the people, because Mullah Fazil promised he would surrender and he promsied he will hand over the foreign fighters,” he said.

According to alliance commanders, the surrender deal would give Taliban fighters from Afghanistan free passage out of Kunduz, but would imprison the foreigners. They said the foreigners would be placed in camps until the alliance and the U.S.-led coalition can deal with them, but ruled out turning them over to international courts.

“These foreigners have committed criminal acts in our country. We will not hand them over to the United Nations or any other country. They will go on trial in Afghanistan, in our Islamic courts,” said Daoud Khan, a senior commander near Kunduz.

The United States has insisted that suspected members of bin Laden’s al-Qaida network not be allowed to go free as part of any deal. Many of the foreigners in Kunduz are believed to have ties to al-Qaida.

Statements by front-line commanders today indicated the depths of their hatred for the foreign fighters and the uncertain future that could await those fighters if they surrender.

“If they surrender to the northern alliance, we will kill them all. They invaded Afghanistan,” said another officer, Amanullah.

The foreigners fear a repeat of the summary executions that followed the alliance’s takeover of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, the capital. In Geneva, the Red Cross said yesterday it had recovered 400 to 600 bodies in Mazar-e-Sharif but would not say whether they were killed in fighting or executed.

A senior alliance commander, Atta Mohammed, said he assured the Taliban that none of their troops would be mistreated.

Fierce battles broke out around Kunduz yesterday after a 10-day lull, but when word of the Taliban’s promised surrender filtered back to the front line, the fighting eased.

U.S. B-52s and attack jets conducted fairly heavy bombing along Taliban-held ridges surrounding Kunduz this afternoon.

A Taliban spokesman in Kunduz told the Afghan Islamic Press that dozens of people were killed by American bombs today. The report by the private Pakistan-based news agency could not be confirmed.

The U.S.-led coalition launched attacks on the Taliban in early October for their refusal to hand over bin Laden, the main suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The northern alliance swept the Islamic militia out of almost all the north and took Kabul, the capital, on Nov. 13.

A surrender in Kunduz would leave only one major city the southern base of Kandahar in Taliban hands. The Taliban have vowed to fight to defend their spiritual base and the surrounding provinces.

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