- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan The Taliban called the first battle with U.S. ground forces a "failure" for American troops, even as refugees streaming toward exile in Pakistan from Kandahar said they had left behind a deserted city under constant siege from the air and with food and water running low.
And Pakistan confirmed yesterday that it was holding talks with a senior Taliban commander on the makeup of a future Afghan government a move that drew a sharp retort from the opposition alliance that is fighting the Islamic militia in the north.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan confirmed at a news conference yesterday that key officials were meeting in Pakistan with Mullah Jalaluddin Haqqani, a major Taliban commander in Khost province, to discuss participation in a broad-based replacement government.
In Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, the foreign minister of the exiled Afghan government of Burhanuddin Rabbani dismissed any Taliban participation in a future administration.
"There are no moderate Taliban," Abdullah, who uses one name, said yesterday. "The term 'moderate' does not apply to the Taliban. The Taliban have as their international agenda cruelty and terrorism."
The United Nations said armed gangs had beaten its local staff members throughout Afghanistan and looted warehouses, with some facilities now occupied by Taliban soldiers. Nearly 7,000 tons of food and 80 U.N. vehicles have been stolen since air strikes began Oct. 7.
"With the decline of law and order in some urban centers, the United Nations' ability to keep operations going is diminishing day by day," said Antonio Domini, a senior U.N. official in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
He told reporters that the Taliban had occupied U.N. offices in Kandahar and Jalalabad, and that guards at its facilities had been told not to resist further attacks.
Some 6 million Afghans are in need of outside aid, many trapped inside the country with no means to escape, Mr. Domini said.
Yesterday marked the beginning of a new phase in the U.S. war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, who is wanted for his role in the terrorist attack on the United States on Sept. 11.
U.S. ground troops skirmished with Taliban forces for the first time, and two American soldiers died when their helicopter crashed in Pakistan while on standby for a rescue mission.
The Taliban said its troops responded immediately when U.S. troops landed from helicopters at a site nearly three miles from Kandahar.
"The Taliban force reached the area at once and started firing and the American forces had to run away," said Mullah Ameer Khan Mutaqi in Kabul. "As the air strikes were unable to produce any results and were a failure, so were the ground strikes a failure," Mullah Mutaqi told the Afghan Islamic Press.
Pakistan closed its border to refugees attempting to cross at the dusty border town of Chaman, leaving an estimated 10,000 people waiting on the Afghan side for the crossing to open, as it did Friday.
Some 3,500 refugees entered Pakistan on Friday and 5,000 more made it in yesterday before the crossing between Kandahar and the Pakistani city of Quetta was sealed.
Those who made it through described Kandahar as deserted, without power and with rapidly dwindling supplies of food and water.
"They arrive here penniless, knocking on everyone's doors, begging for food, money, anything," Ajnabi Gul Aga, resident of Chaman, south of the Afghan city of Kandahar, told the Associated Press.
Many of those crossing were women and children, who said their husbands and fathers had been forced to join the Taliban militia.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it was rushing tents, blankets, food and medicine to the area, where preparations for a new refugee camp are only partially complete.
Pakistani officials say they are preparing a network of camps to handle an anticipated 1 million refugees. Relief agencies fear that the camps are being located in arid, inhospitable sites far away from cities, and will be difficult to supply.

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