Refugees Hint at Waning Taliban Stronghold

A flow of refugees streamed out of Kunduz, the Taliban's last stronghold in northern Afghanistan, on a day when U.S. forces continued to drop bombs on the province.

Negotiations between the Northern Alliance and Taliban forces continue, and according to one report, there has been an agreement for all Taliban, Afghan and foreign alike, to surrender. But the details are still being worked out in a meeting in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

In a sign of the city's imminent defeat, some of the refugees fleeing the city told ABCNEWS' Don Dahler that Taliban soldiers are shaving their beards, throwing away any clothes that could identify them and fleeing the city.

There have also been reports of Pakistani, Arab and Chechen soldiers fighting for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network shooting Taliban soldiers who want to surrender.

Despite the existence of only one other remaining Taliban stronghold, in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, the commander of the U.S. military operation dampened expectations for a quick, complete end to the war.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Gen. Tommy Franks said today after a visit to Afghanistan for the first time since the campaign began on Oct. 7. It was the first such trip inside Afghanistan by a senior U.S. military official.

Franks said he entered Afghanistan on Tuesday evening to meet with opposition leaders at Bagram air base outside Kabul. He said he would visit several Gulf nations in the coming days to discuss the war on terror.

The United States has agreed to stop bombing locations around Kunduz if that would improve the chances of a Taliban surrender — but the Pentagon said it would not pull back on the airstrikes if that would allow Taliban or al Qaeda leaders to flee Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, the rebel leaders gave the city's defenders an ultimatum to surrender within three days or face an "all-out assault," according to one Northern Alliance general, but U.S. officials today refused to put a timetable on when the siege of Kunduz would end.

"I don't know how long that battle will continue," Franks said. "But at the end of the day we will prevail in the city of Kunduz."

The Taliban Speaks Out

Franks' statement of resolve echoed a similar statement of commitment from the spokesman of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Syed Tayyad Agha said the Taliban would not give up the four provinces of Afghanistan it still controls, and denied that the series of defeats the regime's troops suffered across the country had left the Taliban a spent force.

"They have decided to defend the presently controlled areas," Agha said. "We will try our best and we will defend our nation … and we will not give any chance to anybody to disturb our Islamic rule in Kandahar and other provinces."

Omar will stay in the Taliban's southern bastion of Kandahar and the Taliban will fight to the death to defend the southern provinces still under its control, Agha said.

Agha also said the Taliban had lost communication with bin Laden and did not know where he was.

"We have no idea where he is," Agha said. "There is no relation right now [between bin Laden and the Taliban]. There is no communication."

The Taliban assertion came as a report appeared in the Saudi Arabian press which said the accused terror mastermind told supporters to kill him if it appeared likely he would fall into the hands of the Americans pursuing him.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...