Taliban deserts Kabul as northern alliance moves into capital

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Associated Press WriterKABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Capping their stunning victories in the north, Afghan opposition fighters rolled into Kabul on Tuesday after Taliban troops slipped away under cover of darkness, abandoning the capital without a fight.

Heavily armed alliance troops roamed the city, hunting Taliban stragglers and their Arab, Pakistani and Chechen allies from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida movement. At least five Pakistanis and two Arabs were slain.

President Bush had urged the opposition to stay out of the capital until a new, broad-based government could be formed to replace the Taliban. Alliance officials said the unexpected Taliban evacuation made it necessary for them to enter the city to maintain public order.

As the sun rose over the Hindu Kush mountains, Kabul residents of shouted out congratulations, honked car horns and rang bells on their bicycles. Men shaved off beards -- mandated by the Taliban -- and the sounds of music returned after having been banned by the Islamic militia.

There were also signs that the Taliban were abandoning other urban centers, possibly to withdraw into the remote southern mountains to wage guerrilla war.

In Kandahar, the southern Taliban stronghold and birthplace of the movement, a resident contacted by telephone said many Taliban figures appeared to have left the city, too, except for uniformed militia police.

People feared anarchy, he said on condition of anonymity, speculating that the Taliban have fled into the southern mountains to mount a guerrilla war.

Along the Pakistani border at Chaman, Taliban official Mullah Najibullah said about 200 former guerrillas had mutinied against the Taliban in Kandahar, but the report could not be independently confirmed.

Taliban guards Tuesday abandoned the Torkham border station along the Pakistani frontier. A group of local Afghan elders was trying to sort out who would man the station, near the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Sources contacted by telephone in Jalalabad said it appeared the Taliban was preparing to abandon that northeastern city too. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Kabul, bands of heavily armed northern alliance soldiers roamed the city in taxis, trucks and cars, seeking out Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens and others who had come to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban.

Five Pakistanis were killed in a shootout early Tuesday, witnesses said. Their bodies lay in a public park hours later. Alliance troops were setting up roadblocks on streets were Arabs and others associated with al-Qaida movement had been living.

The bodies of two dead Arabs were on the street near a U.N. guest house. Close to the bodies were rocket launchers and a rifle.

Alliance soldiers stood guard outside the offices of some international aid organizations. Some, however, appeared to have been looted. "Some illegal people went through and took everything from the offices," said Ghulam Ali, an elderly resident.

Mindful of international concern over their behavior, the alliance was rushing in 3,000 specially-trained security troops to maintain order. The alliance's interior minister, Yunis Qanoni, said the main body of opposition forces would stay out of the city.

He described those who entered Kabul early Tuesday as "renegades."

Opposition Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim and Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah drove into the city at midday, followed by the special security troops in cars festooned with pictures of their late commander Ahmed Shah Massood, who was killed in September in a suicide bombing.

Qanoni said there are no plans for the deposed president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, to return to Kabul immediately. Kabul's 1 million people were wary of the alliance because of the bloody infighting that marked the four years of rule by Rabbani and his coalition.

The turmoil paved the way for the southern-based Taliban to capture Kabul in 1996, a move that was hailed by many residents as a step toward stability. However, the Taliban's harsh enforcement of strict Islamic rules alienated many urban dwellers.

Kabul residents responded cautiously to the first signs that the Taliban's rule of their city was at an end. They rode bicycles, stopping to ask each other, "Where are the Taliban?"

As the Taliban retreated, they took eight foreign aid workers, including two Americans, accused of spreading Christianity in Muslim Afghanistan, witnesses told The Associated Press.

"I saw them with my own eyes. They put them in the truck and then left at midnight. They said they are going to Kandahar," said Ajmal Mir, a guard at the abandoned detention center in the heart of the city where the eight had been held.

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 sun rise.

Weeks of bombing by the United States weakened the Taliban sufficiently for the northern alliance to move across enemy lines. 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 that killed 4,500 people in the United States.

"I think it is great news. It means the initial phase of the campaign is going well," Army Secretary Thomas White said.

White said he thought "a combination of well-targeted air power along with movement on the ground by northern alliance forces" prompted the Taliban to flee Kabul. He spoke on CNN's "Larry King Live."

The Taliban forces, which took control of Kabul in 1996, were said to be heading toward the town of Maidan Shahr, about 25 miles south of Kabul. As they had in the north of the country, the Taliban appeared to have decided to surrender territory rather than fight.

The opposition broke through Taliban front lines Monday after weeks of heavy U.S. bombing and took the hills above Kabul after a string of victories that started Friday with the taking of Mazar-e-Sharif in the north.

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.

The fall of Kabul may complicate efforts to establish a broad-based government acceptable to the dominant Pashtun ethnic group, the core of Taliban support. The alliance is dominated by ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Shiite Muslims.

At the United Nations, the United States, Russia and six nations that border Afghanistan pledged "to establish a broad-based Afghan administration on an urgent basis."

The aim is to put together a transitional leadership that is broadly acceptable, possibly including Taliban defectors. However, alliance leaders have rejected bringing in former Taliban members. Holding the capital increases the alliance's claim on a dominant role in a future government.

That could cause problems for Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the anti-terrorism campaign. The northern alliance considers Pakistan a patron of the Taliban even through Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf abandoned them after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Musharraf has called for Kabul to be declared a neutral city.

During an appearance Monday night on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Musharraf said the alliance's move on Kabul was "dangerous" because "we are now getting information that there are certain atrocities being perpetrated in Mazar-e Sharif."

"And that is exactly my apprehension that we have seen a lot of atrocities, a lot of killings between the various ethnic groups in Kabul after the Soviets left, and that's why we are of the opinion that Kabul should be maintained as a demilitarized city," Musharraf said.

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