Top Afghan Opposition Leader Defects to Taliban
09:29 a.m. Jan 10, 2000 Eastern
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A top commander fighting with Afghan opposition forces led by Ahmad Shah Masood defected to the ruling Taliban movement Monday, but the move was not seen as a major setback for Masood.
``My arrival with the Emirate (Taliban) will rally support behind the Taliban in the north of Kabul,'' said Agha Shireen Salangi.
Until recently, Salangi was the overall commander for Masood in the Ghorband front northwest of Kabul, which lies next to the opposition forces' strategic stronghold.
Salangi belongs to the Hezb-i-Islamic faction, some of whose followers have already defected to the Taliban since it emerged in late 1994.
He appeared at a news conference wearing a black turban, a Taliban symbol, and said 50 armed men defected with him and urged others in Ghorband to follow suit.
Frontline defections are common in Afghanistan, and observers in Kabul said Salangi's defection would not be a serious setback for Masood unless many of his supporters also switched sides.
Masood was the military chief of the government ousted from power by the Taliban more than three years ago and controls the 10 percent of the country not ruled by the Taliban.
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