Afghan UF Alliance Claims Capture of Key Airport Near Mazar-i-Sharif
By Omar Samad
WASHINGTON - Oct. 15, 2001 - AAR - Afghan resistance forces battling the Taliban and Bin Laden brigades in Northern Afghanistan claim to have made startling advances toward the strategic city of Mazar-i Sharif close to the Uzbekistan border.
A United Front (Northern Alliance) source told AAR Monday that their forces captured the city's airport, and had taken position less than four miles from the city.
Payam-e Mujahed news service from the UF stronghold in Panjshir also confirmed the advance on Mazar. A report added that more than 2,000 fighters and local people under the command of veteran commander Atta Mohamad "liberated the Marmol and Shadian districts before moving toward the airport."
US bombers have attacked the Taliban-Bin Laden military installations, including the airport, near Mazar-i Sharif on several occasion since the air campaign started last week.
Other alliance forces under the command of Gen. Ismael Khan and Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum also made advances in the provinces of Balkh, Herat, Sar-i Pol and Badghis in the past few days, while it is reported that more than 4,000 local Taliban forces defected to the UF side.
Cutting Taliban supply routes from the North through Baghlan province and now from the West in Badghis or Herat, will inflict a severe blow to Taliban's hold on the northern provinces.
A UF source also confirmed reports that US warplanes attacked Taliban-Bin-Laden frontlines near Taloqan over the weekend, but there are no reports of attacks on Taliban frontlines North of Kabul where it is estimated that several thousand Taliban, Arab and Pakistani militants are gathered to prevent an Alliance attack on Kabul.
Pakistan, until recently the Taliban's main ally, is using ethnic politics to prevent the formation of a representative and broad based Afghan government in Kabul. Pakistani leaders have urged the US to restrain the Northern Alliance by refraining from attacking the frontlines.
The alliance has made it clear that it does not intend to grab power or enter Kabul if an acceptable political arrangement is found. The Alliance, in a significant clarification of its policy, said Sunday that before advancing on Kabul, it would prefer reaching a political consensus with other relevant Afghan groups, including former King Zahir Shah, on the formation of a post-Taliban interim administration. Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah also did not rule out a peacekeeping role for the United Nations in Kabul. The alliance recently announced the formation of a 2,000-man police force for Kabul.
Source in Rome, residence of the exiled king, told AAR Monday that a three-man delegation has arrived in Pakistan Sunday at the request of the military regime to talk about Islamabad's concerns and conditions for extending support to a new government in Kabul. Another delegation may soon leave for Tehran to talk with Iranian officials.
Zahir Shah is expected to play a unifying and symbolic role as a national figurehead in case a Loya Jirga assembly is convened to legitimize a new interim government. A grand council with 120 members is expected to be named soon by the anti-Taliban alliance inside Afghanistan and the King's political process, to make arrangements in case of a power vacuum, as well as act as a precursor gathering to the Loya Jirga.
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