Taliban forces appear to abandon Afghan capital
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban military forces appeared to have deserted the capital of Kabul at dawn Tuesday, after a series of stunning military victories by opposition forces over the past four days.
Sporadic small arms fire could be heard from the hills overlooking the city, but the streets were empty of the Taliban soldiers, who had been there hours earlier.
As the sun rose over the Hindu Kush mountains, residents of Kabul could be heard shouting out congratulations to one another, honking car horns and ring bells on their bicycles.
From the rooftop of the Intercontinental Hotel on a hill overlooking Kabul columns of Taliban vehicles could be seen heading south beginning Monday night. The exodus continued after sunrise.
Northern alliance forces began moving into the capital in pickup trucks loaded with soldiers armed with rifles and rocket launchers. There was no shooting as the opposition forces took over a military barracks that only hours before had been in Taliban hands.
At the Pentagon, Maj. Tim Blair said he had no information on the Taliban abandoning the capital.
The Taliban forces, which took control of Kabul in 1996, were heading south toward the town of Maidan Shahr, about 25 miles south of Kabul. As they had in the north of the country, the Islamic militia appeared to have decided to surrender territory rather than fight. By moving south, the fighters seemed ready to fall back toward the last major Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
Littered with caves
The area around the Taliban spiritual capital is rugged, mountainous terrain littered with caves that are believed to provide hideouts for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist organization.
The opposition had broken through Taliban front lines Monday and taken the hills above Kabul after a string of victories that started Friday with the taking of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Weeks of bombing by the United States weakened the Taliban sufficiently for the northern alliance to move across enemy lines. President Bush launched the air campaign on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Before abandoning the capital, the Islamic militia circled the mile-high city with tanks to defend against an all-out assault and had vowed to defend the city.
Haron Amin, a Washington-based envoy for the northern alliance, had said earlier Monday that the anti-Taliban forces would surround Kabul, which sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains, to prevent the Taliban from reinforcing or resupplying their troops inside.
Gen. Rashid Dostum, a northern alliance commander, said 15,000 former Taliban troops and some Taliban commanders had crossed over to the alliance during recent fighting.
Opposition fighters punched through Taliban defenses about noon Monday after a punishing attack by U.S. B-52 bombers. Taliban positions began to fall one by one along the main road into Kabul.