- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

JABAL-US-SERAJ, Afghanistan The anti-Taliban alliance in northern Afghanistan said yesterday it is in contact with U.S. officials and expects to receive fresh supplies of weapons soon from Iran and Russia.
The alliance's foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, told reporters that opposition and U.S. representatives have held "regular and daily meetings" outside Afghanistan.
He also expressed readiness to meet with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is expected in neighboring Uzbekistan at the end of the week.
"If Rumsfeld is in one of the neighboring countries, it is possible to have a meeting with him," Mr. Abdullah said.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan G. Whitman declined to give any details on whom Mr. Rumsfeld will meet on his trip to four nations in the Middle East and Asia.
Afghan opposition representatives and U.S. officials have discussed "all aspects" of cooperation in their latest meetings and the "results were good," Mr. Abdullah said. He did not say where the meetings took place.
Asked about the specific focus of the talks, Mr. Abdullah replied, "coordination of efforts to eradicate terrorism."
Mr. Abdullah said the Northern Alliance knew exactly where terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was hiding and that a U.S.-led attack would take place in "a matter of days."
None of his claims could be confirmed independently.
Mr. Abdullah further said the alliance was expecting fresh arms and equipment soon from Iran and Russia, two of its strongest allies in the fight against the Taliban. Both have said they will increase military supplies to the Afghan opposition.
The Northern Alliance uses Soviet-era weaponry, so Russia is the logical primary supplier of ammunition, spare parts and replacement weaponry. Mr. Abdullah said opposition forces desperately need humanitarian aid as well.
The weather in Afghanistan is expected to turn cold in coming weeks, with rain and snow likely in much of the country.
In addition to refugees fleeing Taliban-controlled areas, Mr. Abdullah reported widespread Taliban defections to the Northern Alliance and that at least 10,000 more Taliban fighters were prepared to join his ranks.
While switching allegiances is not uncommon in Afghan conflicts, the scale of the defection reported by Mr. Abdullah could seriously deplete the Taliban's ranks.
However, such figures are difficult to verify independently and defections in such large numbers would be unusual even in Afghanistan because some estimates put the Taliban's entire force at 30,000 active fighters, excluding Arabs and other foreigners.
Mr. Abdullah spoke with reporters in the opposition stronghold of Jabal-us-Saraj, 44 miles north of Kabul, where he claimed that dozens of commanders had offered to desert the Taliban and bring 10,000 fighters with them.
But other reports indicated many of the Afghans, who abandoned their cities after last month's terrorist attacks, have begun to drift home as the fear of immediate, widespread U.S. attacks has receded.
Two weeks ago, Afghans fleeing the southern city of Kandahar, the headquarters of the ruling Taliban, said the arid southern desert town was deserted.
This week, people returning to Kandahar said much of the town's business center had returned to normal. A few stores were still closed, they said, but most had reopened. Food was plentiful, wheat prices were low and farmers were bringing fruit to the market for sale.
In Kabul, the local currency, the Afghani, has strengthened in recent days from 73,000 Afghanis to the dollar to 50,000.
Despite the mood in some quarters of the country, U.S. strikes against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and bin Laden, the man they call their "guest," seem likelier than ever, though U.S. officials say they are targeting primarily terrorist installations.
In answer to the humanitarian crisis in the region and fears that it could intensify in the aftermath of military strikes, the United Nations is coordinating an international appeal for more than $500 million in aid.
Food shortages are especially severe in northern Afghanistan after years of drought.

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