Northern alliance claims prison revolt quashed

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Associated Press WriterKABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- As U.N. talks on the future of Afghanistan began in Germany, anti-Taliban forces claimed to have retaken control Tuesday of a fort where captured Osama bin Laden loyalists staged a three-day prison revolt.

U.S. Marines, meanwhile, expanded their base of operations in southern Afghanistan, sending out heavily armed patrols.

In the northern town of Taloqan, a Swedish television journalist was killed 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.

Along with the Marine deployment in the south, U.S. special forces were in action helping northern alliance forces put down the bloody uprising in a mud-walled fortress-prison outside the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The alliance said it had suppressed the revolt by Tuesday evening, killing the last of hundreds of rebelling Osama bin Laden loyalists. A courtyard of the fortress was littered with the bodies of 60 fighters slain in the fierce battle.

Outside Bonn, Germany, the United Nations opened a conference of Afghan factions aimed at paving the way for a broad-based multiethnic government to replace the Taliban. "Speed is of the essence in view of the situation on the ground," a U.N. spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said.

U.S. Marines in Humvees loaded with anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns patrolled the deserts Tuesday around the base they set up west of the Taliban's last stronghold, the southern city of Kandahar. U.S. helicopters and KC-130s landed on the hardpacked sand Tuesday of the base, where an American flag was planted at the center of a compound of buildings.

In Kandahar, residents reached by telephone said Taliban fighters appeared demoralized and fearful of attack. Streets were largely deserted, except for pickup trucks of Taliban soldiers armed with rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs, they said.

"They are not as active and alert as they used to be, and they don't patrol as much," said Mohammed Asan, a traveler from Kandahar arriving in Chaman, Pakistan.

After negotiations with Pashtun tribal leaders on the fate of Taliban-held Spinboldak, a key town on the main road from Kandahar to the Pakistani border, tribesmen looted blankets and food from humanitarian aid warehouses and drove the Taliban from power, the Afghan Islamic Press said.

"It seems that Taliban have ceased" to control the area, the Pakistan-based news agency said, citing witnesses. The report could not be independently verified.

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

U.S. Marines set up their base Monday, seizing the airstrip near Kandahar with no resistance, and quickly sent helicopter gunships aloft to follow up an air strike by Navy F-14 Tomcat jets on an armored convoy of 15 vehicles.

Capt. John Barranco, 30, of Boston, said the Marines watched the Tomcats launch their attack, then flew over the convoy and attacked it themselves.

"There didn't seem to be anything left of a useful military nature," he said.

In daylight Tuesday, the camp seemed busy but calm. Mortar rounds could be heard in the distance as Marines ranged in their potential targets.

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

At the mud-walled Galai Janghi outside Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, fierce fighting raged during the day as alliance fighters battled the rebelling Taliban prisoners inside. U.S. special forces and soldiers who appeared to be British were also seen moving in and out of the fort, some with guns fitted with laser scopes.

Dozens of bodies and body parts -- of soldiers from both sides -- were scattered about the sprawling fortress was littered with the bodies of Taliban and alliance fighters. In one courtyard, television footage showed at least 60 dead -- apparently Taliban fighters.

By the evening, the alliance claimed to have defeated the prisoners. "The situation is completely under control," said Alim Razim, an alliance official. "All of them were killed."

Alliance forces turned back journalists, and it was impossible to confirm the claim.

The revolt was launched Sunday by Hundreds of pro-Taliban foreigners taken to the fort after surrendering from the besieged town of Kunduz. U.S. airstrikes backed alliance troops in the fighting.

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

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

In other developments:

--Shops began to open in Kunduz after authorities announced the city had returned to calm. But women still stayed inside.

--In Kabul, armed Russian soldiers returned 12 years after they were forced to withdraw in humiliation.

The Bonn talks -- among delegations from the northern alliance, the former king Mohammad Zaher Shah and two exile groups -- were aimed at creating order where there seemed to be little.

During their first closed session, the delegates agreed their goal was to establish an interim administration that would lead to a national council of tribal leaders, or loya jirga, possibly by the Afghan New Year in March, said Fawzi, the U.N. spokesman.

The national council would approve a transitional administration that would govern for up to two years, leading way to a second loya jirga, which would approve a constitution that will guarantee rights for all Afghans, women included, with the goal of elections, Fawzi said.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Afghanistan's many and contentious factions should not expect aid to rebuild their war-ravaged country unless they agree on a broad-based government.

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