Anti-Taliban says chief plans attack on Zaranj
By Jon Hemming
MIL-E 46 REFUGEE CAMP, Afghanistan (Reuters) - An anti-Taliban warlord who controls an area in southwest Afghanistan said he would launch an assault later Monday on the strategic town of Zaranj, which is close to the Iranian border.
Abdolkarim Barahui told Reuters he had convinced many of the 1,000 ruling Taliban troops ranged against him to switch sides and join his 600 to 700 fighters, a move which would help him secure control of Zaranj by Tuesday.
"Our aim is to capture Zaranj by tomorrow," he said, adding that the attack would be launched late Monday afternoon.
Barahui was speaking at a command post in Afghanistan a few miles away from the Mil-e 46 camp, which houses Afghan refugees and lies close to the Iranian border.
"We have 600-700 men but our only problem is a shortage of transport. There are 1,000 Taliban facing us but we have had negotiations with them and a large number are ready to join us," he said.
Shifting loyalties have been a feature of warfare in Afghanistan and both the Taliban and Northern Alliance have claimed mass defections from the other side in the past.
"As you see, we are ready to fight," Barahui said, pointing to a dozen or so pickups loaded with his fighters carrying an assortment of rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers.
The area controlled by Barahui, mostly made up of Baluchi tribesmen, is squeezed between the borders with Iran and Pakistan.
The camp, south of Zaranj, capital of Nimruz province, is the southernmost outpost controlled by the Northern Alliance.
The alliance has been making gains across the country following five weeks of U.S.-led military strikes aimed at punishing the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
Barahui's fighters were in high spirits after hearing news of successes by Northern Alliance forces elsewhere.
Iranian radio earlier reported that the Northern Alliance had captured the strategic city of Herat in western Afghanistan. The Taliban denied the report.
"It's very good news. I'm very excited," said one fighter, carrying an AK-47 assault rifle and with hand grenades slung over his body, referring to the report about Herat.
Asked if he was nervous about the coming assault, he said: "No, I am ready to be a martyr for my country."
Shortly afterward, 14 pickups and two trucks carrying small artillery pieces raced out toward the front line across the flat desert landscape.
One of Barahui's deputies, Yusef Zehi, said they would attack Zaranj from the northeast and southeast.
"We are listening to the Taliban radio communications and they are panicking, asking for instructions about what to do," he said.
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