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Northern Alliance Enters Kabul as the Taliban Retreats

TAZ writes:

James Meek on the Shomali Plain, Luke Harding in Islamabad and Ewen MacAskill

Tuesday November 13, 2001, The Guardian

Northern Alliance soldiers began entering Kabul at dawn this morning afterthe Taliban's forces appeared to abandon the city overnight. Witnesses reported seeing trucks loaded with heavily armed alliance troops moving unopposed into the city. Little gunfire was reported. From the rooftop of the Intercontinental Hotel on a hill overlooking the city, columns of Taliban vehicles could be seen heading south early today.

The movements appeared to confirm that the Taliban were moving all theirforces back for a final defence of their stronghold in Kandahar. There were sounds of sporadic small arms fire from hills overlooking the city but the streets were empty of the Taliban soldiers who had been there hours earlier.

The Taliban's spectacular military collapse in northern Afghanistan followed the seizure of the key western city of Herat. Before the final push Northern
Alliance spokesman Bismillah Khan said: "We are at the gate of Kabul." The US had pressed for the alliance to stay out of Kabul to allow time for a coalition government including members of the southern-based Pashtun tribe to be formed.

While some Taliban fled before the city was abandoned, others had mounted a rearguard action and engaged the alliance in heavy fighting on the Shomali Plain about 25 miles north of the capital. Taliban soldiers and their allies - Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens and others - were rushed in pick-up trucks to block the alliance's advance along the New Road into Kabul. The Taliban ringed the city with tanks.

In four days, the Northern Alliance has expanded its share of territory from10% of Afghanistan to more than 40%. The country is now effectively partitioned, with the alliance in control of the north and the Taliban dug in in the south. The alliance troops encountered little resistance as they emerged from their positions at Bagram, north of Kabul, and marched across no man's land.

Observers said US and British soldiers advanced with Afghan opposition fighters and called in air strikes against Taliban positions. Alliance soldiers at Bagram airport had eased past the Taliban's first trenches by yesterday afternoon. By last night they stopped their offensive, possibly because of the scale of the Taliban rearguard action.

The alliance claimed the halt was for political reasons. Its foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, said opposition forces advanced to within four miles of Kabul but had no intention of entering the city. "We should evaluate the situation," he said. The UN, caught by surprise by the speed of events, had said it was to speed up its preparations for an interim government in Kabul. A meeting of Afghan groups was being planned within the next few days, possibly in Europe.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/waronterror/story/0,1361 ,592617,00.html"