By Fariba Nawa
October 7, 2001
Agence France Presse
Islamabad — Opposition forces Sunday claimed to have made significant gains in their fight against the Taliban militia in the north and west of Afghanistan, as US forces stood ready across the border in Uzbekistan.
Opposition spokesmen said hundreds of Taliban soldiers had surrendered and 13 villages had been captured in northern Samangan province, bordering Uzbekistan, and western Ghor province during heavy fighting overnight and Sunday.
Spokesman Mohammad Habeel told the Afghan Islamic Press that the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, otherwise known as the United Front, had moved to within 1.5 kilometres (one mile) of Chaghcharan, the Ghor capital.
Some 150 Taliban fighters joined opposition forces Saturday, he said, adding that Chaghcharan would fall “soon”. The city sits on a road linking the western provinces to the north and centre of the country.
In Samangan, opposition spokesman Mohammad Ashraf Nadeem said the Taliban lost two villages after a failed counter-attack designed to divert pressure from the strategic northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
He said that eight Taliban commanders and 100 Taliban fighters surrendered to the opposition Sunday morning. Taliban officials have not been available to comment.
“They surrendered because they had heard that America would attack the Taliban tonight (Sunday) and they were afraid,” he told AFP by telephone from near the frontlines in northern Afghanistan.
The opposition said Saturday they had advanced to within 50 kilometers (30 miles) of Mazar-i-Sharif and could capture the city within two days.
Its fall would give US forces in Uzbekistan, including 1,000 crack mountain troops, a base in northern Afghanistan from which to launch their expected attacks.
US military forces have been converging on Afghanistan’s borders in preparation for threatened retaliatory strikes over the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden — the main suspect in last month’s devastating attacks on New York and Washington. Taliban Education Minister Mullah Amir Muttaqi denied that opposition troops had scored territorial gains in Samangan and Ghor provinces.
“These are wrong and concocted claims,” Muttaqi told Afghan Islamic Press.
Nadeem said the militia, which seized Kabul in 1996 and now controls most of the country, had sent some 3,000 troops from Kunduz province to reinforce its attack in neighbouring Samangan, bordering Uzbekistan.
The Taliban earlier Sunday said they had 8,000 fighters, including fresh reinforcements, deployed near the Uzbek border following the arrival of 1,000 crack US mountain troops in Uzbekistan.
Officials in Uzbekistan said they had no information about the Taliban deployments but reported that the situation on the border was normal.
Fighting in northern Afghanistan has intensified since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, with opposition forces boosted by the prospect of US military strikes against the ruling Taliban militia.
The anti-Taliban forces — a disparate group of ethnic minority groups which control isolated pockets of territory around the northern half of the country — have offered to cooperate with US forces and have been in touch with US military planners in recent days.