- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan More than 1,000 U.S. troops stationed in southern Uzbekistan were waiting yesterday to move into Afghanistan once Northern Alliance troops captured a large town some 30 miles south of the border, U.S. sources said.
"These troops are waiting for Mazar-e-Sharif to fall," a source in the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent said.
Once the opposition Northern Alliance takes the town, U.S. forces, which have been in Uzbekistan for more than two weeks, will have a risk-free route into Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan has not allowed U.S. troops to mount an attack on Afghanistan from Uzbek soil, but it has allowed Termez, near its southern border, to be used as a drop-off point for American forces.
A northern front would increase the stresses on the Taliban, which has been the target of 15 days of military action because of its refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden, considered by the United States to be the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
In an interview given to Russia's news agency Novosti, Uzbek President Islam Karimov's press secretary, Rustam Jumayev, said Uzbekistan's fundamental position with regard to the fight against international terrorism had been set out by Mr. Karimov.
Mr. Jumayev noted that in the struggle against the "plague of the 21st century," Uzbekistan had made its airspace available to the U.S. Air Force, and had allowed U.S. transport planes and helicopters to land at one of Uzbekistan's military air bases.
"No permission has been granted for air strikes to be launched from Uzbek territory, nor for ground operations to be conducted against Afghanistan from this country," Mr. Jumayev said. "This is our position regarding participation in the fight against international terrorism."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had said last week that Washington would provide air support and ammunition to help the opposition move on Kabul and the strategic northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif.
"What's different today is that [Northern Alliance forces] are going to have some help in food, ammunition, air support and assistance," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Officials at the Northern Alliance Embassy here said that U.S. forces have been assisting alliance forces on the ground for at least three nights. The U.S. forces are working with Afghan troops who owe allegiance to the Uzbek warlord Rashid Dustum.
Ground operations were initiated after U.S. fighter jets ran out of Taliban targets that could be hit without risking civilian causalities.
News reports in Tashkent say the Taliban wants to take on U.S. forces on the ground in a bid to avenge the two weeks of air raids that have left scores of civilians dead and wounded.
"The Taliban would prefer the ground battle to aerial raids since most Afghans over 20 know how to fight," said A.H. Himat, head of the Taliban's Bakhtar information agency.
Although a major breakthrough by the Northern Alliance looked imminent at Mazar-e-Sharif last week, the Taliban claimed Friday it had reversed the advances.

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