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Northern Alliance soldiers capture Kunduz

November 26, 2001

By Drew Brown
Knight Ridder Newspapers

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Nov. 26) Jubilant residents celebrated in the streets Monday as Northern Alliance forces under Gen. Mohammed Daoud swept into the former Taliban stronghold of Kunduz, freeing the besieged northern city from control of the radical fundamentalist regime for the first time in five years.

Northern alliance fighters waged a brief, but intense gun battle with Taliban holdouts in the center of Kunduz shortly after daybreak, securing the city by noon. Dead Taliban fighters lay within yards of the city’s central intersection and on surrounding streets, as joyous residents poured out of their homes to greet the northern alliance soldiers as their liberators.

“It’s been almost 10 days since we’ve been able to come out of our homes,” said 15-year-old Amman Allah. “The situation here was very bad. Everyday, there was a lot of fighting between the Taliban. They were fighting among themselves.”

“The Taliban were very dangerous people,” said Jalil Akhmad, a 20-year-old shopkeeper. “I was afraid of them.”

Many alliance fighters were greeted with warm hospitality.

“After we found that we were in control, we came out of our houses to celebrate,” said Nasrullah Aman, a 20-year-old English tutor. “We took some of them into our houses and gave them tea. I had more than 10 soldiers with me in my home.”

Northern alliance officials claim they now control Kunduz, an ancient trading city on the fabled Silk Road. But as many as 6,000 Taliban fighters have retreated with tanks and other heavy weapons to the village of Chahar Darreh, about 10 kilometers west of Kunduz, where they are regrouping, said Abdul Wahid, assistant foreign minister for northern Afghanistan.

Many of the remaining Taliban are Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens and other foreign mercenaries thought to have links with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorist network.

And northern alliance officials warn that small pockets of hard-line Taliban remain inside Kunduz, vowing to fight to the death.

“Some terrorists remain,” said Raz Mohammed Uria, a Daoud aide. “It’s difficult to estimate how many. Maybe in two or three days, we will establish full control and drive out these small groups.”

Underscoring the chaotic nature of events inside the city, a group of Taliban guerillas ambushed and killed a northern alliance commander Sunday night and wounded five other soldiers, Uria said.

Many residents seemed unconcerned about the dangers as they celebrated their first taste of freedom in years.

“This is the first time I’ve ever spoken English with a foreigner, so I am very happy,” Nasrullah said. “I came out here at 9 a.m. and waited. I was looking forward to talking to and interviewing foreigners.”

Many in Kunduz expressed astonishment at the Taliban’s sudden departure and the rapid appearance of the northern alliance forces in the city.

“We didn’t believe that they could disappear so quickly,” said 22-year-old Nuraga Mohmmed Asan. “We didn’t believe that they would ever disappear from here.”

Newly-plastered posters of the late mujaheddin leader Gen. Ahmed Shah Masoud hung on municipal buildings alongside Taliban slogans. Masoud was assassinated by al Qaida terrorists on Sept. 10, the day before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The green and white flag of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, the United Front’s name for the country, flew atop the small police station in the center of the Kunduz’s main intersection.

Some expressed hope that the defeat of the Taliban will finally bring peace to their country, ravaged by 22 years of war.

“I wish that the United Nations and other countries can come in here and help make a good government for us that has all of the nationalities of Afghanistan included,” said Atep, a shopkeeper.

He gestured at the ground beneath his feet.

“Look at Afghanistan,” he said. “Everything here looks very old, and it’s all because of the war. I don’t wish for my children to be like us. They must be happy and free and live in a peaceful country. They should not see all of the fighting I have seen.”

Victorious northern alliance fighters sped past in all directions in pick-up trucks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles. A large military transport truck pulled up next to the police station and stopped. The driver leaned out and gestured at the crowd.

“Take off your white caps!” he shouted, a grin spread across his bearded face. “After today, there will be a punishment for those who wear them. Take them off. Those are Taliban caps!”

Many in the crowd laughed along with the joke. An old man stepped to the driver and handed him a round green hat.

“You need a cap like this one,” the man shouted. “It is the color of the United Front.”

The two men hugged each other. The driver got back in his truck and moved through the crowd.

“Death to Osama bin Laden!” Abdad Shamoli, 35, a refugee from the Panjshir Valley shouted. ” He needs to die. Yesterday, I could not say such things. I was afraid. But today the Northern Alliance is here now, and I can.”

Shamoli said he hoped to return home to rebuild his home as soon as authorities clear the roads of remaining Taliban bandits.

Daoud’s advance into the city came after several days of negotiations between Daoud’s rival, ethnic Uzbek warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Taliban leaders inside Kunduz over their surrender. Indications were that the two northern alliance leaders were vying over who would gain control of Kunduz, but it is unclear how far the dispute went. Under an agreement brokered between the two, Dostum has reportedly agreed to keep his forces outside of the city.

Northern Alliance officials claim that as many as 30,000 Taliban were trapped in Kunduz when their fighters began laying siege to the province 10 days ago, supported by U.S. air strikes. As many as 10,000 were Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens, Uzbeks and other foreigners, including many believed to have links to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorist network.

Thousands of Taliban fighters have surrendered in recent days, including 3,500 on Sunday and Monday alone, said Wahid, the assistant foreign minister.

Many residents in Kunduz said they hope that Monday was the last they will see of any them.

“This is the first day that the Northern Alliance has entered, but everything will become normal soon,” said Akhmad, the shopkeeper. “Tomorrow it will get better. Everyday will be a little better.”

(c) 2001, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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