Alliance closes in on fighters, says Taliban will give up city

Saturday, November 24, 2001

BANGI, Afghanistan -- Northern alliance troops closed in Friday on Taliban and al-Qaida fighters trapped in Kunduz, seizing an outlying town without a fight. Alliance commanders said they expected the city to surrender this weekend.

An American official in Washington said some of the fighters in the besieged city -- the Taliban's last major garrison in the north -- may be deputies and lieutenants to Osama bin Laden and to the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

At the United Nations, meanwhile, officials announced a one-day delay in a conference in Germany aimed at paving the way for a new Afghan government following the Taliban's collapse. The meeting will open Tuesday, rather than Monday, because of delays in getting all the participants to the venue in Bonn, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

As diplomats work toward peace, northern alliance fighters were preparing Friday to finish off the Taliban in Kunduz.

Guarantee of safe passage

Commanders of the rigid Islamic militia have agreed to leave the northern city without their weapons in exchange for safe passage guarantees, according to both alliance and militia officials. The alliance deal calls for the Taliban to turn over the Arab, Pakistani, Chechen and other foreign fighters, who will be detained pending an investigation into their links to bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

Following a meeting with Taliban representatives in the alliance-held northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, alliance warlord Gen. Rashid Dostum said Friday evening that the surrender "is settled."

"Tomorrow we will have another meeting to work out the details of the handover," he told The Associated Press. "On Sunday, the Taliban should surrender to us and hand over the prisoners."

Daoud Khan, the northern alliance commander east of Kunduz, predicted an even quicker resolution, saying his troops would move toward Kunduz on Saturday to disarm the Taliban and arrest the foreigners -- believed to number up to 3,000.

In advance of the expected surrender, Khan said his troops moved Friday into the Taliban-held town of Aliabad after militia fighters there gave up without a fight. Dostum said his fighters were moving toward Kunduz from the west to enforce the surrender deal.

The Taliban governor of Kunduz, whose name is also Mohammed Omar, confirmed late Friday that the garrison was prepared to surrender but said nothing about the fate of the foreigners.

"The Taliban brothers who are from other provinces of Afghanistan, they have a way out," Omar said in a satellite telephone interview with Britain's Channel 4 television. "As a result of the talks with Gen. Dostum, they are allowed to get out of Kunduz peacefully and unarmed."

Will try foreigners

Taliban negotiators had been demanding safety guarantees for the foreigners after reported massacres committed by the alliance against Arabs and Pakistanis when Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul fell.

Khan said the foreigners would be tried "in our Islamic courts."

"These foreigners have committed criminal acts in our country. We will not hand them over to the United Nations or any other country," Khan said.

However, another alliance official, Amanullah, said if the al-Qaida members surrender, "we will kill them all" because "they invaded Afghanistan."

An American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some of bin Laden and Omar's deputies and lieutenants have been caught up in Kunduz. The official declined to provide specific names.

On Friday, the U.S. official reported the northern alliance was on the move elsewhere, bringing the battle to the Taliban's southern strongholds.

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