- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan Frustrated by weeks of U.S. bombings that have failed to budge Taliban front lines, Afghanistan's opposition forces plotted what they said yesterday would be a major push on a vital Taliban-held northern stronghold.

In Pakistan, Islamic militants caused scattered disorder across the Afghan border regions, blockading the fabled Silk Road and seizing part of a town to protest their government's support for U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan.

Afghan opposition commanders met for five hours in Northern Alliance-held territory on Sunday to sketch out a major offensive on Mazar-e-Sharif, opposition spokesman Ashraf Nadeem said in a telephone interview.

The commanders also talked of joint offensives on the surrounding provinces of Balkh and Samangan, Mr. Nadeem said.

He said the meeting was attended by longtime figures in the opposition's long-stalled struggle: Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum, Shi'ite Muslim leader Mohammed Mohaqik and Atta Mohammed, commander of forces loyal to deposed Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Capturing Mazar-e-Sharif would open crucial supply lines from Uzbekistan for Afghanistan's poorly armed opposition allowing in fresh stocks of ammunition, troops and equipment before winter, weeks away, hampers fighting.

Yesterday, Mr. Nadeem said he had reports the Taliban had reinforced defenses in Balkh and Samangan provinces near Mazar-e-Sharif with 2,000 more troops.

Moving forward would take heavy U.S. air support, he said. "For the new operation, when it happens, we will need American help," the opposition spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, warned the United States that it will learn a "tougher lesson" in Afghanistan than the Soviet Union did.

Mullah Omar told the Algerian newspaper El Youm that once U.S. troops are on the ground, the Americans will lose their technological edge.

"We will never welcome them with flowers," he said. "They will receive a tougher lesson than that of their Soviet predecessors."

In Pakistan, the Frontier Constabulary negotiated with pro-Taliban militants throughout the day, exhorting them to stand down from seven segments of the Karakoram Highway Pakistan's paved portion of the Silk Road and, separately, retreat from the remote town of Chilas.

They apparently refused. Officials in the north said the 750-mile Karakoram Highway remained blocked last night with boulders and small land mines in seven locations.

Witnesses reached by telephone said women in Bisham, one Karakoram town, demonstrated against the militants yesterday, saying the road closure prevented them from getting water and grass for cattle and wood for burning. They also said they were uncomfortable in the presence of male outsiders.

In Chilas, hundreds of armed pro-Taliban Pakistanis reportedly seized some local government offices and occupied an abandoned airstrip. Maj. Fazal Durrani, chief secretary for the northern areas, said the town's government and schools still were operating.

Farooq Khan, a Chilas resident, said the protesters also took over gas stations. "Only those with chits issued by local clerics are allowed to buy gas," Mr. Khan said by telephone.

Further details weren't immediately available because of the remoteness of the region, which is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns. The Taliban are also predominantly Pashtun.

But both groups are taking the actions to oppose Pakistan's support of U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan. They say President Pervez Musharraf's government is betraying the nation and Islam by turning its back on Pakistan's neighbor.

Hundreds of Pakistani fighters have crossed into eastern Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against any American ground attack. Many more are said to be waiting in border villages, answering the call of Sufi Mohammed, an Islamic cleric.

The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan expressed appreciation yesterday to Pakistanis who want to help the Islamic militia. But Abdul Salam Zaeef said the time had not yet come.

"We have to turn down their requests because the ground battles have not started," he said. "At this stage, with only air assaults in Afghanistan, there is no need and there is great danger in them being in Afghanistan."

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