Battle on for northern fortress and southern stronghold

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Associated Press WriterKABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. airstrikes targeted outnumbered and cornered loyalists of Osama bin Laden on Tuesday as a prison uprising in northern Afghanistan stretched into its third day. In the south, American Marines went into action after setting up a desert base beside a small mosque.

As Taliban control receded, diplomats opened a meeting in Bonn, Germany, urging representatives of four Afghan factions to quickly build a new security force and an interim administration to replace it. "Speed is of the essence in view of the situation on the ground," said Ahmad Fawzi, U.N. spokesman for Afghanistan.

Near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, U.S. special forces helped coordinate air attacks on the last holdouts at the mud-walled fortress where the prisoners were cornered. Northern alliance commanders said hundreds of the captives were already dead, and pledged to finish off the rest quickly.

As warplanes circled above and reinforcements poured in Tuesday, mortar shells exploded around the complex and an enormous blast shook windows in Mazar-e-Sharif, 10 miles away.

Five Americans seriously wounded at the fortress Monday when a U.S. airstrike went astray were treated in Uzbekistan and were being evacuated Landstuhl Medical Center in Ramstein, Germany, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A CIA operative remained unaccounted for, another U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

President Bush said Americans "must be prepared for loss of life."

Marines moved in on what was left of the Taliban leadership near the southern city of Kandahar. The city is the Taliban's last remaining bastion after a retreat this month from most of Afghanistan, including the capital, Kabul.

Seizing an airstrip west of Kandahar without resistance Monday, the Marines quickly sent helicopter gunships aloft as Navy F-14 Tomcat jets attacked an armored convoy of 15 vehicles. Some of the vehicles in the column were destroyed, Capt. David Romley said.

The Marines' commander, Gen. James Mattis, said more than 1,000 troops would soon be on the ground.

The Taliban vowed to fight to the death in Kandahar. A spokesman, Mullah Abdullah, told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was still in town and in command of his troops.

Kandahar appeared largely deserted, except for pickup trucks of Taliban soldiers armed with rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs, according to residents contacted by phone.

While U.S. and local forces moved in on the Taliban's southern base, others battled the last pockets of resistance in the north. Prisoners captured by the alliance last weekend in the siege of Kunduz rained rocket-propelled grenades and mortars on alliance troops near Mazar-e-Sharif.

Reinforcements continued to pour in Tuesday. "We have come to help the other soldiers," said Karim Pahlawan, a northern alliance commander arriving with 200 troops and an anti-aircraft gun.

Hundreds of Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and other non-Afghans fighting with the Taliban were taken to the fortress as part of the weekend surrender of Kunduz, the Islamic militia's last stronghold in the north, for an investigation into their links with bin Laden, alleged architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

But once inside the fortress Sunday, the prisoners stormed the armory and were resisting two days later despite U.S. airstrikes and attacks by alliance forces.

Alliance officers said about 40 of their troops had died along with hundreds of resisters. Alliance commanders said the holdouts, trapped in a tower, were running out of ammunition and wouldn't last long.

"Those who are left over will be dead," said Alim Razim, an aide to alliance Gen. Rashid Dostum. "None of them can escape."

In Kunduz, thousands of Afghan Taliban fighters who gave up were allowed free, but some Afghan fighters remained behind and fired on alliance troops who entered the city Monday after the two-week siege.

After an hours-long battle that killed 100 Taliban and 10 alliance troops, alliance fighters exacted brutal revenge. Reporters watched as alliance soldiers blasted away at wounded Taliban and dragged away those who hid in their houses for beatings.

Alliance soldiers also made off with loot, especially cars they said belonged to Taliban fighters. One man used rope to string four cars together, not content with stealing one.

The unrest stretched to the nearby town of Taloqan, the base of many journalists covering the Kunduz siege, where a Swedish television journalist was killed Tuesday in an overnight robbery.

Ulf Stroemberg, of the Swedish television network TV4, was the eighth journalist to die in Afghanistan since the start of the U.S.-led military campaign on Oct. 7. He was 42.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer opened the Bonn conference with an appeal to the delegates "to forge a truly historic compromise that holds out a better future for your torn country and its people." The delegates must agree on binding rules and respect for human rights, for all Afghans -- men and women.

The Taliban were not included in the talks. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said none can expect aid to rebuild their war-ravaged country unless they agree on a broad-based government. Northern alliance delegate Younus Qanooni said: "We must now focus on rebuilding Afghanistan."

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