U.S.-allied Afghan rebels say they now control much of northern Afghanistan — claiming to have extended their territory in 48 hours from a single province in the far northeast to all or most of eight provinces.
As they worked to secure their conquest of Mazar-e-Sharif and surrounding areas, the Northern Alliance claimed today to have captured another city in northern Afghanistan — Taloqan, former capital of Northern Alliance territory — and said some former Taliban forces switched sides during the battle. However, a Taliban official at one point denied it had lost the city, according to The Associated Press.
In another claim that could not be independently confirmed, the Northern Alliance told ABCNEWS correspondent Sebastian Junger that the population of Bamiyan, near the former site of giant ancient Buddha statues carved into the landscape, rebelled against the Taliban and seized control of the town. The Taliban destroyed the historic Buddha statues months ago despite international outrage.
Northern Alliance officials said their troops have pushed west from Mazar-e-Sharif, and predicted capturing the key western city of Herat as soon as Monday. The officials said troops also pushed out in other directions — to the east extending south from the Tajikistan border, where they claim to have taken several cities and provinces; to the north, which, if they consolidate their control, would allow an overland supply route to be opened between Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif; and even to the south. Furthermore, Northern Alliance officials say they are close to being able to capture national Afghan capital of Kabul.
Warnings on Kabul
For weeks, several thousand Northern Alliance fighters have been saying they'd soon advance on Kabul. But President Bush on Saturday warned them against grabbing the capital, saying that it should not be done before more planning on a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan, with power to be shared between Northern Alliance members and other interests in the country.
"We will encourage our friends to head south across the Shamali Plains but not into the city of Kabul itself," Bush said. "We believe we can accomplish our military missions by that strategy."
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, on hand with Bush at a press conference, agreed with Bush's assessment, saying, "I think if the Northern Alliance enters Kabul we will see the same kind of atrocities" that destabilized the region in the past.
Northern Alliance foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah said today there's no 'set plan' to take the Afghan capital. However, Abdullah said opposition forces would continue to push towards Kabul in order to allow thousands of Afghans to go home.
"There are thousands of internally displaced people for over two and a half years now," Abdullah said. "They have been herded under the tents during the harsh winter and hot summer."
With the support of an international coalition, the United States has led bombing attacks within Afghanistan against the Taliban, which has refused to turn over Osama bin Laden or members of his al Qaeda network, suspected in terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 in the United States that killed more than 4,500 people.